The year was 2004. Cesar Millan was yet to be called “The Dog Whisperer.” Ridiculously successful sequels Shrek 2, Spiderman 2 and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban were dominating the box office. The Red Sox were winning playoff games and the Russians were winning slams.
And Marion Bartoli was playing Fed Cup.
As a 19-year-old, Bartoli partnered Emilie Loit in doubles in two separate ties that year; the pairing won their doubles match in a 5-0 semifinal win against Spain, but lost the deciding rubber to the Russian duo of Anastasia Myskina and Vera Zvonareva in the finals. 2004 marked the only time that Bartoli had competed in the national ITF team event in her career.
New French Fed Cup captain Amelie Mauresmo announced on Wednesday that Bartoli, along with Alize Cornet, Kristina Mladenovic and Virginie Razzano will be the French squad that will take on Germany in a World Group II first round tie on February 9-10 in Limoges.
Bartoli’s previous point of contention with the French Tennis Federation came from the role, or lack thereof, of her father in Fed Cup ties. Previous Fed Cup captains Loic Courteau and Nicolas Escude, as well as the federation itself, took issue with the fact that Bartoli wanted to be coached by her father during the ties, rather than practice together with the team. The parties involved also questioned the nature of Marion’s relationship with her father.
“In France, they think our relationship is, so to speak, fake, and that in public it’s big smiles and behind the scenes I’m getting pushed around every day,” she once said. “When I try to explain to them that is not the case, they have a hard time to understand.”
More than just the French public and tennis administration have had a hard time understanding the Bartolis. To say that they have gone outside the box in their approach to Marion’s tennis training is putting it mildly. One of the WTA’s more colorful characters, Bartoli’s shadow swings between every point have become her trademark, and she (allegedly) boasts an IQ of 175. She and her antics are always a spectacle on the WTA, no matter where she plays; nonetheless, these things are what endear her to her fans.
Due to her Fed Cup absence, Bartoli was ruled ineligible to compete at the Olympic Games. Three Games have come and gone since Bartoli made a name for herself on the circuit, but it was perhaps the last snub that hurt her the most and may have contributed to this reconciliation. The 2012 London Olympics were held at the site of Bartoli’s greatest career successes, on the lawns of the All-England Club. Without Bartoli, Cornet required an special invitation to compete, as she did not make the cut by ranking; she won a match before falling tamely to Daniela Hantuchova in the second round. Many argued that Bartoli would have been an outside, but no less legitimate, medal contender on the surface.
So the question remains: after nine years, 17 ties and a boatload of conflict, why now? Some detractors will state Bartoli’s chances to represent her country in the Olympics have come and gone; she’ll be 32 when the Olympics in Rio come around in 2016. Others would say she’s selfish for making the concessions, and is only looking to repair her image at home after the 2012 debacle. Both parties remained stubborn throughout this saga, and each holds a share of the blame.
No one can question Marion Bartoli’s patriotism. Despite all the quirks, the results don’t lie; a Wimbledon finalist with wins, among others, over Serena Williams, Justine Henin, Victoria Azarenka and Kim Clijsters in her career, Bartoli’s made the most of what she has. With the crowd behind her, she reached the semifinals at Roland Garros in 2011, the best performance at that event by a Frenchwoman since Mary Pierce won the title there in 2000 and reached the final again in 2005. All of that success has come with her father by her side, with little support from the national federation.
However, for this tie, Walter Bartoli will not be on site to help Marion prepare for her matches; he will be allowed to attend, but only as a family member. While we may not ever know what was said between Mauresmo and Bartoli over the past weeks, one thing is certain; someone finally understood.
French Tennis Federation
It was 25 years ago today on June 5, 1983 when Yannick Noah set off the perhaps the biggest celebration in French tennis since the Four Musketeers won the Davis Cup for France for the first time in 1927, by becoming the first man from his nation to win the French Open singles title, defeating Mats Wilander in the final. June 5 is a day of big occurrences in tennis history, as seen below in this exclusive early excerpt from my upcoming book On This Day in Tennis History. To pre-order this book (due out Sept. 1) you can click here for a 39 percent discount.
1983 – Yannick Noah creates a frenzy of French patriotism at Stade Roland Garros becoming the first Frenchman in 37 years to win the men’s singles titles at the French Open, defeating Mats Wilander 6-2, 7-5, 7-6 in two hours and 24 minutes in a passion-filled final. Noah serves and volleys and chips and charges on the slow red clay court to become the first Frenchman since Marcel Bernard in 1946 to win the French men’s singles title. Noah was discovered at age 10 in the African nation of Cameroon, the birthplace of his father, when Arthur Ashe informs French Tennis Federation President Philippe Chatrier of Noah’s talent after seeing him play – with a tennis racquet carved out of wood – during a U.S. State Department visit to Cameroon. Wilander was attempting to defend the title he won the year before as an unknown 17-year-old, but is unable to hit enough passing shots to fend off the constant net attacks by the dread-locked 23-year-old Noah. Wrote Bud Collins in the Boston Globe, “Perhaps the French will rename that huge monument at Place de l’Etoile and call it Noah’s Arc de Triomphe. The original outlasted a flood, but the current one opened the floodgates of emotion at Stade Roland Garros and washed away not only the Swedish Reign of Terror in the French Open, but also a seemingly impenetrable barrier that has separated French male players from their own title for 37 years.”
