Tennis – Saturday’s women’s final at Wimbledon will not feature Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova or any of the other top draws in the game. There won’t be any local favorite to cheer for, unlike in the men. There won’t even be any top 10 player. Yet, for the hardcore tennis fan, the final between 15th seeded Marion Bartoli and 23rd seeded Sabine Lisicki will be riveting nonetheless. Given their history, not many would have picked either of them to win a grand slam in their careers. Yet, here we are on the final Saturday of the most prestigious grand slam event in the game, and both the women stand on the precipice of tennis immortality.
As different as chalk and cheese, the one thing that binds Bartoli and Lisicki is their love for grass and the Wimbledon Championships. Both players have achieved their best results at the All-England Club. The big-serving German has reached at least the quarter-finals here in each of her last four appearances. So it’s no surprise when she says, “Well, the first time that I was here, I don’t remember when it was, but when I was here I fell in love with Wimbledon. It was the place I always wanted to play at, because as a little girl you never know what’s going to happen.”. The 28 year old Frenchwoman, on the other hand, had an unexpected run to the finals here in 2007 which is why, “Every time for some reason I’m back here, I have a smile on my face. I felt great right away”. And on Saturday, one of them will hold the Venus Rosewater Dish and fulfill a lifelong dream.
Bartoli and Lisicki also know that this is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them. And the player who deals better with that reality is likely to be the one who walks away with the trophy. Before this tournament, I would have picked Bartoli to be the mentally stronger of the two. Going into the final, following wins from 0-3 down in the third set over Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska in consecutive matches, I’m not so sure. If Lisicki can maintain the same level of composure in the key moments, she definitely stands an equal, if not better chance than the Frenchwoman. Even Bartoli knows that the match will be as much about the nerves as it will be about the level of tennis. “There are so many keys. First of all it will be a battle of nerves and who can come up with the best game on that day. And a final of a Grand Slam is always a matter of details – maybe a point here, a point there will make the difference. Maybe someone who is a bit more gutsy than the other player, someone who is having a better day than the other. We’re very close in terms of level, I believe.”
Whichever way the match turns out, don’t expect too many long rallies in the finals. Both players take big swings at the ball. Lisicki has one of the best serves in the game while Bartoli has one of the best returns. And while neither would be counted among the best movers in the game, both cover the court efficiently enough not to call it out as a weakness.
Speaking on Saturday’s match, the 23 year old German, the first since Steffi Graf in 1999 to reach a grand slam final, commented, “It’s a final, so it’ll be good, I think. She plays aggressive tennis so it’ll be a totally different game than my semi-final. But I’ve had a lot of challenges on my way to the finals with players being aggressive, players who were very solid and players moving very well, so it will be another challenge for me. I don’t really think about it too much though. I will just go out there to win the match. I just want to be better than my opponent, and that’s all I’m thinking about. I’m totally focused on the match.”
Bartoli, who will have her father Walter, Fed Cup captain Amelie Mauresmo and new hitting partner Thomas Drouett (more famous as John Tomic’s hitting partner) in the stands cheering her on, hopes the experience of having been in the finals before will help her. “Of course having the experience of being out there already, especially on the same court, the same stage, will all definitely help. But I think a final is always extremely open, and I know I will have to play the perfect match if I want to have a chance to win. I’m feeling less stress than I was for my first final, for sure. So hopefully it will help me. But Sabine has played some amazing tennis so far. She might be too good for me tomorrow. So I think it will help me deal with my nerves, but then of course I have to deal with her level of game, which is obviously also very hard to deal with.”
Lisicki has a 3-1 edge over Bartoli in career meetings (winning the last three after losing their first meeting). But I’m still picking Bartoli to win the title. Eccentric, quirky, super-intelligent (an IQ of 175) and Wimbledon champion.. somehow it all seems to fit together in the Frenchwoman’s case!!