In both body and mind, Marion Bartoli appears at peace with her decision to retire from tennis, even on the return to the scene of her greatest triumph.
She arrived with a smile that has proven hard to shake for the past twelve months and a shoulder encased in coral blue support tape.
Bartoli intends to treasure the final two weeks of her reign as Ladies’ Singles champion. She shed a tear as she collected her accreditation – the All England Club gamely issued her with a competitor’s pass – but the 29-year-old remains adamant that her playing days are now behind her.
“Look at my shoulder,” she said after being asked if her return to the Championships might finally spark thoughts of a comeback. “Literally, I can't even lift my arm every morning. It was the same last year, and didn't improve a year after, even without playing much tennis. So definitely no regrets at all.”
Bartoli will watch from the Royal Box on Tuesday as Sabine Lisicki, last year’s beaten finalist, plays the first of the day’s matches on Centre Court, the honour reserved for the defending champion. A bittersweet moment, no doubt, but not one that the Frenchwoman intends to dwell on. Indeed, almost a year on from her shock decision to retire after a second-round exit in Cincinnati, one moment supersedes all other memories of her 13-year-career.
“What I miss the most is probably the last five seconds of my final,” she said. “I'm about to serve and I serve and I ace – knowing it's an ace, and knowing I won Wimbledon, that's probably what I'm missing.
“Do you believe in miracles? I think it was a miracle; I think it was truly a miracle.”
Beyond that, Bartoli’s abiding memory is the pain of those final few years of her career. Her shoulder, most recently aggravated by an exhibition appearance last week, remains a constant reminder of the lengths to which she pushed herself to fulfill her “dream” of being crowned Grand Slam champion. Retirement arrived on her terms. “I knew when I finished, I was kind of escaping.
“You have to understand that every morning I couldn't lift my arm if I didn't have the help of my physio. It was the same with my back and the same with my Achilles. I really put all the energy and desire that I had inside my body into this Championship. I really felt it was my total last effort, and somehow I was able to do it.
“That's probably what I will remember about my whole career, those two weeks when I put everything I had inside me into my desire for fulfilling my dream, and I was able to do so.”
In her place, she jokes, Amelie Mauresmo – who guided her to the title without dropping a set in 2013 – returns as the defending champion in her new role as coach of Andy Murray, the defending Gentlemens’ Singles champion. To her mind, Mauresmo will prove her worth when it comes to helping Murray deal with the pressures a fortnight at The Championships, having negotiated them herself in 2006.
“She makes you feel very comfortable in a very difficult situation,” Bartoli explains. “That's probably because she went through all of them as a player. She's able to really give you great advice and the great boost and the great mental spirit.
“During the whole course of last year's Championships, I never felt uncomfortable. I always felt very comfortable in every situation, even when it gets extremely tight. When I was about to serve at 5‑4 – I was leading 6‑1, 5‑1, and here I am 20 minutes later and it's 5‑4 and the match is about to turn – that's when you actually really need someone giving you this confident look that's saying, ‘Well, everything's just going to be all right’. I just won my game to love and I just won Wimbledon. She really gave me this confidence boost.”
With that, Bartoli’s smile drew a little wider at the thought of achieving a goal she believed had slipped from her grasp, and the moment of victory that she admits to reliving on YouTube “once every two days”.
“I could have quit a million times. But at the end of the day, that was my path. That was my destiny, to win it when expecting less.
“Honestly, in 2011 when I entered Wimbledon, coming out from the French Open semi-final, winning in Eastbourne, and arriving here, I felt that was my best chance to actually win the title. Then I arrive in 2013. When I expected totally the less, that's when actually that I won without dropping a set.
“It was a fairytale that actually happened to my life last year. I finally got my title. I finished without dropping a set on an ace. That's the last memory that stays forever inside my heart and my mind.
“I wish I could have won ten. I just won once – but it's just the best one actually I won.”
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
20:03"I already have seven. It's not like I need another one. But it would have been awfully nice to have it. I think that's what the feeling was of the people, and I felt that... I know they love tennis. They love tennis after we're all gone."View all