If it was up to the writers of a film script, then Marion Bartoli is not the most likely of Grand Slam champions. They would want someone with natural poise, not bouncing and squatting and jumping and shadow strokeplay between points. (It was so extreme during her fourth round win over Karin Knapp that the BBC screened a highlights montage in mid-match.) And they would undoubtedly wonder at her unorthodox technique – the wrestling service action, not to mention her double-handed strokes off both sides. With many elite players, the racket can appear so organic a part of them that it can be hard to tell where the player stops and the racket begins.
Yet here the 28-year-old is, into a Grand Slam decider for the first time since she lost to Venus Williams in the 2007 Wimbledon final. Her ranking is guaranteed to improve to No.8 and will be No.7 if she beats Sabine Lisicki. It’s a long way from last year, when she lost here in the second round to the world No.129 Vojislava Lukic. But the No.15 seed does not buy the idea that she is an unlikely finalist, even though she has not won a title since 2011.
“Unlikely?” she repeated blankly. “I have won six matches. I haven’t lost a set. I think the facts speak for themselves.”
Can’t argue with that. As is often her wont, her matches at her 11th career Wimbledon have been characterised by a sense of drama. Four of her matches have featured 7-5 sets but, most importantly, none surrendered. It is true that this is her 47th Grand Slam and that if she lifts the Venus Rosewater Dish, she will set a new record for the most Slam appearances before winning. But for all that, nobody gets to a Wimbledon final by accident.
“She’s the favourite for me,” declares 1977 Wimbledon champion Virginia Wade firmly. “She’s playing the best tennis of her life.”
Along with the usual heady cocktail of nervous energy, glaring errors and fist pumps, Bartoli’s 2013 season has been the proverbial rollercoaster. An early loss at the Australian Open was followed by a sensational split from her lifetime coach – quite something when the man in question is her father, Walter. Then came integration into the French Fed Cup team courtesy of her idol, French captain Amelie Mauresmo, which was itself interrupted by illness, then injury in Miami before somet time with Jana Novotna and Gerald Bremond as her coaches. At Wimbledon, Mauresmo has been at courtside for all her matches, and her father is coming over from Switzerland to see the final.
Despite the fact that the Lisicki is the lowlier seed, she leads their career jousts 3-1. Bartoli’s one win was here in 2008 when the German was an 18-year-old youngster, but Bartoli reasons that she too is an inestimably better player than five years ago. However, the Wimbledon crowd have taken Lisicki to heart for the style of her play, and her astonishing win over 16-times Slam champion (and defending Wimbledon champion) Serena Williams. How does Bartoli feel about that?
“Well, I don’t think I will have the whole crowd against me,” she smiled. “At the end of the day she’s not British, as far as I know.”
Besides, Bartoli has endured tougher stuff than a crowd cheering for her opponent.
“I believe as a sportsperson you have to go through some low moments to enjoy even more the highs,” she says. “I have had some tough moments off the court, and it’s pretty much private. I pretty much hit rock bottom. I never thought about retiring, thank God. But there are a few things you have to deal with in your private life that are not easy. It affects my mood and my results. But I believe that what does not kill you makes you stronger. I think I carry on the same attitude every single day on the practice court and in the gym and it helped me to really bounce back. Obviously it shows that determination every single day always pays off. Now I’m just so happy again and so smiley. I’m having a great time off the court and an awesome time on the court. Everything is perfect again.”
So really, she could be the perfect Wimbledon champion after all.
20:24...But boy, it was a barrow-load of fun. I hope you enjoyed it even half as much as we did. Thank you for all your messages throughout, you've been the glue holding us together as the edges frayed amid the madness. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for us Brits to raise a toast to Andy Murray and Fred Perry. British sporting legends both.
20:19It was the wackiest of Wimbledons with the most unlikely of headline-makers: Sergiy Stakhovsky, Steve Darcis, Michelle Larcher de Brito, Kimiko-Date Krumm, Jerzy Janowicz, Sabine Lisicki, Marion Bartoli...View all