She’s still fielding questions about why a bumbling BBC presenter in a fit of verbal diarrhea — an unintended symptom of hayfever he was suffering from — ended up calling her, ‘not much of a looker’ on the circuit which teems with Maria Sharapova and her various sylphlike reincarnates.
Marion Bartoli patiently purses her lips and nods through another impudent query: how on earth did she stand inside the baseline and contort her slight and slack frame, an eccentric serve as well as onerous double-handed fore and back hands into winning weapons on a tennis court at the top level.
And in a country that has a grand total of zero Grand Slam championships in singles, the Frenchwoman is left politely facing posers that start with a disclaimer along these lines — You might have just one Grand Slam victory, but would you be able to tell us whether Serene Williams has it in her to go chasing Steffi’s 22nd.
Disbelief over her achievements over-riding, and disregard nonchalantly swatting aside — as insignificant — one of the most storied struggles on the court, Marion Bartoli’s most perfect fairytale endings, doesn’t quite overwhelm. It would seem, even winning a Wimbledon’s not grand enough.
But Bartoli takes it all in her stride, answering all such questions with her disarming candidness. On the BBC bloke — whom she ribs these days when co-commentating — she says, “What he meant was I’m not extremely tall, and lack physical attributes to play tennis. He meant it encouragingly, but he messed it up the way he said it. He tells me since that time, there’s not one interview in which he’s not heard the two words ‘Marion Bartoli’. I tell him it’s my way of haunting him,” she says, laughing uproariously.
On her unconventional playing style – crazy serve, crazier returns that put insane strain on her body, she recalls being told by all her coaches all her life that she shouldn’t be playing tennis at all. “All my childhood, teenage years they all told me to stop because I was bad. But just to be able to hold a racquet was a bless(ing). That’s all I wanted to do in my life and the only person who backed me was my father. He was no coach, but a doctor and he trained me in a way he knew best. Overtime, my body adapted to it and it became natural,” she explains. Adding that she never had ‘revenge-spirit’, Bartoli said she was ready to do whatever it took to win a Slam.
The world can shrug it aside, for Bartoli, Wimbledon 2013 was a dream accomplished and nobody could take that away from her. For a girl from the Corsican island, the Wimbledon was grand enough to swan about.
But she’s hardly milked the moment like some modern-day Cinderella. Dressed in leather pants and a Mumbai Marathon green shirt with beige trainers and assorted self-designed jewellery blinging away, Bartoli entered the media room on Thursday, stumbling a step, over the thick folds of the carpet. Nails painted a hot red and daintily fingering at her neck pieces and two rings, she chews gum on stage before she turns on her easy-going charm. She’s dating a half-Indian — Jonathan Katz, mother from a south city two hours from Mumbai, father a Brit — and insists that though his mum takes her along to Indian restaurants in London urging her to try curries, she’s still getting her bland olive-oil tastebuds from the Corsican island properly acquainted to spice.
She brushes off rumours that she’s recently gotten engaged. But none of the “will announce from rooftops when time’s right” prattle for her. “It’s two rings on the fingers actually! Not engaged yet. But I have a lovely boyfriend and I hope to God an engagement will happen one day,” she says mock pleading and laughing boisterously.
She designs jewellery and bags and shoes after 15 years of intense competition, and wants to stay away from tennis’ all-consuming coaching assignments like compatriot Mauresmo. And she skis, runs marathons and hits the ball once in a while. She continues to be told that she isn’t very tall.
She quotes NBA legend Michael Jordan — her favourite sportsperson — “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” And in her own sorted crazy way, she flies.