1953 – With his bag packed ready for a trip to Cleveland to play in the U.S. Pro Championships, Bill Tilden, regarded by many as the greatest player in the history of the sport, is found dead in his hotel room in Los Angeles at the age of 60. The cause of death for the seven-time U.S. men’s singles champion is a heart attack.
1973 – A in rare major final played on a Tuesday due to bad weather in Paris, Ilie Nastase beats Nikki Pilic 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 in 90 minutes to win the French Open for the first time. Said Nastase, “It meant much more to me to win Forest Hills last September because I thought I could never win a major grass tournament. Still, this is an important one.” Less than one hour after the match, Pilic is notified that he is suspended from competing on the circuit for 25 days for refusing to play for Yugoslavia in Davis Cup play, a decision that results in a player boycott of Wimbledon in defense of Pilic. Nastase, however, is one of the few ATP union players who does not honor the boycott.
1977 – Guillermo Vilas routs Brian Gottfried 6-0, 6-3, 6-0 to win his first major singles title in the most decisive French Open men’s singles final in the event’s history.
1982 – Martina Navratilova wins the French Open for the first time in her career, defeating future nun Andrea Jaeger 7-6, 6-1. Following the match, Jaeger accuses Navratilova of illegally receiving coaching signals from her coach, Renee Richards. ”It sort of blew my concentration,” said Jaeger, the 17-year-old American who was in her first Grand Slam final. ”It’s difficult to be playing three people at once. ‘I was trying in the whole first set to deal with it, and I was doing fine. But it was annoying. They’ve done it in other matches. It’s not very good for tennis. ‘She played well and I lost. But it shouldn’t happen. I might win, 0-0, or lose, 0-0, but I want to win by myself or lose by myself.” Said Navratilova, ”This is a shock. All I can say is that I never looked at Renee except for encouragement. Here I have won the final of one of the biggest tournaments in the world. Thank you very much, Andrea. I didn’t have to look up at them. Before I played, I went over the match 20 times with Renee. I could have recited in my sleep what I had to do against her. I didn’t need to look at Renee.”
1988 – In a near flawless display of clay court tennis, Mats Wilander wins the French Open for a third time in his career, defeating French native son Henri Leconte 7-5, 6-2, 6-1 in the men’s singles final. Wilander misses only two of 74 first serves, committs only nine unforced errors and does not hit a volley during the one-hour and 52 minute match.
1990 – Fourteen-year-old Jennifer Capriati becomes the youngest Grand Slam semifinalist in tennis history, defeating Mary Joe Fernandez 6-2, 6-4 in the women’s quarterfinals at the French Open.
1993 – Steffi Graf wins her third French Open women’s singles title and her 12th career Grand Slam singles title, defeating Mary Joe Fernandez 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 in the French Open women’s singles final.
1994 – Sergi Bruguera wins his second straight French Open men’s singles title, defeating unseeded countryman Alberto Berasategui 6-3, 7-5, 2-6, 6-1 in the men’s singles final.
1999 – Twenty-nine-year-old Steffi Graf claims her 22nd – and final – major singles title, upending Martina Hingis 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 in the women’s singles final at the French Open. Hingis served for the title leading 6-4, 5-4, but Graf, inspired by the French crowd chanting “STEF-FEE, STE-FEE” breaks Hingis and wins eight of the next 10 games. “It was my greatest victory,” said Graf. “I came here without belief – but the crowd lifted me. At 1-0 in the third I knew the momentum was with me. She got tight. Then at 3-0 I got tight and she almost caught me. It was the craziest match. ‘Quit worrying,’ I told myself. ‘Go for your shots.’ I did.”
