Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Not A Looker? So What. Bravo Marion!

By Shane Thomas

The women's game in tennis can struggle to get a substantive amount of attention. Having to deal with the lack of great rivalries compared to the women's game in the past, the incomparable brilliance currently seen in the men's game (especially when Britain has its first male champion for 77 years), as well as the pervasive sexism that still exists in society, it looked as if this year's Wimbledon women's final may end up an eminently forgettable affair.

However, while Andy Murray's triumph at SW19 will dominate headlines, I'll like to give a special mention to the women's champion from this year's Wimbledon; Marion Bartoli.

A previous finalist at the All England Club (she lost the final to Venus Williams), Bartoli surprised many by reaching the final again this year. But then, her opponent, Sabine Lisicki reaching the final was also a shock. In what has been a chimeric and unpredictable tournament, even the great Serena Williams wasn't immune to the numerous shocks that took place over the past fortnight.

Lisicki has become a fan favourite at Wimbledon - building on the goodwill she garnered after reaching the semi-finals back in 2011. Her open-hearted, emotional, blithe disposition on court endeared her to the crowds. No cod-psychology is needed to analyse how the German feels on court. Her thought processes are clear for all to see.

Bartoli on the other hand, tends to be a less demonstrable type. Bar her 2007 Wimbledon final appearance, she was best known for her (sometimes) tempestuous relationship with her coach, who is also her father. Many felt that the relationship between Walter Bartoli and Marion was unhealthy, with Marion being suffocated by Walter's domineering presence. Regardless, Marion had always been a staunch defender of her father.

While we shouldn't forget that being coached by one's father hasn't done Serena and Venus Williams much harm, Bartoli decided to end the professional relationship with her father, taking on a new coaching team.

And given events of this past Saturday, it seems to have worked. While Lisicki admitted to allowing the occasion of a Wimbledon final to swamp her ambition, Bartoli kept her composure throughout the contest. Her hitting - particularly off her backhand side - was tremendous, and she ended winning 6-1, 6-4 to secure her first Grand Slam title.

As the celebrations began, Bartoli's reaction was one of the most joyful things I've seen in sport all year. Looking up towards the box, where her family and coaching team were situated, she gleefully ran towards them. But to say "she ran" doesn't describe it accurately.

It would be better described as gamboling. She gamboled towards her team, with all the abandon of a two year old in the park, who's just learned how to walk, spotting her parents on the other side of the children's playground. Part of the coterie that she ran towards included her father, and they shared an embrace that discluded that there was no ill feeling between the two since Marion replaced him as her coach.

However, Bartoli's bliss was sullied by some unsavoury elements of the post-match reaction. The expected, but wearying bile spewed from Twitter, with numerous misogynistic tweets regarding the subject of Bartoli's looks. This was exacerbated by the BBC's John Inverdale thinking it congruous to proffer the opinion that Bartoli was "never going to be a looker."

Inverdale and the BBC have since apologised - although I don't know if you would actually deem it a genuine mea culpa. And it seems that Bartoli hasn't let it ruin her enjoyment one iota. For those who thought we had reached gender equality in tennis with the overdue implementation of equal prize money for men and women, you are sadly mistaken.

Yes, Bartoli may not fit what one would deem as the ideal body type for an athlete. She doesn't have the muscular stature of a Serena Williams, or the lithe frame of a Maria Sharapova. But I feel that this only makes her success worth celebrating even more.

Yes, her approach is unorthodox, even maybe a little bit bonkers. And isn't that wonderful. It's wonderful to see someone unafraid to be themselves, even if that divests from the narrow alcove of what we're told an athlete should be (that alcove becomes even narrower when the athlete in question is female).

Since her Wimbledon triumph, we've come to learn a bit more about the woman from Le-Puy-en-Velay. Her idiosyncratic preparation, her practice swings & her constant bouncing around in between points, as well as her using two hands at all times to hit her shots - even her forehands. These are things that shouldn't be looked upon with scorn, but with admiration.

Can Bartoli play like Victoria Azarenka? No. But by the same token, Azarenka can't play like Bartoli. The way Bartoli plays works for her. The way she trains works for her. The way she practices works for her. And her body shape also works for her. Don't believe me? Marion Bartoli just won the Wimbledon women's championship. Tell me, what you were up to on Saturday afternoon?

"The Greatest Events in Sporting History" is available to download from http://www.simplysyndicated.com/shows/sportinghistory/, e-mail us at sportshistoryshow@googlemail.com and you can follow us on Twitter @TGEISH

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