From the two-handed groundstrokes on each side, to that out-of-nowhere victory at Wimbledon this year to her equally surprising retirement less than two months after that, Marion Bartoli has put her unique spin on a career that’s always kept people guessing.
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So, maybe it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when she said this Sunday: "It’s pretty hard to say I would never come back."
The 28-year-old Frenchwoman, who retired suddenly after a loss at Cincinnati on Aug. 14, left the door cracked open ever so slightly during a news conference in Manhattan. Now she’s getting ready to head to the U.S. Open, not as a player this time, but as a TV analyst.
"I think it will have to come from me, my desire," she said. "At the end of the day, you’re the only one who knows everything you have to go through as a tennis player. It’s hard for someone from outside to understand, starting from 6 years old and when you have to hit, probably, 2 million balls before being a pro tennis player. I’m the only one who can make the call."
When Bartoli said she was calling it quits, she explained that her body could no longer take the day-to-day pounding it had been enduring over her 14 years as a pro. With 11 days of rest behind her, she said she’s slowly feeling better, but every time she tries to do something physically, "my body starts to hurt again."
Perfectly happy in her early stages of retirement, she’s seeing museums and parts of New York she never had time to visit during her 11 trips to the U.S. Open, where her best finish was a trip to the quarterfinals last year.
But when announcing her retirement, Bartoli didn’t ask to be taken out of the WTA rankings list. She’s currently at No. 7, and it could potentially make for an easier comeback.
"You never know what’s going to happen in any sport," she said. "I think I’ll be there until the end of the year, and we’ll see what’s happening."
Yes, Bartoli said, the decision to retire was every bit as spur-of-the-moment as it seemed.
At a tournament in Toronto the first week in August, she defeated Lauren Davis 6-0, 6-3. The first set took 25 minutes.
"I sit on my chair and my back is hurting, my shoulder is hurting and the same for my Achilles," Bartoli said. "And I’m thinking, `After 25 minutes of play, your body is feeling like that, there’s something wrong.’ Really, my body was telling me that it couldn’t do it anymore."
The next round, she retired after winning the first set in a tiebreaker against Magdalena Rybarikova. A week later, after a three-set loss to Simona Halep in Cincinnati, Bartoli tearfully announced she was done.
Why Cincinnati, when she could have come to New York amid much fanfare, played the U.S. Open, and announced her retirement on a much grander stage?
"Well, because it’s me," she said.
Indeed, she has never been one to take the traditional route.
On the court, she is a bundle of twitches and ticks: jumping up and down and taking big, whipping practice swings between points, no bouncing of the ball before her serve, and that two-handed groundstroke from each side — a style she wanted to replicate after watching Monica Seles as a kid.
She won Wimbledon in her 47th start at a Grand Slam tournament, the most ever played by a woman before winning a championship. She won without losing a set. The title came during a season in which she didn’t win more than two matches in a single tournament, either before or after Wimbledon.
"I go by destiny," Bartoli said. "I think it was my destiny to win Wimbledon."
Even so, nobody saw that victory coming. Nobody could’ve predicted the retirement, either.
So, maybe it wasn’t so much of a surprise when she revealed that maybe, just maybe, she’s not completely done, after all.
"I’m not thinking about it right now, honestly," Bartoli said. "I’m happy with my decision and I’m fine with it. But we’ll see what the future is bringing."