Women at Wimbledon: Handshakes, Heartbreak, and Heroines

For me, the most lasting memory of this fortnight will be Marion Bartoli sprinting towards her box after she won the Wimbledon title.

The entire sequence of events was just phenomenal. She hit an ace. She dropped to her knees in utter disbelief. She quickly went up to the net to very sincerely embrace and console Sabine Lisicki. And then she immediately sprinted–all out–to her box.

It was a moment of pure, unadulterated joy.

Speaking as a fan of tennis, it made the entire tournament, the entire year of tennis watching, worth it. It’s why we put up with silly and circular arguments, heartbreaking losses, atrocious matches, and sleepless nights.

Simply put, it’s why we watch.

Because at the end of every tournament, there’s a payoff for somebody.


Sometimes caring is terrible, isn’t it? I couldn’t help but think that as I watched Agnieszka Radwanska and Sabine Lisicki play their hearts out in the semifinals. For me, this was the match of the tournament on the women’s side. (Maybe even the women and men’s, though Delpo’s forehand might have something to say about that.)

I’ve been a Radwanska fan since my pre-writing days, ever since I first saw her take out Maria Sharapova at the U.S. Open in 2007. She’s one of the few remaining players that I’m a fan of in the traditional sense, beyond the realm of reason.

As fun as it is to be a fan and to have an invested rooting interest, it’s also exhausting and incredibly draining. For that reason, I usually bury those fan feelings deep down, underneath my general love for the sport. Writing about players on a regular basis really helps with this, because it forces me to examine players from many different perspectives.

I’m not sure what initially drew me to Radwanska, but I think it was just that she really did not care what anyone thought. That day back in Flushing, she stood well within the baseline on Ashe to return the defending champion’s serve, and she did not care how it came across. She knew that was her shot, and she took it.

I’ve seen a lot of that same gumption throughout her career. She’s compared to Martina Hingis a lot, but she’s more of a late-career Hingis–she doesn’t possess the ability to dominate the way Hingis did during her glory days. Still, in an era of big hitters and power atop of power, Radwanska has carved out a niche for herself much the way she carves out points during matches.

It’s the variety of her game and the nonchalance of her attitude that keeps me cheering for her, even though I like the exact opposite of those characteristics in other players. Fandom is weird. The heart wants what the heart wants.

As I mentioned, I usually keep that at bay. What she’s been able to do in the past two years has been incredible to watch, and with the talent and power at the top of the WTA these days, it’s hard to see her going much farther. I picture her career being very similar to that of a Nikolay Davydenko, and that’s just fine with me.

Then the second set of her semifinal against Lisicki happened.

I had tried to temper hope before the match, noting how well Lisicki was playing thus far in the championships. When she’s zoning, she’s a better player than Radwanska. The first set confirmed that. No worries. I had other pieces to be writing, I’d just keep an eye on it to torture myself.

But suddenly Radwanska was moving all over the court, changing direction, catching Lisicki off-balance, and even hitting outright winners with power that I rarely see from her. She was doing such a great job of absorbing Lisicki’s pace and redirecting it. And, of course, Lisicki was being Lisicki. It looked like the carriage had turned into a pumpkin. The clock had struck midnight.

Suddenly, a rejuvenated Radwanksa was up 3-0 in the third set, and I did that thing that you’re not supposed to do. I hoped. I thought about Radwanska winning the next three games. Returning to the Wimbledon final. Playing Bartoli, who she has a 7-0 record against. I pictured her lifting the trophy, dancing, and running to her box. I thought about the ridiculously adorable things she would say during her on-court interview. I thought about what it would mean to her career. I thought about it all.

I know. I should know better. I really, really should.

You all know what happened then. Lisicki came back. Evened things up. Got the break. Served for the match. I hid underneath my covers. Then Radwanska broke her. Extra innings. Radwanska was two points away from winning the match. Twice. Two points away.

Lisicki won. She was the better, more aggressive, and smarter player when it mattered the most. She had a great tournament, is a great person, and it was a great story.

But ouch.

I had forgotten how bad that felt. The hope and then the letdown. Absolutely brutal.

Thankfully not on a hard deadline, I buried myself in my covers for a brief time, put on an episode of SVU, and played Candy Crush. This was a heartache that needed all three escapes at once. And I knew that the Internet would be my enemy.

Only when I reemerged did I realize that there was controversy.


I’m going to be brief, but I feel like I have to address this somewhat. You know what I’m talking about. The handshake that wasn’t.

