Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli shed the tears and Sabine Lisicki enjoyed the thrill of victory as roles were reversed between last year’s finalists on Centre Court.
Twelve months ago, German Lisicki suffered a horrendous case of stage fright and openly wept as Bartoli powered to the title in straight sets. Within weeks of landing the trophy she always longed for, Bartoli announced her surprise retirement. With the 29-year-old Frenchwoman having stood doughtily by that decision, she is at Wimbledon this year purely to offer choice analysis on television and savour the final days of her reign.
She would have opened play on the principal show court, had she not quit, as that is the women’s champion’s right on the second day, but instead it fell to Lisicki to take that honour.
Bartoli, who called her triumph a “miracle”, still took a bow in front of the crowd, and was clearly weeping as she waved to all corners, before making way for Lisicki to take on Julia Glushko, a Wimbledon debutant from Ukraine who quite predictably struggled with the occasion and slumped to a 6-2, 6-1 loss.
Without reaching the heights that saw her crush Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska underfoot on a startling charge to the 2013 final, Lisicki simply got the job done at her favourite tournament.
“It was awesome,” she said. “Since I was growing up, it just always gets every inch out of me, every energy, it just gets the best out of me. I think it does something magical to me when I come back here.
“I played my first grand slam final last year and I’m returning to the court where I played it on.
“I was quite nervous.”
Bartoli had not been alone when she ventured onto court before the match. She was accompanied by nine-year-old Elle Robus-Miller – a young player from the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis in Ipswich, as Wimbledon marked the death of the former British number one. Baltacha played at the tournament last year but died of liver cancer at the age of 30 on May 4. Her husband and coach, Nino Severino, was in the Centre Court crowd to watch Bartoli and the young academy prospect perform a coin toss at the net prior to Lisicki and Glushko getting under way.
Spectators were reminded by the tournament announcer of Baltacha’s achievements, and many rose to their feet to acclaim the late Scot, as well as Bartoli. Baltacha is sorely missed. Many players and fans of British tennis have supported a Rally 4 Bally campaign, raising funds for the academy she founded, which hands a chance in tennis to children from all backgrounds, and the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity. Lisicki later said: “I think it was a very nice gesture that Marion came out with the little child in memory of Elena Baltacha. I think that was a very nice thing to do. I think that moment made it even more special.”
Bartoli, in a cream dress and white cardigan, retreated after the pre-match cameo to take her place on the front row of the Royal Box, three seats along from Sir Bruce Forsyth, to watch 24-year-old Lisicki sail through.
To go one step further than last year, or even come close to matching the achievement, it will take a drastic turnaround in Lisicki’s fortunes. Hampered by a shoulder problem, she has strung together two wins in a row only once this season, on clay in Madrid, and it takes six straight victories to reach a Wimbledon final.
“My last few months haven’t been good. With my shoulder injury, I was struggling. I probably shouldn’t have played, and I played,” Lisicki said. “But it’s about now. I’m getting my rhythm back and playing the way I can play and getting the confidence again.”
Serena Williams served notice of her plans for the fortnight by slinging down 16 aces in a mismatch of a first-round showdown with Anna Tatishvili.
The top-seeded American is seeking a sixth women’s singles title in London and raced to a 6-1, 6-2 victory over an opponent who has recently joined her playing under the Stars and Stripes, after previously representing Georgia.
On court the pair were worlds apart, with Williams showing why she is a hot favourite to triumph on Saturday week and claim the Venus Rosewater Dish she last held aloft two years ago.
The only worry for Williams, who joins sister Venus in the second round, was a succession of slips she suffered on the Centre Court grass. “I fell so many times. It was weird because I usually feel really good,’’ Williams said. ‘’I just kept falling today but it’s probably (about) getting my bearings. I didn’t play much grass last year.”