2003 – Serena Williams is defeated by Belgium’s Justine Henin-Hardenne 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 in front of a raucously pro-Henin Hardenne crowd in the semifinals of the French Open, ending Williams’ 33-match Grand Slam winning streak. The match is highlighted by an incident in the third-set that would prove contentious and acrimonious between the two rivals for years to come. With Williams serving at 4-2, 30-0 in the final set, Henin-Hardenne raises her hand indicating she is not ready to return serve. Williams serves in the net, then protests, to no avail, to the chair umpire and tournament referee that she should be given a first serve, while Henin-Hardenne says nothing of her gesture. Williams then loses the next four points to lose her service-break advantage and eventually the match. Said Henin-Hardenne, “I wasn’t ready to play the point. The chair umpire is there to deal with these kind of situations. I just tried to stay focused on myself and tried to forget all the other things…It’s her point of view but that’s mine now and I feel comfortable with it….I didn’t have any discussion with the chair umpire. He didn’t ask me anything. I was just trying to focus on playing the returns. She saw me and she served. It was her decision to serve. I just tried to stay focused on the second serve. One point in the match doesn’t change the outcome.”
2005 – Nineteen-year-old Rafael Nadal of Spain fends off a charge from unseeded Mariano Puerta of Argentina to win his first major singles title at the French Open. Nadal wins the title and his 24th consecutive match with a 6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-1 7-5 decision over Puerta to become the fourth youngest men’s singles champion at Roland Garros. Nadal joins 1982 champion Mats Wilander as the only player to win Roland Garros in his debut.
Rafael Nadal won his first title of 2008 and his fourth consecutive Monte Carlo Masters, defeating Roger Federer 7-5 7-5.
Nuria Llagostera Vives won both of her singles and teamed up to capture the doubles and lead Spain over China 4-1 and into the Fed Cup World Group finals.
Vera Zvonareva beat Vania King to clinch the Fed Cup World Group semifinals victory as Russia beat the United States 3-2.
Marcelo Rios beat Michael Stich 6-3 6-3 to win the BlackRock Champions Cup in Barcelona, Spain.
“Winning four times here is unimaginable.” – Rafael Nadal, who became the first player to win four straight titles at Monte Carlo since Anthony Wilding of New Zealand did it from 1911-14.
“He deserves to win. I’m pushing Rafa today, having the feeling I can beat him if I play the right way. That’s the feeling I didn’t have after (Monte Carlo) last year.” – Roger Federer after his 7-5 7-5 loss to Rafael Nadal for the Monte Carlo Masters title.
“I knew I could do it, but there were times when I wondered.” – Robert Dee, who finally won his first professional match after 54 consecutive losses.
“It was my first match on red clay in almost two years. That’s why I was a little nervous at the start of the match.” – Vera Zvonareva, who beat Vania King 4-6 6-3 6-2 to give Russia an insurmountable 3-0 lead over the United States in their Fed Cup semifinal.
“I felt really sorry. I really didn’t want to lose.” – Peng Shuai, after losing 6-4 6-4 to Nuria Llagostera Vives as Spain clinched its Fed Cup semifinal victory over China.
“We knew we could win the tie, but we never expected to win three matches in a row.” – Nuria Llagostera Vives on Spain’s Fed Cup semifinal win.
“It’s not worth it. I’m just 20 years old. Still a lot of time, a lot of tournaments to come.” – Novak Djokovic, on how he felt it was too risky to continue his semifinal match against Roger Federer because of dizziness and a sore throat.
“Physically I was tired. That’s why next week is good. I don’t play any tournament.” – Nikolay Davydenko, who is taking a week off before playing in the Rome Masters.
“It’s still enjoyable. It’s nice to play the tournaments again where I have such great memories of what’s happened in the past.” – Gustavo Kuerten, after losing in the opening round of the Monte Carlo Masters. Kuerten is on a farewell tour which will culminate at the Roland Garros.
“We should have both (Maria) Sharapova and (Svetlana) Kuznetsova in the lineup. I might even have them play doubles together.” – Russian captain Shamil Tarpishchev, talking about who might play for his team at the Fed Cup finals in September against Spain.
Rafael Nadal joined Jim Courier as the only players in ATP Masters Series history to win both the singles and doubles at the same event. Nadal beat Roger Federer 7-5 7-5 for the singles title, and teamed with fellow Spaniard Tommy Robredo to down Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles 6-3 6-3 for the doubles crown. Nadal is the first player to win both titles at Monte Carlo since Ilie Nastase in 1973. Courier won both titles in an ATP Masters Series tournament in 1991 at Indian Wells, California.
SUCCESS – FINALLY
Robert Dee walked off the tennis court a winner after 54 consecutive defeats. The Briton defeated Arzhang Derakhshani of the United states 6-4 6-3 in qualifying for a Futures tournament in Reus, near Barcelona in Spain. Dee’s 54-match losing streak was the worst since Diego Beltranena of Guatemala also lost 54 straight matches between 1997 and 2005, although Beltranena at least managed to win a set. Until his victory over Derakhshani, Dee had played 108 sets – losing them all – since turning pro.