Except, you know, it was. It happened. It was just very short. By the public’s outrage you would have thought that Radwanksa slapped Lisicki clear across the face, or perhaps just walked straight off court, eschewing the net altogether.

Personally, I found the handshake-ette amusing. Then again, I’m frequently amused by Radwanska. Considering Radwanska’s “happy” expression is about 10 notches below most people’s, it’s no surprise that her “disappointment” showcase is below-par as well.

I’m a big fan of hugs and cuddles and conversations at net after losses. I really am. I love grand displays of sportsmanship. Lukasz Kubot and Jerzy Janowicz brought me to tears with their jersey swap. I love when Delpo strokes the faces of his opponents with his giant and all-engulfing hands. I “aaawed” out loud when Bartoli hugged Kirsten Flipkens at the net.

But I liked those moments because they were genuine.

That wasn’t something that Radwanska could muster after seeing her best chance at a slam slip through her fingers. That’s okay. Everyone processes wins and losses in different ways.

And considering I, as a fan, couldn’t even get out of bed at that moment, a curt handshake didn’t bother me. (A complete snub would have, for the record. That’s not what this was.)

Not an excuse. Just a thought. Moving on.


The reactions that people had to Bartoli winning Wimbledon, both on social media and in the press, were absolutely heartbreaking. I’m not going to link to any of the individual pieces or comments, as I don’t want to give them more credence than they’ve already received. I’m sure you’ve read them, in one form or another. They’re hard to miss.

It’s devastating that on the 40th anniversary of the WTA, as the most powerful and respected female athletes in the world all gathered together to celebrate what they’ve accomplished, we were all reminded once again how far we have to go.

To many, a woman can be a looker or a fighter, but not both.

For men, respect and admiration is the default. For women, it has to be re-earned every time.

It’s an exhausting and discouraging cycle, and one that I will never stop speaking out against.

Sexism is everywhere. At least when it’s loud and showy, we know what we’re fighting against. Somehow, it’s always the loudest at Wimbledon.


I grew up insecure as could be. Generations upon generations of self-loathing were passed down to me by my mother and grandmother and beyond. Considering I also used magazines and television to hide from a somewhat-troubled childhood, my self esteem didn’t stand a chance.

I always thought, in one way or another, that my life couldn’t really start and my dreams couldn’t be achieved until I looked a certain way. Looking good was the ultimate version of success, the only one that mattered.

I never could quite get there.

But life happened anyway, as it does. I discovered feminism. I realized that there is more than one definition to beauty. I found out how important self-belief is to success, and how time-consuming and draining self-hatred is. It’s a long and winding process, set backwards on a daily basis due to my own conditioning and the messages I receive from the world at large. Now, at 27, I’m finally starting to internalize it.

But still, I’m fragile and vulnerable, and sensitive. The thought of being in the public eye–which I am not, thankfully–and judged is terrifying. And so, when I heard that after the biggest win of her life, Bartoli was asked to respond to Inverdale’s comments, I was beyond disgusted for her. And I was scared that she might crumble the way I would under such a scenario. I was afraid that it would put a dark cloud over the event for her.

Once again, I should have known better. She offered the pitch-perfect response:

It doesn’t matter, honestly. I am not blonde, yes. That is a fact. Have I dreamt about having a model contract? No. I’m sorry. But have I dreamed about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely, yes.

Marion Bartoli is the role mode that I wish I had when I was growing up. She is who I wish I had seen on television and in magazines. Her message of self-confidence and determination is what I wish I could have read about. The world would be a much better place.

I’m glad that I at least have her as my role model today.


The women’s final was not a good match. I am not going to pretend otherwise.

But as I watched Marion celebrate her win, I couldn’t have cared less.

Tennis matches are not just about what happens from coin-flip to match point. They’re about the practices and the tough losses and the injuries. They’re about childhoods and relationships and dreams. They’re about the history and the future and the unknown. They’re about life.

Tennis is technical, yes. But it’s also a vehicle for stories. A Grand Slam final only heightens that.

So as Marion hugged her father, Amelie Mauresmo, Kristina Mladenovic, and Thomas Drouet, I couldn’t help but think about all those years that her father was the only person in her box. I remembered when she kicked her father out of her third round match at Wimbledon two years ago. I remembered when she bravely (and finally) split with him this year.

I remembered the French Open, when she was injured and scrapping and fighting despite her hometown crowd wanting her off of the court so that Djokovic could play. I remembered how she didn’t care.

I remembered how everyone in the world had thought that this moment would belong to Serena Williams. Or Maria Sharapova. Or Petra Kvitova. Or really, anyone but Marion Bartoli.

