How James Bond inspired Marion Bartoli to glory in the final at Wimbledon - Legends' Voice
Marion Bartoli always had a special relationship with Wimbledon. She dreamed of it, more than of Roland-Garros, even as a little French girl. Her first Grand Slam final in 2007, her first and only major title, six years later, and one of her greatest victories, beating Serena Williams, came in her London garden. Here are her English memories with great stories, even one including... James Bond.
For me, Wimbledon had been a dream since I was a kid. I used to watch Wimbledon on TV. I saw Pete Sampras win the tournament almost every year. I had dreamed of being him since I was very young, dreaming of lifting the golden platter on Centre Court, in front of the royal box. I always told myself I might be lucky enough to pick up my bag of racquets and one day walk through this famous corridor which brings you to Centre Court, with Kipling's sentence, etc. It was a huge dream, which seemed totally inaccessible to me.
The first time I came here was for the girls' singles, in 2001, I think. I was amazed, like a child discovering a new world I only saw on TV. At the time, I was also a sparring partner for Julie Halard and Ayi Sugiyama, who played doubles together. Julie invited me for a BBQ party at the home she was renting with her husband. Arnaud (Halard's husband) had set fire to the garden of the house. There was a kind of creeping vine climbing up the wall. We were talking and suddenly we saw the vine catching fire!
As a junior, of course, I couldn't rent a house. I was sleeping in dormitories at Roehampton, where the qualifiers take place. We were coming to the All England Club every morning in the minibus. It was like reaching the Holy Grail. By showing your credential, you could access this whole world and play the girls' singles tournament on the real Wimbledon courts. But at night, you had to go back to Roehampton. So this world was both very close and very far. It was a strange feeling.
I was quickly able to enter the main draw and then I really had the feeling of being part of the tennis elite. In 2007, I reached the final. My first Grand Slam final. I was ambitious. I had reached the second week at Roland-Garros, then the semi-finals in Birmingham and Eastbourne. So I felt confident. But I had to deal with a very tough draw with Flavia Pennetta in the first round. I remember that just before the tournament, I met Phil Knight, the CEO and founder of Nike, my sponsor. I told him 'I'm feeling good, but my draw is harsh, so I don't know'. He said: 'Well, I'm staying until the end, so I hope to see you in the final!'. Two weeks later, he was there. It was a great honour for me.
Marion Bartoli of France poses with the trophy after being defeated by Venus Williams of USA during the final of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships
Image credit: Getty Images
I remember everything going right, like perfect planetary alignment. Most of the time, I finished my matches just before the rain, and when it started to rain, it was when things were getting complicated for me. So, I could reset, and speak with my dad.
The weather was horrendous that year. That was the year Rafael Nadal and Robin Soderling played their match for four or five days. I was scheduled just after them, against Jelena Jankovic! Ultimately, they had to move us to another court. We played on Monday and started at 11am. The match got suspended… seven times! It ended at 7pm. I won in three sets, but I still had to play my doubles an hour after!
The next day, I had to play Michaela Krajicek, Richard's half-sister, in the quarter-finals. When I entered the court I was flat. I lost the first set 6-3 and then the rain came again. We went to the locker room, and I was so exhausted that I slept for an hour and a half. But I still won in three sets.
Here I was in the semis, against Justine Henin. She was the huge favourite. My chances were slim. She won almost everything that year: Roland-Garros, the US Open, the Masters. After our match, she would not lose again until the end of the year. It was my first Grand Slam semi-final, and my first time on Centre Court. I walked past this famous corridor with the gallery of trophies, which are all well displayed. The names of the former champions. Martina Navratilova. Serena Williams. Steffi Graf. Pete Sampras. All these great legends. Then there are Kipling's famous words. I felt I was living the film that I had made in my dreams since I was a child thousands of times. I was living my dream, except this time, everything was real. So, I just didn't want to be ridiculous.
But once on the court, with the ovation from the crowd, the royal bow and so on, I felt overwhelmed. During the first set, I couldn't breathe. Really. Then, once again, a glimpse of fate. I've always been a huge James Bond fan. I've seen all the movies, and I noticed Pierce Brosnan entering the Royal Box. He had watched the first semi-final and had taken a break. When I saw him, I asked myself 'is it really Pierce Brosnan?'. Maybe I hallucinated. So, I counted the balls in my hand, then watched again the Royal Box and he was still there. No doubt, it was Pierce Brosnan! I started thinking 'okay, some way, somehow, figure it out, Marion! There is no way you can keep playing so bad in front of Pierce Brosnan'.
