The shadow swings Marion Bartoli takes between points reinforce her reputation as a player prepared to pounce on incoming shots. The Frenchwoman's pre-point preparation and her compact, two-handed strokes haven’t changed much since she reached the Wimbledon final four years ago, but her customized Prince racquet has evolved to suit her unique style.
The 11th-seeded Bartoli beat 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in this year's Roland Garros quarterfinals to collect her 400th career win. Though Bartoli’s bid to become the first Frenchwoman to reach the French final since Mary Pierce in 2005 ended in the semis, she produced her best result in 11 appearances in Paris. Bartoli followed that performance by beating three Top 10 players in succession—Victoria Azarenka, Samantha Stosur and Petra Kvitova—to collect her sixth career title last weekend in Eastbourne. If the Wimbledon seeds hold true to form, Bartoli would face defending champion Serena Williams in the fourth round.
Recognizing that her two-handed strokes restrict her reach, Bartoli worked with Prince to develop an extra-long racquet. The result is a 28 ½-inch long stick that is one-and-a half inches longer than the standard length. Prince says the 104-square inch racquet is a customized version of the EXO3 Black 104.
"Marion joined the Prince team about five years ago and we have been working with her constantly to create a racquet best suited for her style," Prince global tour director Helge Capell said. "Originally, she used the O3 Red when she first joined Prince. She switched to the EXO3 Black 104, which is our newest technology. Because she plays with the double-handed forehand and double-handed backhand she needs a little bit more reach on balls in the corner and this is where the extra length helps her."
Bartoli’s streamlined stick has shed some weight in recent years, as she’s playing with a racquet about 30 grams lighter than her prior frame.
"Marion’s racquet is 300 grams now and it was around 330 grams before," Capell said. "She was playing a pretty heavy racquet and then went to the longer racquet. In order to get the same amount of power and leverage, we reduced the weight of the racquet when she went longer. The lighter weight and longer frame helps her on the wide balls and also helps her get through the shot more on off-center shots, which happen when you’re in extreme situations sliding on the clay."
Reducing the weight of the racquet was also a concession to a tendon injury in her right hand that Bartoli sustained in 2004.
"I had a racquet at the time which was heavier, and on the grip it was a bit cutting. There was a big like bruise that started in my finger," Bartoli said. "I had to play the U.S. Open with a glove, [a] special big glove. I couldn't hold the racquet. I should not have too much pressure. Now I have a special grip on the handle of my racquet so that I have no pressure on my finger. In fact, it's the tendon in the hand that reaches this finger which is damaged or injured, which will never heal."
Before each Grand Slam tournament, Capell and the Prince team deliver new racquets to Bartoli with most major customization changes occurring in the offseason.
"Marion is very open to testing and always wants to take her game to the next level," Capell said. "She plays half gut and half polyester string so she will sometimes change her tension depending on the surface."
France’s most successful singles players in Paris—Bartoli and men’s quarterfinalist Gael Monfils—both play with Prince racquets. The New Jersey-based brand furthered its French connection by debuting the Tour Team Collection bags, a new version of the Rebel shoe and the new EXO3 Tour Team 100 racquet last month at Roland Garros. Playing on the color concept of red clay, the new gear shares the same black-and-copper color combination, creating a uniformity based on the crushed red brick.
"The entire line debuted at the French Open and the concept of the color tie-in is taking the visual cues from the French Open to a more futuristic, technical colorway," Prince vice president of global communications Zach Perles said. "So that dusty red brick color is a shinier more metallic orange in the new Prince line. Viktor Troicki, David Ferrer and Albert Montanes were among the Prince players who debuted the bag at the French Open. Gael Monfils and the Bryan brothers play with the Prince Rebel, so they carried the iconic green tour team bag."
The EXO3 Tour Team racquet retails for $169. The new orange-and-black Rebel shoes sell for $99. Prince offers three versions of its Tour Team Collection bags; the 12-pack costs $89, the 6-pack sells for $69 and the backpack retails for $49. For more information, visit www.princetennis.com.