September 21, 2023

Open Court


Marion Bartoli announces comeback

Surprised? Not surprised?

Marion Bartoli, who is still only 33 years old but has lived through a few lifetimes since her retirement from the professional circuit, announced Tuesday that she is returning in 2018.

“I am so looking forward to see you again during my matches and share some amazing emotions with you,” Bartoli wrote on Twitter.

Attached to the Tweet is a video where she talks about looking forward to her home Slam, and Wimbledon (where she shocked the world by winning in 2013 without dropping a set) as well as Fed Cup.

The video is shot at an indoor tennis club. Bartoli isn’t even wearing tennis clothes, though. Which is … odd?

The Frenchwoman retired just a month after that Wimbledon title. She was 28, and while she had been a top player for many years, it’s unlikely too many people had her tagged to win a major – especially Wimbledon.

But she did so impressively.

Anticlimactic retirement announcement

Accepting the Venus Rosewater Dish would have been the perfect swan song, if that were going to be it.

But Bartoli showed up in Toronto a few weeks later for the Rogers Cup, where she retired in her second match, against Magdelana Rybarikova.

Bartoli at Wimbledon 2010. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

She pressed on to Cincinnati. Bartoli lost her first match, in three sets, to Simona Halep. It was a match that wasn’t even on the main stadium court.

And then, late in the evenint, after that loss, Bartoli made a bombshell announcement.

Cincinnati isn’t a place where the world’s tennis media gathers, the way it would for a major.

There were a few journalists there, but on a night early in a tournament, around 10:30 p.m., it was about as anticlimactic as the retirement of a freshly minted Wimbledon champion can be.

“I made my dream a reality, and it will stay forever with me, but now my body just can’t cope with everything. I have pain everywhere after 45 minutes or an hour of play,” she said then

Post-tennis life a struggle

Her life since retirement has been – well, it’s been dramatic.

Bartoli involved herself in various fashion ventures, which have made a splash and then sort of faded into the background.

She proved quite an astute analyst on television, in both English and French.

Bartoli was skin and bones at the 2016 Australian Open, which caused a lot of talk. Six months later, she first said it was a completely normal post-career adjustment, then a week later revealed a virus almost killed her. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

She did play some legends events. And it was those moments that revealed her major struggles with weight.

There were extremes; from skin and bones to just the opposite.

At Wimbledon a year ago, Bartoli went on a morning chat  show and revealed that the reason behind her startlingly bony frame was some sort of bug she picked up in India.

The weight loss had been quick, and shocking, and painful.

“I’m praying to God every single day to go back to a normal life. I’m trying. Every time I’m eating a little bit. I am scared of the reaction to my body,” she said.

“Every time I do something I’m scared to see the reaction to my body, it’s a constant fear and now I’m reduced to eating organic salad leaves with cucumber without the skin because my body can’t even process the skin, that’s the only thing I can put in my body.”

Conflicting versions

And yet, just a week before that, she had insisted it was a completely normal post-career development.

Bartoli went to Singapore the first year of the WTA Tour Finals there in 2014, to play a since-discontinued legends event. She looked healthy, barely a year after her retirement. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

“It has happened naturally. My natural frame is quite tiny, that is the way my mum and dad are,” she told the Sun. “I have just gone back to my natural shape. All that shows you is the amount of effort I had to put in to become the tennis player I was.”

Bartoli headed to a facility in Italy shortly thereafter, and told the Times of London at Wimbledon this year that she’d spent four months in bed at a hospital in Paris.

Bartoli on the practice court at the Australian Open in 2015. Three months before, in Singapore, she had looked in good nick.

A year later, she had regained quite a bit of the weight through the summer season. By the US Open last September, she had trimmed some of it off.

Nuts and bolts of un-retiring

There’s no doubt Bartoli isn’t nearly in good enough physical shape to come back to the rigors of professional tennis – the same rigors that had her constantly in pain, and out of the game, at the relatively young age of 28.

Why is she doing it? No doubt that will be revealed in the months before her official return – and when she does return.

Bartoli did put herself on the officially retired list, which has consequences in terms of the ITF’s anti-doping program.

If a player who officially retired wants to return to action, they must sign the papers to that effect, to be officially reinstated.

They also must put themselves back into the anti-doping program, which obviously means they have to provide their whereabouts and run the risk of being randomly tested out of competition at any time.

Bartoli took part in the legends invitational event at the French Open this past June. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The current rules require six months back in the anti-doping program before a player can be reinstated, and thus be able to compete in professional tennis events.

Bartoli’s official retirement date was Dec. 13, 2013. At that time, the period required before reinstatement was just three months. So Bartoli can be grandfathered in on that, and return within that period – if she’s ready.

She says she signed on to be reinstated more than a month ago, on Nov. 12. So she can be back as early as mid-February.

Her goal apparently is to be back for the Miami Open in March. That’s almost exactly three months from now, and therefore would be the first tournament for which she’d be eligible if she applies for reinstatement immediately.

Get your wild cards ready

Another rule change that will come into effect on the WTA in January is the ability of former Grand Slam champions to be granted wild cards into any WTA Tour event they want, with the exception of the Premier Mandatories.

So Bartoli can take advantage of that, as well. But she would need a wild card if she really does want to play the Miami Open, because it’s a Premier Mandatory.

Will Dr. Bartoli be back, too?

There’s a fascinating question, of course, about whether father/mentor/guru/mad scientist Dr. Walter Bartoli will again come back and coach her.

It wasn’t the most conventional father-daughter dynamic of all time – not even by women’s tennis standards – but it worked.

You get the sense that the big thing, for now, is the announcement. And that she may well figure out the rest as she goes along.

It’s a hard story not to root for – as long as she’s competitive and doesn’t embarrass herself.

Even in the 4 1/2 years she she called it a day, the level of women’s tennis has taken a significant leap.

Bartoli interviews Milos Raonic on Court Philippe-Chatrier at the French Open in 2016. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

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