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.
For 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.
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.
You 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.