Just for a moment, a major upset was in the making in the second round match of World's number 10 player Marion Bartoli vs Stanford's collegiate star Mallory Burdette. Up 5-3 in the first set, with two set points on her serve, Burdette seemed to realize she was on the verge of something big in her new professional career, just begun after helping Stanford win the NCAA championship this year. A two-time All American, Burdette won the NCAA doubles championship two years in a row and was a singles finalist this year (losing to her partner Nicole Gibbs).
Click photo: Bartoli plays an attacking game reminiscent of her idol, Monica Seles.
Closing out sets is tough, however, even for pro veterans, but with a grand total of one win on the WTA tour since turning pro, nerves seem ed to get the better of her and Burdette simply couldn’t hold her form. In the press conference after the match, she admitted she became extremely nervous. Bartoli broke Burdette’s serve and then the floodgates opened and Bartoli steam-rolled the 21 year old Burdette, winning 11 consecutive games and the match 7-5, 6-0.
Marion Bartoli, The New Monica Seles?
Marion Bartoli, the French number one, plays a game modeled after the great champion, Monica Seles. Bartoli’s coach and father had seen Monica Seles defeat Steffi Graf in the 1992 French Open final, and he was determined that his daughter’s game would be built on the Seles model.
Just as Seles did, Bartoli hits both her forehand and backhand with two hands. She also displays Seles’ aggressive style off the ground, leaning forward into her shots and attacking the ball with a ferocity that you once saw in Seles’ game and which is now on display at the Bank of the West Classic with the number one seed Serena Williams.
Intimidating or Just Plain Quirky?
Bartoli is one of the best pure ball strikers on the tour today, and in that respect, she certainly is following in the footsteps of Seles. While Bartoli doesn’t scream when she strikes the ball like Seles did, she does bring an array of idiosyncrasies to the court that could intimidate or bewilder opponents (perhaps both?). On the one hand, she jumps and jitterbugs about the court between points, taking vicious shadow swings, sometimes right before the opponent serves.
Click photo: Bartoli brings an array of idiosyncrasies to the court that may intimidate or just plain bewilder opponents.
Much like Rafael Nadal’s pugilistic bouncing up and down while the coin is being tossed before the match begins, all of Marion Bartoli’s stutter steps, jump squats, and constant vicious cuts at imaginary balls, may be intended to show her opponents that she’s filled with a super-abundance of energy and fight.
On the other hand, Bartoli’s hyper-activity could be ascribed to a quirky style she employs to pump herself up and shake off nerves. Whether intentional or not, Bartoli’s non-stop activity between points is something opponents must find a way to handle—and that may Bartoli a psychological edge, which it did Thursday afternoon against professional rookie Mallory Burdette. And even if it doesn't, a least it gives the fans something to talk about. Myself, I find it hard to look away.
Reaching New Heights
While Bartoli’s ferocious ground game may yet win her a few of the nine grand slam championships that her hero Monica Seles recorded, her fitness and movement throughout her career haven’t always been at slam levels. In Thursday’s match against Burdette, however, she showed she has improved both. This area of improvement has lifted her game to a career high ranking of number seven in the world.
The Rituals and the Bartoli Serve
Click photo: Bartoli bounces the ball six times before every serve, tapping her back foot in rhythm with the bounce of the ball.
Click photo: Bartoli swings the racquet straight back, and in the trophy position her arm is fully extended (rather than coiled), with her shoulders level (rather than angled vertically). This form makes it nearly impossible to execute a dynamic cartwheeling motion of the body and shoulders that gives good servers additional power.
From an instructional perspective, Bartoli’s service rituals and service action open up several lines of discussion.
Teaching pros often advocate that recreational players adopt serve rituals to focus the mind and settle the body. In Marion Bartoli’s case, she bounces the ball exactly six times before every serve, tapping her back foot in rhythm with the bounce of the ball. Should players adopt such a rigidly prescribed serve ritual or have no ritual at all? Since most professional players adopt some serve ritual, the answer would seem to be somewhere in between.
With first serves reaching 105 mph, second serves in the mid-90’s, and few double-faults, Bartoli’s serve, while not the dominating weapon of a Serena Williams, it is an effective part of her game. That said, let’s look at a number of issues with her service motion.
The tell-tale sign of an “arm-only” serve is seen in the immediate follow-through after contact. Compare the classic “hanging elbow-arm” position of Pete Sampras with that of Bartoli
First, she swings the racquet straight back, and in the trophy position her arm is fully extended (rather than coiled), with her shoulders level (rather than angled vertically). This form makes it nearly impossible to execute a dynamic cartwheeling motion of the body and shoulders that gives good servers additional power.
Perhaps even more importantly, this straight-back take-back and body orientation encourages Bartoli to “open up” too soon on her serve. This results in losing most of the stored energy of the body’s kinetic chain and a serve that is “armed” through contact.
The tell-tale sign of an “arm-only” serve is seen in the immediate follow-through after contact. Compare the classic “hanging elbow-arm” position of Pete Sampras, where he is pronating out to the side as he releases his uncoiling, vertical strike on the ball, and that of Marion Bartoli ’linear, swing straight-through position on her follow-through. The lesson here for recreational players? Be like Pete. Simple, right?
Serena Williams, Change vs Courier Exhibition Tonight
Tonight at the Bank of West tournament, the longest-running women-only professional tennis tournament in the world, number one seed and Wimbledon champion Serena Williams continues her defense of the tournament championship (she won last year) against number six seed Chanelle Scheepers at 7 pm tonight. This match is followed by an exhibition match of Hall of Famers Michael Chang and Jim Courier.
Serena is a treat to watch and expect the boys to camp it up and play to the crowd. Nevertheless, their level of tennis is still high and the weather is warm. Once again, an entertaining way to spend an evening.
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