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