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The details of the afternoon of July 6, 2013 are imprinted in Marion Bartoli’s mind.
“I was not that stressed,” she tells Press Association Sport. “I was really ready to play that final. Having been in the final in 2007 really helped me deal with everything. I remember taking my bag and walking to Centre Court. A cameraman was following us and Sabine was walking behind me. I remember seeing the blue sky and the packed stadium, the Royal Box, my box.”

Bartoli may have been a former Wimbledon finalist but six years later and in the middle of a horrible season she arrived in London as an also-ran. Even during the tournament, no one really noticed the eccentric Frenchwoman cruising through the draw without dropping a set. But the big names fell by the wayside and suddenly there was Bartoli, ready to take on Sabine Lisicki in her second grand slam final, an unlikely ending to the most unpredictable of tournaments. Lisicki had beaten Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska and was the clear crowd favourite but the German’s nerves took hold and Bartoli was ruthless. Only at 6-1 5-1 did things become tricky as Lisicki saved three match points and clawed her way back to 5-4. Bartoli served for the title for a second time and this time a fourth match point arrived. “I’d thought about that moment since I was a little girl and for such a long time it was just a dream,” she says. “I thought about all the hours of practice, the late finishes, the cold weather at home in France. My dad was always telling me that one day I’d have the chance to play a match point and now it was real. “All of a sudden I had this picture of myself at 12 years old finishing practice at 1am and hitting one final serve. I opened my eyes, took the ball from the ball boy and served an ace to win Wimbledon.”

There is childlike glee in Bartoli’s voice as she recalls the moment her fairytale became reality. But the 29-year-old has never been one to follow the crowd and she had an even bigger surprise up her sleeve 40 days later when she lost a match to Simona Halep in Cincinnati and retired. Her dream realised, the pain of continuing to put her body through the rigours of professional tennis was no longer worth it. And far from regretting her sudden decision, Bartoli insists she has never had a moment where it seemed she might have done the wrong thing. She has thrown herself into numerous other interests, including art and a fashion business. Bartoli still finds time for tennis and will be playing in the pre-Wimbledon exhibition tournament in Liverpool, just for fun she stresses. She has already made use of her All England Club membership and became the first reigning champion to compete in the club championships last autumn. “We played this fun event then had a dinner and everyone had so much fun,” she says.

“I’m really becoming great friends with (Wimbledon chairman) Philip and Gill Brook and I really feel part of the family. It’s not a bad family to be part of. I’ll definitely come to Wimbledon a lot. Maybe I will bring my kids one day and say, ‘Mummy won here’.” Will there not be a tinge of sadness, though, when she sees two other players walk out for the first match on Centre Court on Tuesday, June 24, the slot usually reserved for the defending women’s champion? “I think I’ll feel proud of myself, especially when I see my name engraved and the pictures. I’ll also feel happy for those two players. I’m Wimbledon champion, that’s all that matters.”

None of the sheer delight that radiated from Bartoli as she lifted the Venus Rosewater Dish aloft appears to have dissipated. “It took me more than a month to realise I’d actually won Wimbledon and to get it inside my head,” she adds. “When it’s something you’ve wanted for so long, it’s difficult to believe. My parents are so proud of me and I’m just a really happy person. I slept with my trophy for a month. I still keep it in my bedroom and every morning I wake up and it’s so bright and shiny. I don’t need the sun, I just look at my trophy.”

By Eleanor Crooks, Press Association Sport Tennis Correspondent

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13-15 June 2024