SUCH A PAYDAY
The payout at Roland Garros this year will be more than 15.5 million euros, an increase of more than 2 percent from last year. With equal prize money again awaiting men and women, the champions will each pocket one million euros. The French Tennis Federation (FFT) said the biggest prize money increases are in the wheelchair events where the total prize money available is 60 percent higher than in 2007.
When Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Nikolay Davydenko reached the semifinals of the Monte Carlo Masters, it marked the first time since Roland Garros in 2006 that the world’s top four ranked players were in the semifinals of the same tournament. It is the first time since the ATP Rankings began in 1973 that the top four-ranked players were semifinalists at Monte Carlo.
STOPPING THE BOMB
Frenchman Gael Monfils pulled off a unique feat in his 7-6 (8) 6-1 win over huge-serving Ivo Karlovic at the Monte Carlo Masters. Monfils didn’t concede a single ace against the 6-foot-10 Croatian. It was the first time in his career that Karlovic had failed to serve at least one ace in the match.
A record number of visitors checked out the Davis Cup web site as the nations played quarterfinals on April 11-13. The official site of the event, www.daviscup.com, recorded 4,568,701 page views, a 35 percent increase on the quarterfinals weekend in 2007. The total number of visitor sessions also saw a 39 percent rise from the previous year.
Clarisa Fernandez, who upset Kim Clijsters en route to the semifinals at Roland Garros in 2002, is calling it quits because of knee injuries. The lefthander from Argentina played her first professional tournament at an ITF event in Buenos Aires in 1997. She was ranked as high as number 26 in the world before undergoing surgeries in 2004, 2005 and 2007.
Donald Young, the youngest player ranked in the ATP Top 100, will work out at Nick Bollettieri’s Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida. It is one of the first examples of the USTA Elite Player Development’s new collaborative approach with top coaches and private academies in a bid to develop the next generation of American champions. The USTA also announced that three top junior prospects – 12-year-old Sachia Vickery, 12-year-old of Victoria Duval and 9-year-old Alicia Black – will be working with Bollettieri.
Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish, two of America’s top three players, will skip the Beijing Olympics, opting instead for a U.S. Open tuneup event. Roddick will defend his title and Fish will join him at the ATP Washington Classic, which will be played August 9-17 opposite the Olympic men’s tennis tournament. Fish was a silver medalist at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Spain being in the Fed Cup final is no surprise. Peng Shuai losing three matches and Spain crushing China 4-1 in the semifinal at Beijing are shockers. Peng was the highest ranked singles player in the competition, ranked number 68 in the world. She and Sun Tian Tian are ranked ninth in the world in doubles. Instead, Nuria Llagostera Vives won three matches, teaming with Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez in the doubles, while Carla Suarez-Navarro, ranked number 132 in the world, beat Peng in straight sets.
Russia will have Australian Open champion Maria Sharapova for its Fed Cup final against Spain in September. Sharapova made her Fed Cup debut against Israel in February and won both of her singles matches to lead Russia to a 4-1 quarterfinal victory. Svetlana Kuznetsova led Russia to a 3-2 win over the United States in semifinal play. Against Spain, Russia could field both Sharapova and Kuznetsova, who are ranked third and fourth in world, respectively.
BoscoSport, a Russian sporting goods company, is the new official clothing sponsor of Fed Cup. It will outfit the linespeople and ball kids at all Fed Cup ties. BoscoSport has been the official Russian Olympic team outfitter since the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games and is also the outfitter of the Russian Davis Cup and Fed Cup teams.
Bud Collins has written a new book about tennis. The writer, historian and Tennis Hall of Fame member has written The Bud Collins History of Tennis, which is due in bookstores later this spring in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, and is available now with internet retailers. Collins’ achievements include being the recipient of the ATP’s 2007 Ron Bookman Media Excellence Award.
Monte Carlo: Rafael Nadal and Tommy Robredo beat Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles 6-3 6-3.
SCORING FED CUP
World Group Playoffs
Italy beat Ukraine 3-2; France beat Japan 4-1; Argentina beat Germany 3-2; Czech Republic beat Israel 3-2
World Group II Playoffs
Belgium beat Colombia 5-0; Switzerland beat Austria 3-2; Slovak Republic beat Uzbekistan 5-0; Serbia beat Croatia 3-2
SITES TO SURF
TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK
$824,000 Open Sabadell Atlantico 2008, Barcelona, Spain, clay
$370,000 BMW Open, Munich, Germany, clay
$145,000 Grand Prix de SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem, Fes, Morocco, clay
$145,000 ECM Prague Open, Prague, Czech Republic, clay
$150,000 Outback Champions Cup Boston, Boston, Massachusetts, hard
TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK
$2,270,000 Internazionali BNL d’Italia, Rome, Italy, clay
$1,340,000 Qatar Telecom German Open, Berlin, Germany, clay
BlackRock Tour of Champions Rome, clay