Marion Bartoli climbed into the stands and hugged her father, Walter, who only politely hugged back. A few minutes later, she would interrupt her own on-court interview to say, “First of all, my dad, who is here with me today, means so much.’’
Bartoli had just won Wimbledon on Saturday, beating Serena-killer Sabine Lisicki 6-1, 6-4. And this is when a tennis player’s emotions are at their most obvious and overwhelming. They’re in your throat. Know this: Bartoli has fired her dad, her coach, twice this year alone. And now, her first act as champ is to be with him?
Meanwhile, Lisicki was crying.
How did you feel about this match? No Venus or Serena Williams and no Maria Sharapova? The hard truth for tennis is this: That was a terrible match for the sport. Terrible. For most of the match, Lisicki was in complete panic.
But not only that. Women’s tennis is desperate for stars. And this is the sport’s greatest stage, greatest opportunity. Yet with so little depth, two underdogs got here. Lisicki had a small chance to catch on in the US. Small, because I have a feeling no one was watching. But she did beat Williams, and could have been the Wimbledon champ. She is super-powerful. She is comfortable and personable in front of a camera.
And in terms of growing interest in the game, she could appeal to the average testosterone-defined fan sitting on his couch in front of the TV: She’s an attractive, powerful blonde woman in a short skirt.
Bartoli – more hard truth – is not going to sell in the US. She doesn’t have magazine looks, and plays in an ugly way.
Moment lost? Really? Yes, if you want something to package and market. Something to drive ratings, get web clicks and jack up rights fees.
Somehow, that’s what sport is all about now. It is now the meaning of sports.
Bartoli is an individual, that’s for sure. That’s actually a good thing, and the only way to go through life.
“It has always been a part of my personality to be different,’’ she said. “I think being just like the other ones is kind of boring.’’
During matches, between points, she is jumping around, and swingly wildly at pretend tennis balls. An hour before her semifinal match? She took a nap.
A few years ago at Wimbledon, she lost the first set, then looked into the stands and saw her favorite actor, Pierce Brosnan, sitting there. For some reason, that motivated her. She supposedly has a 175 IQ, higher than Einstein’s.
This year, she hadn’t won more than two matches in a row. Now, she is Wimbledon champ.
“That’s me,’’ she said.
Bartoli is an important lesson about being yourself. If any prospect came along with those two-handed strokes on both sides, not particularly tall and not particularly fast, she would be re-tooled, redesigned or kicked out.
Her way, she’s Wimbledon champ.
In our celebrity culture, we’re admiring the wrong things. And a personal story like Bartoli’s — of self-expression and individuality — is simply, unfortunately, going to be lost.
As for her personal life, we know that for years there has been suspicion of her father’s control over her, and how warm that relationship truly is. And whether Bartoli was isolated, without joy or friends.
Last year, she didn’t compete in the Olympics because the French Federation insisted that she play Federation Cup — women’s tennis’ version of Ryder Cup — and that she not have her father/coach there for the preparation. She refused.
But she has fired her father twice this year, and has started working with former Wimbledon champ Amelie Mauresmo. She had changed practice partners. She has been losing all year.
“Well there is something off the court, and it’s pretty much private . . .’’ she said the other day. “Now, I’m just so happy again, and so smiley. Yes, I had some very low moments when I felt I pretty much hit rock bottom. But I kept my head up.’’
Now, to talk about the match, well. . .
Bartoli played fine. Lisicki was too stressed out and couldn’t hit two balls on the court in a row. It was a terrible showcase. And even worse:
Late in the match, Lisicki began crying on court. Now, I’m human, and have feelings, but this is not the message of strong, athletic women I would like to send to my daughter.
After the match, I asked Lisicki what she can do on the court to talk herself out of panicking.
“That’s actually not so easy,’’ she said. “You can try to calm yourself down as much as you can with different techniques, breathing techniques that usually help . . . but didn’t help today.’’
On top of that, there is no way Bartoli should be able to win Wimbledon.
Someone should have been able to take advantage of her lack of moment and reach, with those two-handed strokes. But all the top players kept losing before her, so she never played anyone in the top 10.
That’s what happens in a sport with no depth.
Lisicki panicked until she was down 6-1, 5-1. Then she started playing well, but it was too late.
“You felt like you achieved something you dreamed about for maybe a million hours,’’ Bartoli said. “You went through pain, you went through tears, you went through low moments, and actually, it happened.’’