LONDON – Ever since she was a kid, practicing until midnight with her father, Marion Bartoli went about playing tennis her own way.
The two-handed strokes for backhands, forehands, even volleys. The hopping in place and practice swings between points, which help her focus. The unusual setup for serves — no ball-bouncing, arms crossed, right wrist resting on her left thumb before the toss.
Whatever works, right? This unique Wimbledon produced a unique champion in the ambidextrous Bartoli, the 15th-seeded Frenchwoman who won her first Grand Slam title by beating 23rd-seeded Sabine Lisicki of Germany 6-1, 6-4 in an error-filled, one-sided final Saturday that was far from a classic.
“It’s always been a part of my personality to be different. I think being just like the other one is kind of boring. I really embrace the fact of being a bit different and doing something that not everyone is,” said the 28-year-old Bartoli, who plays tennis right-handed but signs autographs with her left hand. “I actually love that part of my game, being able to have something different.”
She certainly stands alone.
This was Bartoli’s 47th Grand Slam, the most by a woman before earning a championship.
She is the only woman in the 45-year Open era to win Wimbledon playing two-fisted shots off both wings.
Until Saturday, it had been more than 1½ years since Bartoli won a tourney at any level.
Until these last two weeks, Bartoli’s record in 2013 was 14-12, and she failed to make it past the quarterfinals anywhere.
Asked how to explain how she went from that sort of mediocre season to winning seven straight matches at Wimbledon, never dropping a set, Bartoli briefly closed her eyes, then laughed.
“Well,” Bartoli said, spreading her arms wide, “that’s me.”
Unlike Lisicki, a first-time major finalist who was admittedly overwhelmed by the occasion and teared up in the second set, Bartoli had been on this stage with the same stakes. In 2007, Bartoli won only five games during a two-set loss to Venus Williams in the Wimbledon final.
“I know how it feels, Sabine,” Bartoli said during the trophy ceremony. “And I’m sure, believe me, you’ll be there one more time. I have no doubt about it.”
Bartoli became the first woman in the Open era to win Wimbledon without facing anyone seeded in the top 10; her highest-rated opponent was No. 17 Sloane Stephens of the United States in the quarterfinals. That’s in part because of the injuries and surprises by the end of the second round.
Lisicki, meanwhile, used her game built for grass — fast serves, stinging returns, superb court coverage — to end defending champion and top-seeded Serena Williams’ 34-match winning streak in the fourth round. Lisicki also eliminated past major champions Francesca Schiavone and Sam Stosur, along with No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska, last year’s runner-up.
But Lisicki was an entirely different player, rattled by every little thing, even the walk downstairs from the locker room and the final-afternoon ritual of players carrying bouquets of flowers when they enter the arena.
“Everything is a little different. You’ve been here two weeks; the feeling, atmosphere, gets different,” said Lisicki, who is based in Bradenton, Fla., and marked rare winners Saturday with yells of “Yes!” or “Come on!”
“I felt fine this morning but it’s an occasion you don’t get every day. So it’s something completely new for me. But I will learn and take away so much from it.”
When play began under a sunny sky, it was Bartoli who looked jittery, double-faulting twice in a row to drop the opening game.
Then it was Lisicki’s turn to serve and she returned the favor, double-faulting on break point — her last serve barely reaching the bottom of the net — to make it 1-1.
From there Bartoli took over, winning 11 of 12 games and doing exactly what her father, a doctor who taught his daughter to play, used to hope and imagine could happen in such an important match. Standing inside the baseline — another sign of individuality — Bartoli got back serves that topped 110 mph. She won the point on 9 of 11 trips to the net. She dictated the flow of baseline exchanges, thinking one or two moves ahead, the way one tries to do in chess, her father’s favorite pastime.
“I was doing everything well,” Bartoli said. “I was moving well, was returning well. I mean, I really played a wonderful match.”
It was not exactly the greatest theater or a “How To” guide for young players. Bartoli and Lisicki combined for more unforced errors, 39, than winners, 36. They finished with 11 double-faults and eight aces. When Lisicki double-faulted twice in one game while getting broken to trail 4-1 in the second set, she covered her face with her racket as her eyes welled.
“I was a bit sad I didn’t perform the way I can,” Lisicki said.
Lisicki was near defeat when she finally did look like someone who entered the day with a 19-4 career record at Wimbledon. Facing match points while serving at 15-40 with a scoreline of 6-1, 5-1 in Bartoli’s favor, Lisicki suddenly remembered how to play again.
She hit a swinging backhand volley winner to erase one match point, then a 106 mph service winner to take care of the next. Another followed shortly, and this time Bartoli put a backhand into the net. Lisicki smacked a 115 mph service winner and a 114 mph ace to hold serve for the second time in seven tries.
Bartoli, who said she napped a bit and danced to music in the locker room beforehand to stay loose, now was the one who was tight. With the crowd roaring after nearly every point, wanting more match, Lisicki broke to 5-3, then held to 5-4.
Lisicki put together third-set comebacks against Williams and Radwanska, but could she really dig herself out of this hefty deficit?
No. Bartoli served out the match at love, using that one-of-a-kind serve to close with a 101 mph ace that hit a line and sent chalk dust spraying.
“You can’t describe that kind of feeling. You cannot put (into) any words what I feel in this moment,” said Bartoli. “I can’t believe I won Wimbledon this year. We’ll have to see the pictures, to see the match again on DVD, to realize it.”