The cheers were muted and the Tennis Hate was palpable on Centre Court, as Marion Bartoli accepted the Venus Rosewater Dish at Wimbledon. Bartoli, a Grand Slam champion? But she's chunky. She's got weird, herky-jerky moves. She's too intense on the court. She's got this creepy dad who, until last year, had been her only coach.
And she's French.
Too bad, Brits. The 28-year-old Bartoli soundly beat an overwhelmed Sabine Lisicki, 6-1, 6-4.
The crowd clapped politely, just like they did when Bartoli crushed short, cross-court backhand winners, or whalloped balls out of the air with an awkward-looking two-handed swinging volley, or hit only her second ace of the match on championship point. No, the Brits saved their enthusiasm for the 23-year-old blonde, doe-eyed German, the Lisicki who had beaten world number one and defending champ Serena Williams, the 23-year-old giggling girl who had triumphed over Number 4 seed and 2012 runner-up Aggie Radwanska.
Hadn't she clawed her way past these betters of Bertoli when she was down, 0-3, in the third set? The Brits on Centre Court were hoping, pleading, screaming, willing,Lisicki to do it again.
She almost did. Serving to stay in the match at 1-5 in the second set, Lisicki found herself down three match points.
"It wasn't the end just yet though," as the WTA's website put it.
Lisicki fought off all three of those match points, one with a winner, one with an unreturnable serve, one with a Bartoli backhand error - then held serve, broke and held serve again. Things were looking dubious for Bartoli - a 6-1, 5-1 lead was now cut to a 6-1, 5-4 lead.
But Bartoli was, as she almost always is on court, fiercely focused, taking her kangaroo hops and her practice swings before settling in to serve for the match with that strange, L-shaped toss that has every club player thinking, "Maybe there's hope for me yet."
Marion won, fittingly, with an ace wide to Lisicki in the ad court. The look on her face was delightful. She looked like the little six-year-old girl she once was, hitting balls with her dad, dreaming of this exact moment.
Very few people would have believed she could get anywhere near the trophy." -- ESPN's Chris Fowler, of Marion Bartoli
Well, maybe not this exact moment.
"For me, finishing with an ace to win Wimbledon, even in my wildest dream, I think I could not believe it," Marion said in her on-court interview after the trophy ceremony. "Maybe a backhand winner, but not an ace." She smiled and shook her head. "I've been practicing my serve for so long, at least I saved it for the best moment!"
The crowd laughed, but that was as much as they'd allow themselves to be charmed by her. They went back to being chilly on this hot, sunny day.
Here's how the New York Times situated her victory:
There are many ways to count how long Bartoli waited for this moment. She was competing in her 47th Grand Slam event, the most of any champion before winning her first title. She reached her first Grand Slam final here six years ago, but did not reach another one until Saturday. She had not won a tournament of any kind since 2011.
The amazement extended to the commentator's booth. ESPN's Chris Fowler and Hall of Famer Chris Evert kept bringing up how weird it was to see Marion in the championship match, playing like the winner she would be. "Very few people would've believed [Bartoli] would get anywhere near the trophy," said Fowler.
I think I was just overwhelmed." -- Sabine Lisicki
Evert made sure everyone knew how much of a loner Marion's been for most of her career, how her doctor dad dreamed up all these wacky contraptions and training regimens for his daughter, how it was "Marion and her dad against the world," with Bartoli foregoing participation with France's Fed Cup team because it would have meant dropping Dr. B as her coach.
All these years on the court, Bartoli "has looked strained and almost tortured at times," Evert said. Today, "she's much more relaxed."
That's because, Evert went on, Marion dumped her dad as coach last year and took on 2-time Grand Slam winner and French Fed Cup captain Amelie Mauresmo as her advisor. For once, she had others in her box besides Dr. Dad. For once, Evert said, Marion had friends.
Yes, Haters, the moral of this story is Tennis Love Triumphs Over Tennis Hate. Marion Bartoli lightened up, and her performance level lifted up like le ballon rouge.
"Hard work, intensity, fun and easy going, these things can go together," Mauresmo was quoted as saying in the NYTimes.
But to say that Marion Bartoli had improved was very close to giving the "eccentric," "unconventional," "quirky" veteran credit for playing well. Evert was eager to point out that Lisicki looked spent. She had beaten three top ten players (Williams, Radwanska, Samantha Stosur) on her road to the final. Meanwhile, Bartoli's highest-ranked opponent was Sloane Stephens, at Number 17. "As a former player, I know how emotionally and mentally exhausted she must be," Evert cooed.
Well, that's what makes tennis so hard, consistent champions like Williams, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic so amazing, and champions, champions. The fact is, Lisicki did not come with her A game today, Bartoli did, and Lisicki could not find a Plan B to disrupt the March of Marion. Bartoli did not lose a set in her entire Wimbledon campaign. She managed her emotions well, even after being broken in her first service game to take the match. Marion Bartoli's win was achieved, not bequeathed.
A weepy Sabine Lisicki knew it, too.
"I think I was just overwhelmed," she said. "Credit for Marion, she's been in that position before. I hope I get the chance one more time as well."
"This was my first Grand Slam final and I wish I would have won it, but I hope we get the chance one more time," Lisicki said, her voice cracking.
Sounds like she studied Murray's emotional runner-up concession speech from last year, sobs and all.
Said Bartoli, "I know how it feels, Sabine, and believe me, I'm sure you will be there one more time."
I'm glad Bartoli won. She deserved it. She plays hard, fights hard. That her first, likely her only, Grand Slam triumph came as a result of lightening up her life makes me smile. There is a way to defeat the Tennis Hate in your head and the tennis hate of your opponents on the court and in the stands. Marion demonstrated that today.