LONDON (Reuters) - People thought Walter Bartoli was a little odd when he ripped up the conventional coaching manual and began moulding the hybrid player who on Saturday won the Wimbledon singles title.
That player was his daughter Marion whose punchy double-handed forehands and backhands, quirky moves and almost maniacal focus took her through the Wimbledon draw without losing a set.
Her 6-1 6-4 victory over Germany’s Sabine Lisicki completed a remarkable journey for the 28-year-old and finally vindicated her father’s faith in doing things his way.
“I‘m no tennis player so maybe my ideas were completely new, that’s why a long time ago I was disturbing everybody,” Walter, who introduced his daughter to tennis aged six after studying the style of Monica Seles, told reporters on a sun-splashed balcony alongside Centre Court.
“The tennis players thought this guy is crazy, these ideas are completely stupid but I kept believing in myself and Marion and me found our way to do things.”
Bartoli has been consistently in the top 20 of the WTA rankings for six years but after a difficult season in which she had not gone past the quarter-finals at any tournament she was well down the list of potential Wimbledon winners.
She even stopped being coached by dad, working instead with former Wimbledon champion Amelie Mauresmo, but she sought him out for a warm embrace after firing down an ace to claim the title.
After some worrying time when she says she hit “rock bottom” everything finally fell into place - the ultimate reward for daring to be a little different.
”That’s always been a part of my personality to be different,“ she told a new conference. ”I think being just like the other one is kind of boring.
“At the end of the day, when the spectators were looking at 10 matches they will remember this girl that was doing something different, playing inside the court or whatever.”
“It was the perfect day. It was sunny. It was beautiful. Centre Court Wimbledon, it was packed,” added Bartoli, the first French player to win a slam since Mauresmo in 2006.
“I won in two sets. I didn’t drop a set for the whole championship. Even in my perfect dream I couldn’t have dreamed a perfect moment like that. That is beyond perfection.”
Bartoli’s style is based on taking the ball extremely early and being aggressive on every ball.
Those early days when she learnt her strokes on an indoor court with no space behind the baselines are still evident because the Frenchwoman always moves forward.
So is the intense focus that became an ingrained habit thanks to Walter’s novel use of different coloured tennis balls, “some very speedy, some very low” he explains of one of the various unconventional coaching methods he introduced.
Sometimes she stands two metres inside the baseline to receive serve - a skill that requires incredible hand-eye coordination and Walter made use of video to study the way balls bounce.
The perpetual motion mannerisms, the imaginary swings behind the baseline, the running on the spot, the fist-pumps, are also key to the Bartoli blueprint.
“I told her to be a good player you have to have a routine and stick with it,” said Walter, a doctor by profession. “The thing is for her not to be passive on the court. With her (double-fisted style) it’s very difficult to come back in a rally, that’s why she wins lots of quick rallies.”
There have been “pain and tears” during her journey and heartache too when she missed the Olympics because of her decision not to play Fed Cup in protest at her father not being allowed to work with the team.
All that was forgotten on Saturday, even if Walter never imagined his daughter could one day be a grand slam champion.
“For sure I was thinking that she was a talented player and can have some fun on the tennis court and that’s all,” he said.
“She asked to be a champion and I helped her to be one. She used to say dad I want to improve my serve, have more speed, and I’d find each time a new exercise.” (Editing by Ed Osmond)