In the hours and days following Marion Bartoli’s maiden Grand Slam win, pundits and commentators have been hard at work spinning the wheel of adjectives (if not euphemisms) to describe the Frenchwoman. “Quirky.” “Eccentric.” “Unique.” All of which are ways of dancing around the word one really wants to use when opining on the veteran top tenner: “weird.”
Compared to her WTA colleagues, it’s true: Marion Bartoli is weird. While her two-handed groundstrokes set her apart from the rest on a fundamental level, Bartoli has made a career of exaggerating the sport’s fundamentals. She takes dramatic practice cuts before kangaroo jumping her way into a widely open-stance return position. She winds up to serve in a hitch-filled motion that looks more like a manual flip book of what a serve is supposed to look like. She is very aware of her surroundings, acknowledging cheering fans with an emphatic fist pump of appreciation.
Even in the context of a tournament so full of surprises and early round upsets that Wimbledon itself was re-dubbed “Wimbleweird,” Bartoli managed to stand out. Though coming into what has been her best major tournament (reaching the finals in 2007), the Frenchwoman had suffered through a middling 2013 highlighted by her decision to extricate her father from his perennial position as her coach and confidante. While bigger names went out in her half of the draw, Bartoli continued to cruise, not only reaching the final without losing a set, but also doing so without facing a top 10 player.
Against prohibitive favorite Sabine Lisicki, Bartoli continued to “weird out” those in attendance. The German had taken out two of the top four seeds, and had won three of her four matches against the Frenchwoman (including a quarterfinal encounter at the All-England Club two years ago). Yet, Lisicki crumbled under the weight of expectation, and Bartoli steadied her own nerves to play with the enthusiastic poise that has seen her conquer multiple Slam champions and reigning World No. 1s throughout her career.
As she closed out victory with an ace and jubilantly skipped over to greet her supporters (including her father with her new hitting partner, Thomas Drouet), I began to wonder if the read on Bartoli was all wrong.
Maybe Marion is one of the normal ones.
As a player, what was weird about Bartoli, whose best results have come on grass, using her on-the-rise groundstrokes to overwhelm seven opponents en route to the title? As a person, shouldn’t the athlete who gracefully stalks about big stages seemingly immune to nerves and tension look more to viewers like the “weird” one?
In this way, Bartoli is the People’s Champion in more ways that one would think. Over the years, she has approached a game often played at immortal levels as methodically as she has uniquely, constantly trying new and better ways of competing with the game’s elite. What many deemed “rituals,” she has seen as formulas for success. Where she has shown fits of greatness, she has also shown human frailty as she struggled with various injuries that derailed potentially earlier title runs.
When she saw she could go no further with her father’s coaching earlier this year, she began opening up to other ideas, and even made amends with the French Federation after years of ostracism and alienation. Fed Cup Captain Amelie Mauresmo and teammate Kristina Mladenovic’s presence in Bartoli’s player box was proof that Bartoli had been warmly welcomed back into the fold.
With these changes came a dip in form; some may have thought her master plan had backfired, but Bartoli refused to buckle under the immediate consequences of major change. As she’s always done, she continued to work and fine-tune her team until they were as formulaic as her two-handed volleys.
In victory and in press, she was charming and unguarded, standing in stark contrast with the high-jumping cartoon character one sees between points. Her pure, unadulterated joy was very human, something we all could imagine feeling after reaching the precipice of our life’s purpose.
If there was anything “weird” about Marion Bartoli holding the Venus Rosewater Dish aloft, perhaps it had to do with the fact that, despite the changes in technology, the vast accumulation of natural (or superhuman) talent, even the steely nerves shown throughout the tennis world, a normal young woman can continue to grow, change and tinker with her game and rise to the pinnacle of her sport.
After all these years and compared to the surrounding names in the Wimbledon Compendium, Marion Bartoli may still be a “weirdo.” But her fortnight at the All-England Club proved that she was something more.
She’s one of us.