Off-Beat Marion Bartoli the Perfect Champion for Wacky 2013 Wimbledon

Lindsay Gibbs@linzsports Featured ColumnistJuly 6, 2013

Marion Bartoli is the 2013 Wimbledon champion. It's a statement that sounds so wrong, but after this tumultuous tournament, it feels just right. 

Bartoli doesn't look like everyone else, she doesn't practice like everyone else and she doesn't play like everyone else. But at the end of the fortnight, she is the last one standing. The 28-year-old from France is officially a part of Wimbledon history.

This isn't the first time Bartoli has been on Centre Court on the final Saturday of Wimbledon. Back in 2007, as an upstart 22-year-old on a fairytale run, she upset No. 1 Justine Henin in the semifinals to reach her maiden Grand Slam final. But her run ended one win shy of greatness, as she fell to No. 23 seed Venus Williams in the final.

This year she met another No. 23 seed in the final, but luckily for her, this time the last name was not Williams. Instead, her opponent was giant-killer Sabine Lisicki, who had taken out Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska, both of last year's finalists, on her way to her first Grand Slam final.

Lisicki was overwhelmed by the occasion, unable to find the court with the powerful game that had gotten her this far. Bartoli was calm and collected—by her standards at least—and seized the day.

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Bartoli marches to the beat of her own drum, and she always has. Six years ago she charmed audiences by claiming that seeing Pierce Brosnan in the royal box at Wimbledon had inspired her to beat Henin. This year she made waves of a different kind by claiming she woke up from a nap a mere 30 minutes before taking the court for her semifinal. 

"I must have a cat inside of me," she said with a laugh as she discussed her unusual sleeping habits.

But beyond her love for James Bond and power naps, things that everyone can relate to, Bartoli's self-professed I.Q. of 175 puts her in unchartered territory. In fact, it makes her a certified genius. 

On the court, Bartoli stands out from the rest as well. She hits a two-handed forehand and backhand, just like her idol, Monica Seles. She bounces around like a jackrabbit in between points, taking shadow swings and never keeping her feet still.

It can even be exhausting to watch her on the changeovers, as her legs shake violently as she gulps down water or fidgets with her hair. There is nothing calm about her demeanor.

Her training regimen is one of a kind as well. Her father, a doctor who quit his practice to become her coach, developed his own methods for encouraging greatness. Thanks to his instructions, she attaches herself to fences with stretch bands, hits astonishing rapid-fire forehand drills and puts tennis balls on the heels of her shoes to make sure she remains on her toes.

These somewhat mad methods made her an outcast for years, as the French Federation refused to work with her unless she ditched her father for someone who had more traditional tennis experience. But she was stubbornly committed to her father, and it became the two of them against the tennis world. 

He was typically the only person in her box, as she eschewed the entourages that her peers embraced. It wasn't always smooth sailing, though. Just two years ago at Wimbledon she kicked him out of her third-round match. The past couple of years, her career has seemed stagnant. 

A few months ago, Bartoli bravely decided to take control of things before time ran out. She finally split from her dad and proceeded to go through a rapid fire of new coaches. None of them stuck, but the parting of ways allowed her to finally become a part of the French tennis establishment.

This year, her Wimbledon campaign began on Court 14, a long way from the watchful eyes of Centre Court and the Venus Rosewater dish. But as the draw crumbled and upsets took over, she took care of business. She won 14 straight sets without even being pushed to a tiebreak.

Bartoli takes the ball early, and when her game is clicking, this allows her to dictate everything on the court, even though she doesn't have the power or movement of other players. What she lacks in ability she makes up for in determination and smarts. But don't let her looks fool you—she's a world-class athlete. There's no way to win Wimbledon without being one.

On her fourth championship point, Bartoli found the serve that has been evading her throughout her career. The unexpected Wimbledon finalist won the title in the most unexpected way possible—with an ace.

"Honestly, I can't believe it. I feel like I'm going to wake up and none of this is going to have happened," she exclaimed in her post-match interview.

Her box cheered as she sprinted toward them to celebrate. This time, her father was not alone. Her Fed Cup captain, Amelie Mauresmo, was there, next to up-and-coming French player Kristina Mladenovic. Thomas Drouet, her new hitting partner who has his own dramatic story, was there too. She embraced them all, but she made sure to hug her father first as the posh Centre Court crowd stood and cheered.

A loner is now a part of the in-crowd. An odd-ball is now the belle of the ball. Marion Bartoli has scored one for the misfits.

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