Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - July 19, 2013

Bartoli learning to enjoy herself

Wimbledon champion is finally living in the moment after years of not making the most of the occasion

by Alexandra Willis

It was around 8:30 p.m. Marion Bartoli had been escorted to press conference, interview, interview, round table, round table, round table, back-to-back-to-back, with not even a moment's respite to eat the smoked salmon and brown bread sandwich sitting somewhat forlornly on the desk in press conference room 2. She was still wearing grey tracksuit bottoms and a workout-type top, no glitz and glamour here.

You become very much in demand when you are the Wimbledon champion.

By that stage, you might well expect her to have become a little weary of answering the same questions over and over. Or at least not respond to them quite so well. But, as we've come to discover, Marion Bartoli is unique. And she saved one of her best lines of the day for last.

"Did I dream about having a model contract? No, I'm sorry," she joked. "Did I dream about winning Wimbledon, absolutely yes."

Bartoli, the biggest name in next week's Bank of the West Classic at Stanford's Taube Family Tennis Center (July 22-28), was responding to the suggestion that she has had to work harder in life because she did not look like Maria Sharapova. And she quashed it as firmly as she delivered that final ace on match point, reminding those of us in the room that no, she is not blonde. "That's a fact," she laughed.

On the contrary, Bartoli freely admits that she has not always led a charmed life.

"It was not really my tennis results, it was more my private life," she explained when asked about why she had described herself as hitting 'rock bottom' earlier this year. "And it was really hard to take, I couldn't focus when I was on the court, I couldn't even enjoy being myself. I was almost a bit depressed. But somehow the wheel turned and I had my moment."

And then she paused.

"Maybe it was meant to be like that," she said. "Maybe you have to go through those tough times to bounce back and to have this ultimate high."

Losing a Grand Slam final is not an easy experience to forget. Just ask Great Britain's Andy Murray, and for the 2013 Wimbledon women's finale, Sabine Lisicki. But it was not so much the way she played, or didn't play, in her unsuccessful Championships attempt in 2007 which stayed with Bartoli. It was not making the most of the occasion.

"It was not really painful to lose because Venus (Williams) was just way too good for me. I had absolutely no chance during that final," Bartoli remembered. "What was the most painful for me was not enjoying the moment, I was so overwhelmed at the whole situation.

"So I really wanted this time to enjoy every second of it, no matter what was the result, enjoy, embrace the situation, being out there, playing the final of Wimbledon, on Saturday at 2 o'clock. When I saw the packed stadium, beautiful sky, I thought gosh this is going to be a great moment. And it was."

Practicing with her father on icy, hole-ridden tennis courts late at night after school in France, the limited space on the court the reason for her quirky and quizzical style, driving hundreds of kilometers to tournaments while doing her homework in the back of the car -— "that made me the person that I am right now on the court, it's coming all from that," she said almost proudly.

"When I was younger they (the French Tennis Federation coaches) tried to switch me back to a one-handed forehand, but when they saw my one-handed forehand they said 'OK that's fine, just stick with yours!'" she laughed.

"When I was watching the other players and then watching myself two meters inside the court returning a serve, I was like, 'OK, I'm a bit different'."

But Bartoli is not someone who tries to be a certain way. She greets the fabled tale of her higher-than-average IQ with a sort of embarrassment.

"I'm not calling myself a genius," she says. "I love to make fun of myself, I'm not the kind of person who is saying gosh I'm so perfect.

"I'm totally the opposite, I'm probably doing a million stupid things a day, I'm just trying not to be a pain for the people around me, just to be normal. I will definitely want to stay like that because I just don't want to change."

She's a Wimbledon champion now. She doesn't have to change a thing.

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