It was a triumph for the unconventional and underrated; for those who walk a singular path, know the sting of ridicule and doubt—perhaps even, at times, self-doubt. Marion Bartoli won Wimbledon today with a near-flawless demonstration of ultra-aggressive baseline tennis, demolishing the surprise darling of the tournament, Sabine Lisicki, in two savagely administered sets, 6-1, 6-4.
Bartoli didn't drop a set throughout the tournament, and only a short-lived 11th hour resurgence by the German kept the result from taking its place among the two or three most one-sided finals in Grand Slam history.
Bartoli’s win was built upon a factor few could foresee, given the way Lisicki, a 2011 semifinalist, had been able to take the game to a succession of victims at this tournament. Those included a pair of recent Grand Slam champions, Serena Williams and Sam Stosur. Lisicki also survived an epic semifinal against last year’s runner-up, Agniezska Radwanska. That one ended 9-7 in the third set and, given Radwanska’s well-earned reputation as one of the game’s best defenders, it seemed to confirm that Lisicki had more offense than anyone could handle this week.
It only figures that Bartoli, ever the sleeper despite having lost the 2007 final on this same Centre Court, was the exception.
Granted, Lisicki suffered terribly from stage fright in this, her first major final. But the lion’s share of the credit goes to Bartoli and her ability to bombard Lisicki with flat, hard, sometimes sharply angled groundstrokes from inside the baseline—all struck with her eccentric, two-hands-at-all-times technique. Those laser-like shots sent Lisicki reeling back on her heels, and she was barely able to get the racquet around in time to make contact—blows that all too often produced netted errors.
It seemed that the bright, sunny day was tailor-made for the 5’10” power server. After all, Lisicki had been broken just six times in this entire tournament. When she broke serve in the first game, thanks to back-to-back double faults by Bartoli from deuce, it appeared that the table was set for the girl whom the British tabloids had colorfully dubbed “The Laughing Girl from Germany.”
Unfortunately, Lisicki had little reason to smile after her first service game, a shaky one in which she failed to capitalize on her early break. She matched Bartoli’s break-point double-fault for 1-all, and then made a pair of errors that ultimately helped Bartoli hold the next game with an ace for 2-1.
Then the floodgates opened.
Lisicki had trouble keeping the ball in the court, partly because she had a bad case of the shakes—but also because Bartoli did not, and she showed it with crisp play that took time away from Lisicki and prevented her from ever re-grouping.
The points were brief, unpredictable explosions that almost always ended with a Lisicki error or Bartoli unreturnable. Bartoli converted her first break point of the fourth game for a 3-1 lead, then held at love with a service winner for 4-1.
There was still some hope for Lisicki in the next game. She built a 40-15 lead, and her subsequent inability to hold was the turning point of the match. She let Bartoli get back to deuce, and fended off a break point with an ace. But Bartoli took it back to deuce again. After an unreturnable serve, Lisicki blew a hold point when she stumbled through a rally, half-spectating and half-playing, and ended it by driving a backhand into the net. After one more deuce, a double-fault and a forehand that Lisicki floated over the baseline gave Bartoli her second break and an insurmountable 5-1 lead. She served out the set with no trouble.
Lisicki took a composure break at the end of the first set, barely able to suppress the tears of frustration and disappointment that still would force themselves out later in the match. Anyone with a heart had to feel for her; on the other hand, there is a certain measure of professionalism that a player must cultivate if she hopes to handle such situations. The amount of work Lisicki still needs to do in that regard soon became evident. She pulled herself together long enough to produce a strong hold to start the second set, and seemed a different, resurrected player in the next game.
In that one, Lisicki had four break points against Bartoli’s serve, and was moving her feet well enough and addressing the ball with enough confidence to threaten a break. But quietly, doggedly, with a stern visage and knitted brow, Bartoli suppressed the insurrection. When she held that long game for 1-1, emotions once again washed over Lisicki. And not in a good way.
Lisicki was unable to stem the tide of tears that blurred her vision (absolutely the last thing she needed at that point) in the next game, and she wasted three hold points. Bartoli converted her second break point, pushing her lead to 4-1.
Bartoli added a quick game for 5-1, after which Lisicki brushed aside three match points and held for 2-5. It was impressive, but let’s not kid ourselves: She was so far out of it by then that there was absolutely no pressure on her. Lisicki sustained her improved level to break Bartoli and pull within one break at 3-5, and managed to hold the next game, but she was spent. Serving at 5-4, Bartoli ended a long rally with a sizzling forehand to win the first point.
Crestfallen, Lisicki was unable to resist the three winners that streamed off Bartoli’s racquet after that, the last of them a match-ending ace.
“I felt overwhelmed,” Lisicki admitted in the on-court interview afterward.
Showing a lot of class, Bartoli looked at her beaten rival a few moments later and said, “I am sure you will be there one more time, I have no doubt about it.”
IBM Stat of the Match: Lisicki's first serve, her biggest weapon and the primary reason for her presence in today's final, didn't hold up under the suffocating pressure. She won just 22 of 42 first-serve points in the match.
IBM is a proud sponsor and official technology partner for Wimbledon. For more information on this match, including the Keys to the Match, visit IBM's SlamTracker.