Suddenly, I left my stress behind. I was not playing to reach the Wimbledon final, to beat Justine Henin, but for someone important to me, even if he was not part of the tennis world. At 5-5 in the second set, Justine had two break points. I saved them and something unreal happened: I started to play the best tennis of my life. I could not miss. I went from nothing to everything in 45 minutes. I was in the zone. I won seven consecutive games to lead 5-0 in the third, then won 6-1. I fell to my knees. I was in the final. I had done it.
The final was very difficult because we had finished on Friday evening and I was facing Venus on Saturday at 2pm. I don't like to say that the result could have been different. There's no point in replaying the match, thinking that if we had one more day, I would have won. She was better than me. I have no problem with that. The only thing is that I didn't have time to prepare for this final and to enjoy it. On Friday evening, I did all the press and got back to the hotel at midnight. By the time the adrenaline subsided, I must have fallen asleep at half-past three in the morning. I was in a washing machine. I woke up for the most important match of my life and I had no time to prepare for it.
In a way, it was a great moment, like a big party, for me and my dad. Nobody in French tennis believed in us when I started playing. It was huge to be in the final, especially here. But it was frustrating even if, once again, Venus was better. That loss in the final killed me. You're one win away from your childhood dream and then, you must start from zero. I needed one year, maybe 18 months, to put that loss behind me, and I had to wait six years to reach my dream.
Before the 2013 tournament, I was completely lost. I had no tennis left in me. No energy. No joy. I was trying to find solutions, new coaches and so on. When I arrived at Wimbledon for the first time, I had no specific ambitions. I just wanted to leave it all on the court because I knew it was one of my last Wimbledons. Then, one match, two, three and I start to feel the same as in 2007: everything sort of clicked. All the seeds around me were falling. Again, the planets were getting aligned, and deep inside, I was starting to tell myself, 'this is my chance, I can't miss it'. I felt sharper, Alive! These unbearable aches and pains I had disappeared. The adrenaline helped hide them away too. So I entered a virtuous circle again, in this spiral where you tell yourself 'now is the time'.
Marion Bartoli of France poses with the Venus Rosewater Dish trophy and Andy Murray of Great Britain poses with the Gentlemen's Singles Trophy at the Wimbledon Championships 2013 Winners Ball
Image credit: Getty Images
In the final, I faced Sabine Lisicki, who had beaten me two years earlier in the quarter-finals. But compared to her, I had the experience of a final. She didn't. Before entering Centre Court, you are in this small room. There, I looked at her and I saw myself in her eyes six years earlier, petrified with stress. I told myself 'this is going to be my match, I'm not going to lose this final'.
On the court, I saw Amelie Mauresmo in my box, and I felt goodwill and empathy. My dad was there, too, he had come for this final. I felt inner peace. In 2007, I had spent my time telling myself 'I have to get there, I have to get there'. Not this time. I just thought about my tennis. I was in a different state of mind and led 6-1 5-1, 15-40. She's completely lost, I wasn’t missing a shot. But at that precise moment, I said to myself 'that’s it, I won Wimbledon'.
Of course, it was not the best idea. Before I was always a second ahead, now I was a second too late because my shoes were glued to the ground. There was no footwork. Then it's 5-2, 5-3. I didn't even try to play this game. I was thinking of the next one, on my serve. 5-4. I was on my chair. Here's the point, it's very simple: she had the momentum now. If it's 5-5, you lose this final. The next game in the game of your life. Everything you have put in place for more than 20 years must make sense now. I took a minute to reset mentally. I was both aware of what was at stake, so above all not denying it, but also the certainty of finishing the job. I served great. Four first serves, and the most beautiful ace of my life to conclude on the match point.
Two years before my title, I enjoyed another great moment at Wimbledon, beating Serena Williams. When I look back at the video, I feel like I'm flying on the court. It was an unbelievable feeling. Of the three best matches of my career, maybe the best. Beating Serena, in a Grand Slam, on grass, only a few players have done that. It was only to reach the quarters, but from a tennis standpoint, it was the pinnacle of achievement. It was special because against Serena, it was all about her. If she was at her best, there was nothing I could do. I only felt this way against her. Except for that day at Wimbledon because I was playing and serving so well, taking so many risks that, maybe, this time, I was a bit about me.
It was special. I had such big respect for Serena. I admired her and still do. I admired who she was as a person, too. Now she's back at Wimbledon at almost 41. It's great to see that. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think she was a bit stung to see Patrick Mouratoglou working with another player. Knowing Patrick, it's possible that he started working with Simona Halep to tease Serena a bit. That was the thing she needed to decide to come back.
What can we expect from her at Wimbledon? Hard to say. Everything starts with her fitness. That's the key. How and how much did she train? Will she move well? That's the big question. But if she's fit enough, Serena will be very dangerous on grass, no doubt, and we'll have to count her among the favourites. The will is there, otherwise, she would not be there. But will she hold up physically?