We are fast approaching the one-year anniversary of a match that punctuated the most punk-rock Wimbledon Championships of the Open Era. Despite losing most of the pre-tournament favorites in stunning upsets, the 2013 Wimbledon final was an opportunity for two familiar faces to capitalize on the carnage and make major breakthroughs. On one side was Sabine Lisicki, Wimbledon’s warrior princess who took out three Grand Slam champions and two of the top 3 seeds to make her first major final. Across the net was Marion Baroli; equally notorious for her giant-killing prowess, the Frenchwoman benefited from a broken draw, ending several fairy tale runs to earn herself a happy ending of her own.
Bartoli may have won the tournament, but the story is far from over. Victoria Chiesa joins me for a conversation that covers Ever After and beyond for last year’s finalists and ponder where the rainbow ends for each during the fortnight to come.
David Kane: Welcome to my new place, Victoria! Sorry for not having you over sooner; I wanted to tidy things up before I invited guests. The décor is minimal, so try not to knock anything over. I actually spent a pretty wild Thursday night re-watching Bartoli/Lisicki, complete with commentary from Chris (Fowler) and Chrissie (Evert). Police had to be called for noise, it was a little embarrassing. There was plenty to glean from the retread, but I wanted to first get your thoughts on what you remember from that day, that week, that month, or even that year since. Who expected Marion Bartoli to win Wimbledon without dropping a set, only to disappear from the WTA Tour shortly thereafter?
Victoria Chiesa: Took you long enough to figure out that DIY-Ikea furniture. I was starting to think this was some kind of intentional snub, Kane. Not having Cady Heron on speed-dial to read the Swedish instructions is a rookie mistake. As a house-warming gift, I brought cake to celebrate both your new digs and the one-year anniversary of Marion Bartoli’s Wimbledon title. I can’t even remember what life was like before Marion won Wimbledon. There was something oddly fitting about her snatching the most coveted title in tennis and riding off into the sunset. One of the most unconventional players in tennis history storms to the title at tennis’ temple of tradition just to walk away about a month later. We had barely picked up our jaws from the floor before they hit the ground again. Kanye who? This was the greatest mic drop EVER.
If most of you were stunned by the events of last year’s Championships, put yourself in my shoes from a moment. I was on a cruise for the entire first week, completely cut off from society. When I got my land legs back, I was anchored in some parallel universe. The Royal Caribbean people encouraged escaping reality, but they didn’t warn me I’d come back to that.
DK: I imagine returning to find a tournament in shambles engendered shock of Patrick Star proportions. The first week of this year’s French Open was an incredible simulation, but I doubt many major tournaments will ever come close to the number of surprises brought by Wacky Wednesday alone. At the same time, neither Lisicki nor Bartoli were surprise finalists on a surface that suits their games. Lisicki’s wins over both 2012 Wimbledon finalists made it all reminiscent of Samantha Stosur’s run to the finals of the 2010 French Open. The buzz ahead of a final where royalty still reigns gave the German an almost regal air and made the match against Bartoli feel more like a coronation. But for Stosur and Lisicki, it was a wily veteran who stole their thunder to take the crown. Do you recall a similar vibe, and how did the match itself stack up against past Championship finales?
VC: Certainly. Both Stosur and Lisicki were the talk of their respective Slams. Stosur was seeded 7th, but was nonetheless flying under the radar. She, like Lisicki, took out a murderer’s row to reach the final – Justine Henin, Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic – just to be defeated by a woman who seized her moment in Francesca Schiavone. However, Lisicki’s flair for the dramatic made her an even bigger headline. Let’s face it: she fit the Wimbledon mold, and charmed both the crowd and the British press. With her history, however, it wasn’t a surprise to see her completely overwhelmed in the championship match. Schiavone outplayed Stosur from first ball to last, but while Bartoli showed some of the inspired play that saw her roll through the bottom half of the draw, Lisicki didn’t bring much to the table to challenge her.
