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.
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.