Simon Reed

Bartoli happy to sing own song

Simon Reed

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You never know
quite what to think about Marion Bartoli.

Sometimes she
doesn't look much of a player, and at other times she can beat anyone - as she
proved when she downed Justine Henin to
reach the 2007 Wimbledon final, and as she
showed again on Sunday when she beat Venus Williams to
win in Stanford.

After the Wimbledon result a couple of years ago, everyone thought
she'd just had one of those fortnights, that she'd disappear - but she didn't.
She's stuck in there and continued to produce good results, and continued to
beat top players in the process.

Could she go
the extra step and win a Grand Slam? Well, at a time when the women's game is
wide open, she'll feel that she has a chance at the US Open.

Regardless of
their bad week at Stanford - and for the Williams sisters a quarter-final and
runners-up spot constitute a bad week - Serena and Venus will still be
overwhelming favourites at Flushing Meadows.

What we saw
last week was further evidence that only Grand Slam titles matter to them.
Their games rely on their incredible intensity, and it's difficult these days
for them to reproduce that intensity in what they see as little more than
warm-up tournaments.

Serena clearly
didn't produce her normal level, and although Venus did keep her intensity
levels up for most of the week, she spoilt the hard work by simply playing a
poor match in the final. I kept expecting her to turn it round and come back to
win - but it just never happened.

Back to
Bartoli, though, who is an interesting character to say the least. She's a real
one-off and not particularly popular on the Tour, but she has always been happy
to plough her own furrow.

A lot of that
has been down to her father and coach Dr Frank Bartoli. His theories have given
her game all sorts of bizarre quirks - including her two-handed forehand - and
seen her using some truly extraordinary training methods.

To try and
improve her movement, for example, Dr Bartoli regularly ties tennis balls to
his daughter's feet to force her to move about the court on her toes.

Movement is
just one part of it, however. He feels that his daughter will never be the
quickest around the court, so he's put a huge amount of thought into improving
her hand-eye coordination and strength.

At certain
periods of her career he decided that the game is all about power, and has
packed her off to the gym to pack on the muscle.

At other
times, however, he changes his focus and puts co-ordination top of the list.
When he's in this frame of mind he has her playing practice games wielding a
pipe as a racquet and using balls of different sizes, colours and bounce.

Conventional
it isn't, but the result is a player who is amongst the most exciting and
aggressive to watch on the circuit.

It's an
approach that has always raised eyebrows - and I've always marvelled at the way
they've managed to balance an unusual player-coach relationship with a sound
father-daughter relationship.

But the
Bartoli's will always go their own way, and women's tennis is a more
interesting place for their presence.

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