INTERVIEW-Tennis-Bartoli happy to be on the outside looking in
LONDON May 22 (Reuters) - Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli will enjoy the French Open from the safety of a television commentary box this year, free from the pressure loaded on the shoulders of the home brigade.
Bartoli, who announced she was retiring shortly after winning Wimbledon last year, played in 13 consecutive French Opens but mostly it was a tale of woe until a run to the semi-finals in 2011 where she lost to Francesca Schiavone.
No Frenchman has won the men's singles since Yannick Noah in 1983 and he remains his country's only male grand slam champion in the professional era.
The women have performed better with Mary Pierce winning the French Open in 2000, five years after winning the Australian Open. Amelie Mauresmo won the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2006 but never appeared to enjoy playing at Roland Garros.
Bartoli claimed the Wimbledon title last year but failed to last beyond the second round nine times in 13 attempts in Paris.
"I'm looking very much forward to seeing how the French players are reacting to the pressure, how they feel," Bartoli, who will work as a pundit for British channel ITV and also host a morning slot on Eurosport, told Reuters.
Having experienced the annual home hype, however, she is not about to start bashing the French players if they struggle.
"We all know that the French players are more comfortable on the faster surfaces, but for a small country we have produced four grand slam champions in the Open era which is an outstanding result," she said.
"There are so many nations now we are competing against, especially the south Americans and the Spanish, it's extremely difficult to win against them.
"For the men, if you have Rafa Nadal in your generation you can see how hard it is for a Frenchman to win the French Open. But overall I think to be able to produce four grand slam champions in the Open era I think it's a great performance."
Always a bundle of energy on court, even between points with her unique repertoire of mannerisms, Bartoli is certainly not going to be at the French Open to put her feet up.
"I'm working for two TV companies and really looking forward to giving my best, just as I did on the court," she said.
"I love to be busy. I wouldn't be there if I was just a fan because I don't like to stay doing nothing for two weeks. If I was not playing and not working at Roland Garros I would go on vacation somewhere instead."
A talented artist, Bartoli has indulged her creative side since hanging up her tennis racket and will launch a range of shoes in Paris during the French Open.
However, she is still keeping her eye in on the court and this month returned to Wimbledon for the first time since beating Sabine Lisicki in last year's women's final.
"It was amazing to go back and to see all the pictures of myself around the club, a tremendous amount of emotions," she said. "To see the scoreboard, still there with my name and Sabine's name and the score still there and the time, it was amazing memories.
"I will never forget that day. It was something that I was working for my whole career and will stay in my heart forever."
And despite her sole grand slam title coming on foreign soil she would not swap her Wimbledon title for winning two more matches at the 2011 French Open.
"It was mixed feelings in 2011 because I was proud to get to the semis because you know I like the faster surfaces," she said. "It was a big achievement to get so close, but disappointed also because I was so close to the title.
"But I can't even think about whether it would be French or Wimbledon. It was my destiny to win Wimbledon, my story."
While working for ITV, Bartoli will be alongside presenter John Inverdale who caused a stir last year when he made remarks about her appearance following her Wimbledon final.
There are no hard feelings though.
"I knew what he was trying to say. At the end of the day I am a tennis player, I know I'm not 6ft (183 centimetres) tall, I'm not the same long, lean shape as Maria Sharapova, but the beauty of tennis is that anyone can win, tall or short," she told the Radio Times. (Reporting by Martyn Herman. Editing by Patrick Johnston)
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