Quirky, heavy girl wins Wimbledon

6 July 2013

These are basically quotes from coverage of the women’s Wimbledon final match between Marion Bartoli and Sabine Lisicki. I have never seen the word quirky used so frequently and so transparently as code for weird.

Marion-Bartoli-v-Flipkens_2967859For example, USA Today’s headline, “Quirky Wimbledon Deserves Quirky Winner in Marion Bartoli.” This article proclaims that “quirky is too easy a word to describe” Bartoli, but:

sometimes the easy word is the best word. Bartoli looks like Luis Tiant when she serves, bounces around on her feet like Muhammad Ali before a title fight and takes practice cuts like she’s on-deck at the Home Run Derby. She’s had public fallouts with her father/coach, claims to have an IQ higher than Einstein’s and gives interviews that are actually insightful, a rarity in the modern tennis game.

Other writers (like in The Guardian) use eccentric and/or unorthodox. “She’s a woman unlike any other,” Chris Fowler said uncomfortably on ESPN after her win today. Others call her Marion the Contrarian or openly mock her oddness, like Sports Illustrated.


The quirkiness, according to received wisdom, is thoroughgoing. Her doctor-father taught himself to play tennis by reading every book he could find; he taught Marion. Her training includes boxing, far afield from typical tennis stars’. She uses two hands for both forehand and backhand. She moves without grace; when she beat Kirsten Flipkens in the semifinal, she dropped into the awkward position you see above. Even the generous Chris Evert frequently describes her as “not a natural athlete.”

I admit, I don’t quite know how she serves (she has an excellent serve) — her serving arm stretches straight back from her body in a way that exaggerates her physical awkwardness. The commentators seem to see her as an embarrassing quirk of the women’s game.


Unlike her opponent Sabine Lisicki, the smiling, large-eyed, blonde girl (who, ahem, cried during the match when things went badly), Bartoli doesn’t girl it up on the court. Instead she pumps her fist after every won point, never cracking a smile or dropping the slightly dour look to prettify herself for tennis audiences looking for smiling blonde girls. There’s no makeup, unlike the heavily applied eyes of Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska.

Marion Bartoli

Bartoli’s body also sets her apart from virtually all the top players aside from Serena Williams. Shorter than many (she’s 5’7″), while also bigger/stockier, she doesn’t cover up the roll of belly fat around the middle.

The news that she tested at genius level as a child has not missed the commentators. “She’s very smart,” they often say with considerable skepticism. Alternately, they note that her IQ has been claimed but never proven.

One keeps waiting for someone to point out that she hasn’t bothered to shave very carefully.

marion-bartoli2_2608816bYou know what? Thank heavens we have major athletes like Bartoli who show that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all model for success. Why aren’t we having a conversation about how great it is that a normal-looking woman — at age 28 — who “isn’t a natural athlete” has won Wimbledon? Isn’t this the best possible inspiration for all of us?

I say it again: our culture has such issues with female athletes who sit outside the “norm” — a norm that seems to be defined by beach volleyball players. Get over it, folks.

20 Responses to “Quirky, heavy girl wins Wimbledon”

  1. JustMeMike Says:

    I watched the second set and enjoyed the broadcast. Not that I had any real rooting interest for either of the players. In fact, I didn’t recall Bartoli from 2007 when she lost in the finals to Venus Williams.

    I watch the match because I just happen to like women’s tennis. Singles tennis is really a grueling game, and because of that fact, it takes a lot of heart, courage, and strength to win – not to mention talent.

    I also watched the semi-final match on the 4th – the traditional Breakfast at Wimbledon. In the interview following the match where Bartoli defeated Radwanska, I admired Bartoli’s manner in dealing with the televised interview.

    I assure you that the word quirky never entered my mind.

    But today, after the match, I learned that Bartoli has modeled her game after Monica Seles – utilizing two hands on both forehands as well as backhands. I remember Seles with her distinctive semi- shriek/grunts on every stroke. I also recall that there was a hue and outcry about Seles and her vocals..

    To me, the media is just doing what they do best – applying labels. If the media loved Sharapova’s looks there’s nothing wrong with that. As I recall – Sharapova’s tennis wasn’t considered all that great. And then she goes and wins Wimbledon in 2004.

    I’ll be happy if Bartoli does well in the US Open so we can see her again. I know I’ll enjoy seeing her again – regardless of how the media labels her.

    Nice post, Didion! And welcome back.

