Wimbledon 2013: Maiden title for Marion Bartoli as Sabine Lisicki suffers stage fright
Frenchwoman, making her 47th Grand Slam appearance, wins the battle of nerves to claim victory over her German opponent
Sunday 07 July 2013
This wasn't the final that anyone predicted and it wasn't a classic, but it showed that mental fortitude is as important in the modern game as talent. Marion Bartoli, a finalist at Wimbledon in 2007, when she lost to Venus Williams, finally won her first major, but her 6-1 6-4 victory over the German Sabine Lisicki came after a year of indifferent results and emotional upset.
Bartoli, 28, had not been past the quarter-finals of any tournament in 2013, a year that began with a split from her coach, her father, Walter, which drained her emotionally but which she felt was necessary.
The separation brought the 15th seed back into the fold of the French Tennis Federation, with which both she and her father had previously had a fraught relationship; the rapprochement means that Bartoli has been working with Amélie Mauresmo, the 2006 Wimbledon champion and captain of the French Fed Cup team, whom she credits as giving her greater mental focus.
Lisicki, 23, was also coached by her father, Richard, who gave up his career as a sports scientist to accompany her when she started training at Nick Bollettieri's academy in Florida in 2004. She, too, has had travails in the recent past. She suffered a serious ankle injury in 2010, which kept her out of the game for five months and after which she had to learn to walk again.
Like her idol, Boris Becker, Lisicki, the 23rd seed here, is nicknamed "Boom Boom", and has a powerful game made for grass (to which she is allergic) – big serve, heavy ground- strokes and a willingness to come to the net. Becker and Steffi Graf, the last German winner in the women's singles, in 1996, have been sending messages of support over the past fortnight.
Bartoli's game is also aggressive; she runs down everything and takes the ball early on groundstrokes. She is as bubbly on court as she is off it, constantly bobbing on her toes between points. She must expend as much energy between points as during them and her training sessions, using techniques her father, a doctor, developed for her – such as practising shots while her arms, feet or body are attached to a resistance rope – look like a form of torture. Her playing style, meanwhile, with an unorthodox serve and a two-handed forehand, would never appear in a coaching manual.
The players came on to Centre Court past a royal box filled with past winners in SW19, including Martina Navratilova, Margaret Court, Virginia Wade and Martina Hingis. It was an invitation list to celebrate 40 years of the Women's Tennis Association and the guest of honour was Billie Jean King, the association's founder.
As if overwhelmed in such exalted company and playing in the final of a tournament almost as eventful as the men's draw – the No 3 seed, Maria Sharapova, and Victoria Azarenka (No 2) went out in the first week – both players started nervously and traded service breaks.
But Bartoli settled quickly while Lisicki, whose consistency has never matched her talent, looked nothing like the vanquisher of the defending champion and world No 1, Serena Williams, whom she beat in the fourth round. And while there were some decent rallies Lisicki couldn't quite get a feel for the ball, with mistimed groundstrokes and drop shots, and Bartoli raced to take the first set in 29 minutes.
Lisicki, playing in her first Slam final, started the second set with a new vigour, serving well to take the first game and then pushing Bartoli hard in her first service game, which went to five deuces. But Bartoli broke easily in the third game and then held, and Lisicki appeared to have no way through, producing some loose groundstrokes and serving double faults. Bartoli capitalised by threatening the German's second serve, standing inside the baseline to receive.
At 5-1 down an emotional Lisicki, who was a Wimbledon semi-finalist in 2011, served to stay in the match and it appeared to be all over at 15-40, but she delivered her biggest serves of the match (her top speed was 115mph) to save three championship points.
It appeared to galvanise her and she then broke Bartoli and held serve again. This was the best segment of the match as Lisicki started hitting the lines and the players were involved in some thrilling rallies.
Bartoli came out to serve for the match again, this time with new balls. Maybe she wanted to keep her 100 per cent record of not dropping a set in this year's championships, or more likely was aware that Lisicki came from a set and 3-1 down to beat Williams, but she sent down four great serves and took the title with an ace after an hour and 21 minutes.
"I love this tournament so much, and this court," said a tearful Lisicki after the match. "I got back but Marion was too good."
"You will be back," Bartoli said to her opponent, whom she had hugged at the net after winning, adding that she knew the pain of being defeated in a Wimbledon final.
"If you had said I would be here when I started this campaign out on Court 14 I wouldn't have believed you... but I was playing my best match of the championship. This has been my dream since I was six years old."
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