Unable to live a lie, Marion Bartoli takes a champion’s way out

this article appeared first at : http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2013/aug/15/marion-bartoli-retirement-unorthodox-tennis

Kevin Mitchell
August 15, 2013

Link to video: Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli on retirement

timeIt had not long gone 9am but, as Marion Bartoli perched on a swivelling chair at the bar of the Hyatt Place Hotel in Mason, Ohio, wearing outrageously tall designer shoes, the reigning Wimbledon champion did not look like someone who had stayed up until 5am tweeting about her from-nowhere decision the previous evening to quit tennis at 28 after losing in the second round of the Cincinnati Open.

It was as if the slugger who emerged from Le Puy-en-Velay in the south of France two decades ago to amuse and bewilder her sport had shed her past. If this was a statement, it was a stylish one as she chatted amiably with her hitting partner, Thomas Drouet, and a congo line of industry admirers, players, trainers, backroom types and a cast of unknowns. Audrey Hepburn did not receive admirers more regally in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

But Breakfast at the Hyatt was not a place for interviews. She had said her piece the night before after losing in three sets to the Romanian Simona Halep on the tournament’s second court. There were few there to witness it, fewer still to ask her about it later. And some of what has gone largely unrecorded, such as her telephone conversation with her father, said a lot. It was instructive too that Walter, a doctor and her tough-talking muse, was not there for the grand moment.

mb“I’m so proud of you,” he told her from Geneva, where she lives now. “I will support you in anything you’re doing.” As she said: “He knows, more than anyone, how much I worked and what I did to make it happen, to make my dream a reality. He is proud of what I did, very much so, and he kind of knew I just couldn’t do it any more. He kind of felt it.”

If Walter knew, hardly anybody else did. There were hints but not loud excuse-induced ones. In the run-up to the crowning achievement of her career, Bartoli did not so much fly under the radar as go subterranean: she quit at 6-3, 4-1 down against Andrea Petkovic in Miami in March; the American Coco Vandeweghe knocked her out in the first round in Monterrey; Shuai Peng did the same to her in Estoril; she got to the fourth round on the Madrid clay; there was another first-round embarrassment in Strasbourg, beaten by the world No88 Camila Giorgi; Francesca Schiavone walloped her in the third round at Roland Garros; she handed Li Na a walkover at Eastbourne … and then she wonWimbledon without dropping a set, and collected $2m, her biggest purse on her biggest day.

How about that for a mixed bag? But Bartoli has always been an enigma. She always maintained that John Inverdale’s now infamous “not a looker” remark did not trouble her. He apologised to her, she accepted it – smilingly, I understand. It caused him far more grief than it did her. She had had bigger rows in her life, often with the French federation over the Davis Cup, and with Walter, who ghosted in and out of her life like Iago. But dressing up sent a message nonetheless.

Marion BartoliWimbledon champion Marion Bartoli says she can no longer stand the physical pain of playing tennis at the highest level. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images for WTAAfter winning Wimbledon, she arrived at the champion’s dinner in a striking outfit, her 5ft 6in frame balanced delicately on another pair of gravity-defying shoes. Imelda Marcos would have been jealous; Andy Murray’s mother, Judy, was impressed. There were gasps from the men’s champion and from every table in the room. There was humming acclaim for a champion.

She says she cannot stand the pain any longer and she is talking about those body parts that ache every time she swings a racket or hunts down a drop shot. Asked about the minutiae of her final match, she said: “Honestly, the match isn’t really important to me right now. If I have to be tomorrow on the practice court and prepare for the next tournament, I won’t be at 100%, because my mind is not there, my heart is not there, and I just can’t lie like that. That’s not the way I’ve been raised. That’s not the way I am. So, I prefer to stay true to myself rather than just cheating.”

If she was cheating, it was certainly a beautiful lie.


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