The Washington Post

Marion Bartoli reaches Wimbledon final with unconventional style

Barely 5 feet 6 inches, Marion Bartoli stands as a testament to the fact that there is more than one way to play world-caliber tennis.

The list of the Frenchwoman’s on-court eccentricities is long. There is her near-sideways service motion, which she interrupts with a momentum-killing hitch. There is her two-fisted backhand and forehand, which only limit her already limited reach. And there is that ungainly overhead smash, which she pulls off despite a vertical leap not much higher than a Parisian curb.

Yet Bartoli, the world’s 15th-ranked player, has parlayed her singular array of skills into Wimbledon’s championship for a second time in seven years.

Her opponent, 23-year-oldSabine Lisicki of Germany, will be appearing in her first Grand Slam final Saturday, having twice overcome an 0-3 deficit in the third set to reach this point, toppling top-ranked Serena Williams in the fourth round and No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the semifinals.

“Sabine has played some amazing tennis so far,” Bartoli conceded Friday. “She might be too good for me tomorrow, as well.”

But Lisicki would be unwise to mistake Bartoli’s kind words for a lack of mettle, just as previous opponents have learned it’s unwise to discount the potency of her strokes just because they don’t mirror those of the game’s prototypical power-hitters currently atop the rankings.

At 28, Bartoli is fitter, faster and far more confident today than she was in 2007, when she was routed in Wimbledon’s final by Venus Williams. And that confidence is well deserved, given that Bartoli advanced to Saturday’s final without surrendering a set.

Also different this year: Bartoli is no longer being coached by her father, a physician who gave up his medical practice years ago to transform his young daughter, an undistinguished athlete at the time, into a tennis champion.

Walter Bartoli had no special expertise as a tennis coach. But he had plenty of ideas about the qualities a champion needed — quick reflexes, physical stamina and mental strength, chief among them. And he invented drills to instill those traits in Marion, rewarding her with candy for hitting precise spots on the court when she was a little girl, then ramping up to more grueling drills involving rugby balls and resistance bands as a teenager.

This relationship hardly made the Bartolis unique in women’s tennis. At roughly the same time in Compton, Calif., self-taught coaches Richard Williams and Oracene Price were drilling their daughters, Venus and Serena, in how to become tennis champions.

Marion Bartoli has offered few details about the decision to sever coaching ties with her father, whom she famously banished from her guest box during one particularly difficult Wimbledon match in 2011.

“Sometimes, you just to have move on and change and do some few changes and be brave to do so,” Bartoli explained last week. “For me, at 28, it was time to try something different. We both felt the same way, which is great.”

Here at Wimbledon, Bartoli has been tutored and cheered by former world No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo, who won the grass-court classic in 2006 and is currently captain of France’s Fed Cup team.

Bartoli still phones her father each night, accepting an occasional word of advice about her tennis dresses — but none about her tennis tactics. And Walter Bartoli is expected to be back in her guest box for Saturday’s final.

But in the run-up to this Wimbledon championship, Bartoli has learned she can be happy off the court and still succeed on it—playing the same, idiosyncratic way her father taught her — without having to look his way for direction.

Liz Clarke currently covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. She has also covered seven Olympic Games, two World Cups and written extensively about college sports, tennis and auto racing.



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