DK: Fortune will always favor the brave in tennis, and the German indeed found it easy to be brave as the underdog against Williams and Radwanska. As time continues to pass and Lisicki continues to be a mystery (more on that later), it becomes easier to look back on the final as a complete disaster. Upon a re-watch, I found that read to be mostly true, but I also found it to be a lesson in optics and the importance we put on length when measuring quality (“That’s what she said” comments will be deleted).
Bartoli did largely have things all her own way, but just when the match was on course to being among the most lopsided major finals in the Open Era, Lisicki mounted an improbable comeback. So far behind, Lisicki became looser as she saved championship points and pegged Bartoli back to 5-4 with one more chance to serve it out. The Frenchwoman, backed by new coach Amelie Mauresmo, met the German’s late charge with the most emphatic game of her career, cracking winners and taking her maiden Grand Slam title with an ace. The overall product wasn’t pretty, but Lisicki did make a match of it when it counted. That Bartoli was able to respond in kind should erase the asterisks around an otherwise comfortably won major title. What do you make of how the match ended what has become of both players since?
VC: While Marion’s been busy polishing up her “Most Interesting Woman in the World” resumé for Dos Equis, Lisicki has continued to follow her standard career trajectory. Her results to close out 2013 were up and down, and she hasn’t won back-to-back matches in singles this year. She fell on her wrist and retired in tears against Mona Barthel in Paris. Normally, I’d say that’s cause for concern. But the last time Lisicki left Paris in tears (on a stretcher, no less), she made the Wimbledon semifinals. Is there a word for momentum in German or Polish? That might explain it.
DK: Injuries, inconsistencies, and inexplicable Wimbledon success have been the three staples of Lisicki’s career. While it might not be ridiculous to expect another out-of-nowhere run, her 2011 French Open sorrow and Wimbledon smiles sandwiched a Birmingham title in between. The German has showed little of that form, save for a three-setter against Simona Halep in Madrid. All of this combined for more than a couple of question marks at her nomination to open Centre Court for the ladies. Was it a good decision by the All-England Club, or is it merely par for the course for an institution that tends to favor the blonde as often as the brave?
VC: I think people have gotten so used to criticizing the All-England Club over the years (read: rain delays, and more recently, nonsensical usage of the Centre Court roof) that they’ll look for any reason to do it again. I just find the constant clamor over court assignments to be a waste of time. There was similar uproar over the decision to schedule Rafael Nadal on Suzanne Lenglen for his first match at Roland Garros. I imagine even Sloane Stephens even has an opinion on all of this:
Serena Williams has had the opportunity to open play on Centre Court five times in her career. I doubt she really cares. I say let Lisicki have her moment. With the way the public adopted her last year, she’s one step away from being Sabine Lisicki (GBR) anyway.
DK: I wouldn’t be surprised if Williams felt slighted by the decision. Perennially snubbed at her favorite tournament, she’s not shy about letting people know who is the best in the world. That hasn’t been the case this year, particularly on the biggest stages. But the American has always played her best tennis when she feels like she has something to prove. In that way, the decision may not hurt the top seed in terms of results, even if she may end up bothered with the choice.
The only way to end this is to look once more on our defending champion. I don’t think a single major champion has made a more seamless transition into retirement. But isn’t that just so Marion? She conducted her career on her own terms, so why should her life off the Tour be any different? It’s been nice to see her happily adjacent from the action, but what have you made of Marion’s Next Chapter? Do we need Iyanla to come fix her life?
VC: I want her to write a book. It’s all she hasn’t done that this point. It might be hard for her to find time between taking selfies with Donald Trump, designing her own jewelry line and jetsetting around the world, but I think it’d make a cracking read. Watching her transformation from noted WTA lone wolf to one of the most beloved players, even in retirement, over the past 18 months has been astounding. I think it’d be something to hear about it all from her perspective. That, and a stint on Dancing With the Stars, of course. Has the foxtrot ever been done in Louboutins?
DK: 10s across the board, undoubtedly. Thanks for joining me, Victoria. We may yet acquire Marion’s winged sneaker accessory, but we certainly flew through this discussion. Stay tuned for Part II!