That was the question many kept asking themselves after Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli announced last week that she was retiring from tennis. After losing to Simona Halep in the second round of the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati, Bartoli entered her press conference expected to talk about her match.
She did that. But then citing ongoing injuries and a lack of motivation to train at the peak levels required of a pro, Bartoli said that her over 13 year tennis career was over. Just like that.
Bartoli’s announcement ignited a massive debate as to what prompted this sudden decision from the Frenchwoman. Was she just burned out from the excessive attention she earned after her surprise Wimbledon win? Perhaps she was over exaggerating, in her mind anyway, the severity of her recent injuries that may require only a lengthy rest to heal. Was there some hidden personal drama that burdened her? For someone who was enjoying her return to the top ten and poised to cash in on lucrative endorsement deals, the timing of Bartoli’s declaration felt like a rash decision. But when asked Thursday by the media if she might come back, the answer from Bartoli was a very firm, yet smiling, no.
Many have already suggested that Bartoli, after taking time to reflect and recharge, will at some point change her mind. But that feels like a false hope. After all, let’s remember that being a professional tennis player has never been easy for Bartoli. Though her father Walter Bartoli guided and pushed her to greatness, there’s also the predominant view that his very bizarre training methods and reluctance to allow his daughter to have any kind of social life also took a heavy toll on his daughter personally. Then, on top of that, add her in ongoing stalemate against the French Tennis Federation who did not allow her to compete for Fed Cup or in last year’s Olympics because of her coaching relationship with her father. That lingering standoff didn’t make Bartoli the most popular player in her native France either and often earned her daily criticism. Whether on the court or off, it seemed Bartoli was always fighting someone or some entity just to have a chance to make a living as an athlete.
It was only when Bartoli broke away from her father professionally that she was finally allowed to play for France and under Fed Cup captain Amelie Mauresmo. That pairing with the former No. 1 continued at this year’s Wimbledon and finally gave Bartoli her long sought after first Grand Slam title. To get to that moment that she waited for so long and sacrificed so much for took every ounce of determination, talent and sheer guts that Bartoli had to give. No wonder she said after her final match in Cincinnati that she had nothing left.
In recent years, we’ve seen a number of players retire only to return, in some cases, better than they were in their first career. Kim Clijsters achieved more as working mother than she did when she first left the sport in 2007. Justine Henin, though she reached the Australian Open final in 2010, found her reentry to the tour cut short by injury. Then we have Martina Hingis who is back for her second comeback this summer, this time as a doubles player, though it’s unclear how long she will remain.
All three of this women came back either to take care of unfinished business in terms of winning more titles or because they missed the thrill and challenge of competition. But based on her comments this week, neither of those reasons seem good enough to prompt Bartoli to change her mind. Let’s remember that until Wimbledon, Bartoli battled inconsistency and injury throughout the season. Why would anyone expect her to come back from a year or two or longer out of the game and start the whole grueling process over again so she could yet perhaps have another long shot chance at another major?
The topic of when a player should call time on their career keeps coming up with several pros on both the ATP and WTA tours. Despite what their devoted fans may think, ultimately that is the player’s decision no matter how well, or badly, they are currently doing among their peers and rivals in the sport. For Bartoli, whose entire career defied expectation and sometimes common sense, her sudden departure after earning a most unexpected yet satisfying victory feels like the perfect ending.
We’ve never fully understood Bartoli and probably never will. And though many, including this writer, wishes she would reconsider her decision, if saying “Au Revoir” while at the height of her career is what gives Bartoli the most peace at the end of her turbulent yet triumphant tennis journey, than what we really should wish her is “All the best”.