Every Wimbledon has a story. Somebody’s dreams always come true. This time it was Bartoli’s turn. What a pleasure it was to watch.

Lindsay is an author, a filmmaker, a long-winded blogger, and a huge tennis fan.

22 Responses

  1. Sally
    Sally July 9, 2013 at 12:20 am |


  2. Gabriel
    Gabriel July 9, 2013 at 12:28 am |

    I just loved reading this. You are a lovely person, as the amazing girls that you mentioned above. I wish all the success for you (and for Juan José and Amy too!).

  3. Shradha
    Shradha July 9, 2013 at 1:08 am |

    Thanks Lindsay!
    It’s like you have written everything in my mind , obviously in better words(Except that Radwanska fan part since i am not that big a fan) As disgusting as Inverdale’s comments were, its even shameful that people asked about them to Bartoli and her father. I cannot imagine how it must feel to answer something like that.

  4. Jewell
    Jewell July 9, 2013 at 1:23 am |

    “It doesn’t matter, honestly. I am not blonde, yes. That is a fact. Have I dreamt about having a model contract? No. I’m sorry. But have I dreamed about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely, yes.”

    I want this on a poster. Don’t fucking tell me (as a certain FoxSports man did) that you can’t “sell” Marion Bartoli, when I see words from her that are so empowering, backed up by actions, individuality, and achieving her dream.

    (I’m a little dubious about the language of “selling” but going along with it because the piece I’m talking about used it.)

    Very, very few people talk about “selling” Murray, or the difficulties of. Yes, male tennis players are sometimes objectified (hello, lots of dodgy Rafa-in-a-transparent-white-suit photoshoots) but there is a huge difference in how the men and women are treated. For men, the looks are a bonus. Play and personal charisma come first. For sportswomen, they are still seen as a necessity, and more than that, the most important thing about them. And that sucks.

    I’m glad we have Marion Bartoli to try to set things straight.

  5. SamG
    SamG July 9, 2013 at 5:18 am |

    Grest post, Lindsay. Loved every word, even if I was rooting for Lisicki in both matches (have loved her play on grass for several years).

  6. Ray
    Ray July 9, 2013 at 11:19 am |

    In my everyday personal life I am usually able to stay neutral and unemotional but there is something about sports that just gets to me. I can rarely stay neutral during a match or a game unless I truly dislike both teams/players. After her loss I found myself wandering around my house for 10 minutes because I had let myself hope. Once she beat Li Na I found myself dreaming of the title for her and once she lost I felt like I had no idea what to do. When she was two points away I found myself anticipating my reaction to her win and the thought of playing Bartoli. Anyway even though I did not get the result I wanted I couldn’t help but smile and cheer for Bartoli when she won. What a life changing experience for her! The weird quirky girl who commentators often lightly make fun of is now a Wimbledon Champion. But watching Bartoli embrace Billie Jean King and hoist the Venus Rosewater dish out on the balcony my mind still flashed to the sight of Agnieszka doing the same.

  7. Peter
    Peter July 9, 2013 at 11:19 am |

    Bartoli Is Why I Love Tennis.
    The Underdog Who Never Dies.
    The Independent Overachiever.
    Respected But Rarely Exalted.
    I Am Marion.

    34/Male/Los Angeles/Gay

  8. Caitlin
    Caitlin July 9, 2013 at 12:13 pm |

    I loved this article, especially the part on Radwanska. I definitely consider myself a biased tennis fan – for each match, it’s usually necessary that I find a player out of the two to root for. But by the time the two players shake hands, I’m happy for the winner no matter who it is and I move on. There are a few players I keep tabs on and love to watch play wherever and whenever but I don’t get preoccupied with their losses. Even if it’s to someone ranked 250 in the world or if they had a significant lead early in the match (Berdych…) I’m a huge fan of Lisicki, for example, but when Bartoli won the championship, I was smiling and clapping for her and accepted that this was her moment.

    But then there’s Delpo. Your story about watching the Radwanska match made me laugh out loud because it’s exactly what I did in the men’s semifinal. In the fourth-set tiebreaker, I was trying to remind myself of all he’s done so far: he hurt his knee TWICE and yet he beat Ferrer in straight sets, reached his first Wimbledon semifinal on his weakest surface… and I threw all of that consolation out the window when he won the fourth set and replaced it with hope. Hope that he could accomplish even more. And when he lost, I was crushed. I didn’t go the SVU and Candy Crush route, but I did eat several servings of Nutella and watch Friends re-runs.