    • JustMeMike Says:

      Just to prove Didion’s point, this was the lead by Ed Osmond writing for Reuters –

      LONDON, July 6 (Reuters) – Marion Bartoli would not have been high on any list of likely Wimbledon champions a fortnight ago but on Saturday the quirky Frenchwoman overwhelmed Sabine Lisicki 6-1 6-4 to claim her first grand slam title.

  2. Becky Says:

    If there is a natural athlete, I would like to see a definition. Graceful? Was Babe Ruth a natural athlete? I don’t remember him being particularly graceful or attractive. It hardly matters if the commentators think she looks awkward. She got the job done, and they, of all people, should know that is all that matters.

  3. phylly3 Says:

    I hope she keeps winning — and especially beats the pants off those who mock her.
    It is not only women athletes who are outside the norm who are mocked. Wayne Gretzky who broke all the records in his early hockey career was said by some to be “ruining hockey”!
    Also Toller Cranston – a Canadian figure skater back in the ’70s who completely changed the style of men’s figure skating – was considered very weird and was hated by some.
    Greatness is unusual not normal – which unfortunately makes the more average people realize they will never be able to achieve that same glory since the bar has now been moved even higher!

  4. Servetus Says:

    That’s a powerful body.Yay for her!

  5. Hattie Says:

    She looks like a natural person and hasn’t even bothered to get her teeth whitened or to take off a few pounds. I really think that is great.
    I’m feeling an acceleration of attacks on women with a public presence and wonder what that’s about.

    • Didion Says:

      Oh my god. 1) I love Bartoli. 2) Can Inverdale just get fired? Nothing could have exemplified my point more than this.

  6. Servetus Says:

    You have got to read this. The BBC guy apologizes for one gaffe by committing another:


  7. phylly3 Says:

    @servetus – G*d what a lout that commentator is! I can’t believe he still has a job! There was nothing “nice” about his comments.

    • Servetus Says:

      I know, I’ve been trying to think of a comeback ever since I read it. Like, your success at the BBC offers an incredible role model for trolls and idiots! But that would be ad hominem.

      • Didion Says:

        And speaking of trolls and idiots, Servetus sent me this link showing the kinds of comments being made about Bartoli on Twitter. Kill me now.

  8. The problem for Bartoli, even in those zoning tournaments, is the comedown: whether she expends too much energy on those occasions or whether replicating those kind of performances is simply impossible, she’s never managed to sustain her peak form for the two weeks required to win a Slam. But the key to those kind of displays seems less to be about the nuts and bolts of coaching and technique, and more about the kind of inspiration that allows Bartoli to go beyond herself. It’s not the sort of thing that can be taught – or fixed.

    • Didion Says:

      I hope she does continue to succeed, and to put aside the misogyny expended by all these trolls. But my main concern is that we point out that those statements come from all over the media, not just from trolls — that female athletes who fall outside a conventional hotness spectrum continue to provoke incredible viciousness from critics.

      And considering that Bartoli was #15 in the world at the start of Wimbledon — and is #7 now — I’d say she’s doing pretty well, actually. Not a lot of these women have won Slams, after all. Caroline Wozniacki was the world #1 for more than a year without winning a Slam.

      • Servetus Says:

        Plus, sorry to be a sports wet blanket, who really cares about the slam? This is another one of this situations if you’re not the best three then the media think you’re nobody, and that’s just plain nonsense.

    • Servetus Says:

      actually, I think that kind of inspiration / focus can be taught / coached if the person wants to go there. I wouldn’t say it’s easy but it can be learned.

  9. createthinklive Says:

    No reason for “heavy”–she’s all muscle!!!

  10. Ant Says:

    The old cliche “one man’s meat is another man’s poison” springs to mind. I much prefer a girl with substance to a stick insect with no shape. Marion is a very cute, attractive girl, even without make-up. she has very nice features, and big sexy thighs. from where Im looking, most of it is in the right places, and like the guy above says, it’s mostly muscle, Ok she has a bit of a tummy, but I could tolerate that. She looks like a real woman. Always a joy to watch Tennis for me when she is on court, I love the feistyness she shows.

    Was very saddened when I heard of her retirement, I have watched as many of her matches as I could since I became a fan a couple of years ago. Seeing her win Wimbledon made my weekend. I just hope she makes a comeback as soon as possible. Would really love to meet her, that would be awesome . What I wouldn’t give to have even just 1 night alone with her, so many things I could do to her! I love Bartoli she is just soooo sexy!

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