With the 2013 tennis season in the past, it's time to dole out our annual awards. Look for the winners—for better or worse—throughout this week on TENNIS.com. (To see what's been unveiled thus far, click here.)
Bartoli's Wimbledon Win: For a long time leading up to this last Wimbledon, we’d been offered Grand Slam finals that almost always featured all the usual suspects, led by Serena Williams and the ATP Big Four. That’s one of the main reasons that Marion Bartoli’s triumph at Wimbledon is the women's Story of the Year.
Not only did Bartoli burst out of the hinterlands to win the most prestigious of titles, she played a final that was absolutely worthy of the event. While her opponent, Sabine Lisicki, also could be called an unusual suspect, the performance Bartoli came up with ruled out any temptation to dismiss her achievement with the crack, “Well, somebody had to win it.”
One of the dominant realities in tennis is that the greater chance a Slam-less player has to win a title, the more pressure she’s likely to feel in the face of such a rare opportunity. True, Bartoli had been to a previous Wimbledon final, but after she was crushed in that 2007 clash with Venus Williams it appeared unlikely she would ever have the chance to redeem herself. After all, the 29-year-old Frenchwoman had only been as far as the Wimbledon quarterfinals on one occasion in the interim.
But there she was in July, looking across the net at another surprise finalist in Lisicki, both presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And while the German was untested in a Grand Slam championship match, her booming serve, relish for attaching, and sky-high level of play—including wins over Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska—pointed toward a Lisicki win.
As for Bartoli, seeded No. 15, she hadn’t faced a single player ranked above her during the fortnight.
Ultimately, the main theme of the match was Lisicki’s inability to handle the scale of the occasion. She played poorly—so much so that she wept tears of frustration. Only a too-little, too-late surge kept this from becoming one of the most lopsided demolitions in Wimbledon history.
And yet, across the net, Bartoli was in absolute command of her game, her focus, and her emotions. Taking up her stance on or inside the baseline, the eccentric stylist fired away with both hands on the handle of her racquet, forehand and backhand. Her shots were crisp, bold, and laser-like—a tribute to her father, Dr. Walter Bartoli, who designed her high-risk, aggressive baseline game. Clearly, Dr. Bartoli had modeled his daughter’s game on the one employed by that iconic champion who dominated the game in the early 1990s, Monica Seles. Yet Seles never did manage a win at Wimbledon.
The match lasted an hour and 21 minutes, and Lisicki avoided utter humiliation by winning three games after trailing 6-1, 5-1. Bartoli finished her off with an ace, though, of which she later said, “I’ve been practicing my serve for so long. God, at least I saved it for the last moment.”
This was a wonderful triumph of the iconoclast, for Bartoli has been nothing throughout her career if not original. She underscored that in the wake of her great win. After winning just one more WTA match, Bartoli stunned the tennis community on the eve of the U.S. Open by declaring that she’s officially retiring from tennis.
Hers is one comeback that many of us would not mind seeing.