THE staging of eve-of-tournament press conferences by the previous year’s singles champions is a cherished Wimbledon tradition – one which, it seems, must be observed even when one of the champions in question is not defending her title.
So yesterday, Marion Bartoli, a thoroughly deserving winner last year, offered her thoughts on retirement, her coach Amelie Mauresmo – now in the Andy Murray camp, of course – and on a few of the contenders for her crown.
Bartoli, now 29, retired from tennis just a few weeks after beating Sabine Lisicki in a one-sided final. It was a premature decision, according to some, the product of the inevitable anti-climax that sets in after the brouhaha that accompanies a major win has subsided. But the Frenchwoman is in no doubt at all that she did the right thing, and explained that she was still able to relish her return to the All England Club as the reigning champion.
“It feels different, of course, but it feels great,” she said. “Just an amazing moment to come back and see all those flashbacks from last year, all those pictures around, and having my name engraved on this champions board: it’s just absolutely amazing.
“I feel extremely honoured and quite proud, to be honest. It is very emotional, for sure.
“I really enjoy those two weeks. I knew when I announced my retirement last year I would not be able to defend my title this year.
“Look at my shoulder. Literally, I can’t even lift my arm every morning – it was the same last year and didn’t improve from a year after, even without playing much tennis, so definitely no regrets at all.
“I totally moved on into something different. I just launched my shoe line three weeks ago during the French Open. Designing jewellery too. So many things going on in my life right now, but just extremely honoured to be still the 2013 Wimbledon champion and reigning champion just for the last two weeks.”
When the topic of conversation turned to Mauresmo, herself a former singles winner here, Bartoli pointed out that her compatriot is, in a sense, the defending champion as coach of two titles given she now works with Murray. “Actually, I met her this morning by [the practice courts at] Aorangi. We were talking about it, that she’s kind of the defending champion here and she has to defend a title.
“I think it’s amazing to see that a guy, I mean, really one of the top players in the world, is hiring a woman to coach him. That is showing also the next generation that it is really moving on and women can actually coach some guys.
“It has been the case in football already, and now is coming to tennis, so that’s really a huge step forward. I’m sure it’s going to be a great combination. I mean, Amélie kind of won Wimbledon as a player, as a coach without dropping a set with me last year, so she is definitely on a good roll.”
Bartoli will be in the Royal Box tomorrow instead of on court, and we will find out later today who will play in the slot usually reserved for the champion. As top seed and five-time former champion, Serena Williams is the most obvious candidate, although Maria Sharapova would also be a popular choice, a decade on from the Wimbledon win that heralded her breakthrough.
Contenders in action today include No 2 seed Li Na. who meets Paula Kania, of Poland, on Centre Court after the Andy Murray match, and No 8 seed Viktoria Azarenka, who plays 1999 semi-finalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni on Court No 1.
Venus Williams also plays today, against Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor. But, while a five-time champion like her younger sister, the No 30 seed turned 34 last week and is far from the force she was. Indeed, to a lesser extent, the same could be said of Serena Williams and Sharapova, at least in the sense that they no longer intimidate opponents in the way they once did as a matter of routine.
Pointing this out, Bartoli implied that the women’s game is in a transitional period at present and that, during the coming fortnight, one of the lesser-known names could rise to the fore just as Sharapova did as a 17-year-old in 2004. “I think there are many,” she said when asked which of the current batch of contenders is most likely to become a big star.
“Obviously Eugenie Bouchard from Canada; Madison Keys; Garbine Muguruza. There are different players that can achieve great results on different surfaces. I think the new trend is these youngsters are coming out and are not afraid to beat the big players and the established players. When you see Serena going out 6‑2, 6‑2 to Muguruza in a Grand Slam [this year’s French Open], that’s really not something we’re used to seeing maybe five or ten years ago.
“A top player might go out in tough matches, very tough matches. Not 6‑2, 6‑2 like that.
“I think they’re really coming out fearless and they just play and believe every time they’re on the court they’re going to beat whoever is on the other side of the net. I think that’s something that’s definitely coming from the new generation. They’re just kind of coming out and saying, ‘Well, we’re good enough and we’re going to show the world’.”