It wasn’t easy and it certainly wasn’t fast, but after 159 minutes and five match points on a cold day in Paris before a full stadium cheering warmly for her French opponent, Angelique Kerber beat Marion Bartoli, 7-6 (3), 5-7, 6-3, to win her first WTA title.
Kerber is the first German to win this title since Steffi Graf in 1995, and she won it in style. The lefty beat top seed Maria Sharapova in the quarterfinals and second seed Bartoli in an excellent final that got shaky in the third set, as both players fought nerves and fatigue.
For much of this match, both players went for their shots, and when they missed they missed well. In the end, Kerber won because she moved better, played a little cleaner and was the superior server (Bartoli served 10 double faults).
The first set came down to the tiebreak, and you suspected things wouldn’t go Bartoli’s way when she kicked it off with a double fault. Five more errors from Bartoli didn’t help her cause. It was a great set of tennis though—together they hit 40 winners against 25 errors.
The more mobile Kerber looked like she’d run away with the second set—she was up 3-0, and Bartoli looked so flat that Eurosport commentators wondered if something was “physically or medically wrong.” But Kerber got nervous as she approached the finish line, and maybe that’s what energized Bartoli. Down 2-5, Bartoli seemed to wake up, winning 13 straight points at one stretch, and eventually the set.
In the third set Bartoli was subdued again, perhaps mentally and physically drained from her effort this day and week. You sensed she’d fight, but you also sensed that if Kerber could maintain her composure, control her forehand errors, and continue striking the ball well, she would win. It took five match points, three of which Bartoli saved with winners, but Kerber did just that.
Bartoli, who had hoped to win her first title in her home country, cried through part of the trophy ceremony, but still managed a gracious speech and autographs afterward. It’s clear both players are in a good place right now. They’re at career-high rankings, for one thing; Bartoli is No. 7, and Kerber is No. 27.
Looking at these in-form pros side by side, you wonder when Bartoli became a decorated veteran. Like Sam Stosur and Vera Zvonareva, Bartoli will turn 28 this year. The 2007 Wimbledon finalist has been continuously in the Top 20 for almost five years and has reached more singles semifinals than the other three Paris semifinalists combined (40 to 37).
But Kerber’s had the better 2012 so far. She's already reached three semifinals and has done so in six of her last 10 tournaments.
In her victory speech Kerber said to Bartoli, “I am very sorry that I beat you here in Paris.” She seemed to mean it, kind of. But there was also this… “You know who won this title last year?” the post-match interviewer asked Kerber. "Petra Kvitova," said Kerber. “You know what happened to her?” the interviewer continued. Of course, she knew. So if Kerber’s only a little sorry, who can blame her?