Wimbledon: Marion Bartoli beats Sabine Lisicki, 6-1, 6-4, for women’s singles title

It seemed a sporting aberration when Marion Bartoli reached Wimbledon’s final in 2007. Nearly a half-foot shorter than her opponent, with peculiar strokes and a serve with the punch of cotton candy, Bartoli was a tennis player few expected to hear from again after Venus Williams ushered her off that day in straight sets.

But Bartoli’s Centre Court triumph Saturday — 6-1, 6-4 over Germany’s Sabine Lisicki to claim the coveted Wimbledon title — was one of hard work, persistence and the courage to forge a singular path.

At 28, Bartoli had competed in 46 Grand Slam events over her 13-year career without winning one. But as Wimbledon’s 15th seed, the Frenchwoman strode onto Centre Court this rare, sun-drenched afternoon with a champion’s mind-set. And she launched her unconventional attack — stepping inside the baseline at every opportunity, pouncing on balls early and ripping two-fisted blasts off both her forehand and backhand — while Lisicki, 23, competing in her first Grand Slam final, unraveled in nerves and frustration.

After letting three match points slip away while serving for the match at 5-1, Bartoli clinched the victory with an improbable ace. Suddenly, it was as if her world switched to slow motion. She saw the white chalk kick up on the back corner of the service box, confirming the ace. In the surreal seconds it took to grasp what that meant, drop to her knees and gather herself to trot toward the net to embrace a tearful Lisicki, Bartoli felt her feet leave the ground.

“You felt like you’re almost not walking anymore on earth,” Bartoli said afterward. “You’re really flying.”

Both players had hoped to use the occasion to thank their parents, who had sacrificed so much for their tennis careers. Bartoli’s father gave up his medical practice so he could devote himself to melding his daughter into a champion. Lisicki’s father took on extra hours at work, laboring from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. to earn extra money to pay for her lessons, equipment and entry fees. Unable to afford flights, the Lisickis logged more than 140,000 miles on the family car taking Sabine to tournaments throughout Europe.

Walter Bartoli, who no longer coaches his daughter, was in her guest box Saturday. Lisicki’s parents looked on from their daughter’s box, offering loving, affirmative looks each time she cut her eyes in their direction, bewildered over her own poor play.

Bartoli hadn’t been tested as rigorously as Lisicki in the run-up to the final. The highest-seeded player in the Frenchwoman’s path was No. 17 Sloane Stephens. Lisicki, by contrast, toppled both the Wimbledon champion and runner-up from last year — world No. 1 Serena Williams and No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska — to reach the final. The toll showed Saturday.

The first set was disastrous for Lisicki, who was broken in her first three service games to fall behind 1-5. In a swift 30 minutes, Bartoli served out the set. Lisicki landed just 54 percent of her first serves, the shot she considers her strength, and committed 14 unforced errors in the set to Bartoli’s four.

“I was quite tight in the first set,” Lisicki conceded afterward, “and that was disappointing.”

The German tried breathing techniques to calm herself. She held serve to open the second set.

For a moment, it seemed as if the momentum might shift. But the games that followed were only a slight variation on the previous set.

Lisicki’s first serve lost its bearings again, and her weak second serves begged to be crushed. She hit groundstrokes that sailed feet beyond the baseline. When Bartoli charged the net, Lisicki sent up lobs so anemic, a basset hound could have plucked them from the sky.

Serving at 1-3, Lisicki committed a particularly embarrassing double fault, and her eyes welled with tears. After netting a forehand to get broken again, she put her racket to her face, but its strings couldn’t hide the tears trickling down her face.

As best it could, the Centre Court crowd put its arm around the German, applauding each time she managed a point.

Down 1-5, Lisicki fought off three match points, holding serve with her sixth ace of the match. Her nerves seemingly under control, she broke the Frenchwoman in the next game, then held her own serve to thunderous applause.

But Bartoli halted the rally there. With it, she claimed the title she had dreamed of since childhood. After embracing Lisicki at the net, she set off for the stands, climbing over stewards and spectators to share the moment with her coaches, friends and father, the architect of her singular strokes.

“It has always been a part of my personality to be different,” Bartoli said later. “I actually love that part of my game, you know: being able to have something different. At the end of the day, when the spectators were looking at 10 matches, they will remember this girl that was doing something different.”

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