    Anyway, it’s good to know that we all have our Radwanskas and Delpos. There’s that one player that gets to us, and we can only hope that their moments of victory are worth the pain of the losses.

  9. nyanafan
    nyanafan July 9, 2013 at 12:47 pm |

    Fantastic piece, Lindsay. I was tearing up all over again. Love the A-rad fandom. She is one of a kind. I hope she gets her moment one of these days.

    And I’m really confused about all this Marion’s-not-beautiful business. I’ve always thought she was very pretty but I guess that isn’t the point. What matters is what a fighter she is and how hard she works and how she just doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks. I love the Genius!

    And I love that women’s tennis has so many interesting characters at the top of the game these days. I may be biased, but the WTA has WAY more personality than the ATP;)

  10. James
    James July 9, 2013 at 1:59 pm |

    To echo all the other comments, this is a really excellent article and extremely well written. I think all tennis fans go through exactly the same feelings about their favourite player, I know I have done!

  11. Sabey
    Sabey July 9, 2013 at 4:49 pm |

    Nice piece on Radwanska and very telling. I guess that’s why there are the double standards for how sports writers treat Serena Williams -they just are not fans, cant relate to her and so they can’t cut her any slack.
    Thanks for highlighting the horrible sexism directed at Bartoli. Greg Couch should be taken to task as much as Iverdale was.

  12. Max
    Max July 9, 2013 at 9:50 pm |

    Wimbledon is by far the most sexist Slam.
    The new generation of tennis writers is much more respectful to the WTA.

    Inverdale should’ve been fired on the spot as his remark clearly showed he doesn’t know anything about the WTA. Sharapova is a “looker” (just like Marion) but she also fights as hard as anyone.

    It’s very telling of the British society that he’s stil employed by the BBC.

  13. Nora
    Nora July 10, 2013 at 12:29 am |

    Wow, love the Changeover & amazing article Lindsey!! So well said & so happy Marion won & showed her pure joy She played such smart tennis! Classy & gr8 role model 4 younger players 🙂 Also she looked amazing at the players party!! Hope she wins more titles this season!!

  14. Wilfy
    Wilfy July 10, 2013 at 5:47 am |

    Linds! Finally got to read this article, and girl, my heart is stirred. Seriously touched by so many parts, I couldn’t quote them all as I’d just end up quoting the entire thing. But this:

    “Tennis matches are not just about what happens from coin-flip to match point. They’re about the practices and the tough losses and the injuries. They’re about childhoods and relationships and dreams. They’re about the history and the future and the unknown. They’re about life.”

    Oh my gosh, so much this! Just beautiful writing here and in this entire piece.

    From a personal standpoint, the more Marion’s attacked, the further I become entrenched in my love and admiration for her. I thusly came out of this Wimby a serious Bartoli fan.

    While I was reading your words, this song came to mind, and I’m leaving it here for you and everybody, because it applies to everything and everyone here, as I see it — to Marion, Sabine, Your Aga, and you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqMcvVobdb0

    Believe it!

  15. Arya Tabrizi
    Arya Tabrizi July 11, 2013 at 10:16 am |

    Great article. Actually swayed me somewhat on the ‘Handshake That Wasn’t’ having initially thought it was poor form. I still kinda do but I see your points and can understand it in reality.

    The Bartoli stuff was utter madness. I know it’s not the point but she’s not even bad looking!

  16. RZ
    RZ July 11, 2013 at 4:22 pm |

    Marion Bartoli deserves so much more credit than she normally receives. In many ways, it was an “in-your-face” victory against the French federation, those who comment negatively on her appearance, those who discuss her “quirks” (because heaven forbid there be a player who doesn’t conform to the same-old same-old), etc., but rather than thumbing her nose at those groups, Bartoli has been a class act in victory. She’s also been eloquent in responding when needed to the controversies.

  17. Fig
    Fig July 12, 2013 at 9:28 am |

    I just found your site during Wimbledon – and am I ever loving it!

    This kind of article – one that indulges all of whats interesting about these WTA characters – is so much more interesting than whats available through the big tennis sites. I love your perspective and insight – keep up the great work!

    (PS – I totally agree about Radwanska – when she burst on the scene at the US Open she was so delightfully fresh with the press. She knew she could intimidate Sharapova on her second serve and she did it and didn’t apologize. It was awesome.)

  18. Erik G.
    Erik G. July 15, 2013 at 8:50 pm |

    Great read Lindsay. Funny, honest, thoughtful take on a truly memorable tournament.

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