Friday 24 November 2017

Eccentric Bartoli the worthiest of winners

Wimbledon women’s singles champion, Marion Bartoli
Wimbledon women’s singles champion, Marion Bartoli

Simon Briggs

MARION BARTOLI might be a kooky French fruit-loop, but there could be no disputing her calibre on a grass court as she swept aside an emotional Sabine Lisicki to clasp the Venus Rosewater Dish and realise, in an expression of utter bewilderment, that she was the Wimbledon champion.

Seizing her first Grand Slam title with this dominant 6-1 6-4 victory, and barrelling through the entire tournament without dropping a set, this oddity from the Auvergne was the worthiest of winners.

One of the toughest, too. Bartoli disclosed that she had spent the second set in acute pain, with a growing blister under her big toe, and that she refused even to summon the trainer for fear of showing the struggling Lisicki any weakness.

"I'm a very tough person," she said, with a deceptively delicate smile.

FREEZING

"When I took my sock off it was red with blood. But I am this kind of person. Even if it felt like I could barely walk at the end, I could still focus. I am really as strong as wood," she added, banging on the table for emphasis.

Bartoli has needed to be resilient, ever since her father Walter put her through punishing drills at a freezing gym in their hometown of Le Puy-en-Velay, offering her sweets only when her serves hit the tiniest of targets.

Walter, who gave up his job running the local medical practice to coach Marion, was in the players' box in the final for the first time all fortnight, observing this remarkable vindication of their journey together.

He was the one whom she thanked most profusely, the one she embraced most tenderly when it was all over.

"It is all so overwhelming," she reflected.

"I don't know if you can fully know, but as a tennis player, when to start to hit balls at five years old and when you first turn professional, all you dream about is winning a Grand Slam.

"You think about it every single day. So when it finally happens, you have finally achieved something that you contemplated for perhaps a million hours.

"You went through pain, you went through tears, and so in those five or 10 seconds before you shake the hand of your opponent you feel almost like you are not walking any more on Earth."

Poor Lisicki, the conqueror of Serena Williams but a tormented understudy when it mattered, looked as though she felt much the same way.

Alas, her debut on such an august occasion turned all too rapidly from pleasure to pain.

She stared in amazement at her traditional finalist's bouquet, as if the spectacle of a sun-drenched Centre Court was just a chimera.

From her opening service game, which she threw away with a double-fault, she never looked as if she belonged in such an amphitheatre, on such a day.

This was pure, unadulterated stage fright, and deeply uncomfortable to watch.

As she wiped away panic-stricken tears between points, and as she ballooned one first serve so wretchedly that it practically cleared the baseline, it was about as pleasurable as watching a child freeze during a public-speaking test. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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