MARION Bartoli beat Sloane Stephens 6-4, 7-5 in a bizarre rain-interrupted quarter-final that featured eight successive breaks of serve yesterday to leave the French 15th seed one match away from a surprise second Wimbledon final.
Bartoli, beaten by Venus Williams in the 2007 final, snaffled the first set by winning the first two points played after a two-and-a-half-hour rain break. There followed an extraordinary second set that included eight straight dropped service games as Stephens, the only remaining American in the either singles competition, garnered only one point in four service games.
Both women finally managed a hold each before Bartoli, yet to drop a set in five matches in the tournament, broke to love to secure a semi-final clash with Belgian Kirsten Flipkens. “I’ve felt great here since 2007, obviously grass suits me,” said Bartoli who was not so enamoured with the lush lawns when refusing to play on in light drizzle late in the first set.
“The courts are already a bit slippery and they can get dangerous when it gets wet so I don’t know why the crowd got against me for that,” she said after being booed for making her stand while Stephens was keen to play on. “I was returning extremely well, but not serving well – the opposite of before the rain delay really. I just need to put the two together in the next match.”
Having been denied their expected roll call of star names by last week’s upsets, the crowd took a while to comprehend what was different about yesterday’s match, but gradually realised that it was the peace and quiet.
After years of suffering the screeching and grunting that has pervaded the top end of the women’s game, Number One court was an oasis of calm.
Bartoli is always a blur of movement, leaping and fidgeting like a toddler at the table, but she does go through her manic routine quietly.
Stephens is off the scale, seemingly without emotion at any stage of a contest that turned into “Sloane motion” versus perpetual motion.
Even during the drizzle debate, Stephens stood phlegmatically at the base line, playing no part in the discussions as the crowed slow-clapped and hooted.
The match went with serve until the covers came on at 5-4 to Bartoli, deuce on the Stephens serve. When play resumed the Frenchwoman took the first two points, the set decider courtesy of a shocking netted forehand by Stephens.
The 20-year-old American had emerged from the rain break dressed for an Arctic expedition and played as if she would rather have been back in a warm changing room as Bartoli took the first two games of the second set to love.
The second was the first of a crazy run of eight breaks in a row, most of the points handed over by errors. Stephens, who reached the Australian Open semi-finals in January, eventually started to land her free-swinging ground shots, but she lacked control and was unable to stay in any rally long enough to lever a regular advantage.
Bartoli’s punchy double-handers were similarly inconsistent before both players did manage to hold serve. Stephens needed one more hold to force a tie-break but she produced another horror show, broken to love as Bartoli strode into the semi-finals with a growing belief that this could be her year.