By Ed Osmond
LONDON, July 6 (Reuters) - Marion Bartoli would not have been high on any list of likely Wimbledon champions a fortnight ago but on Saturday the quirky Frenchwoman overwhelmed Sabine Lisicki 6-1 6-4 to claim her first grand slam title.
The 28-year-old 15th seed, who blazed through the shock-laden tournament without dropping a set, faced only token resistance in the final as German Lisicki froze on the biggest occasion of her career.
Trailing 6-1 5-1 Lisicki was struggling to hold back the tears but after saving three match points she finally freed her shoulders and briefly threatened an unlikely comeback before Bartoli slammed the door shut, holding serve to love and finishing the match with an ace.
Bartoli became the first French player to win a grand slam title since Amelie Mauresmo, now her coach, in 2006, finally breaking her major trophy drought at the 47th attempt.
“As a small girl I dreamed about this moment,” Bartoli said in a courtside interview after lifting the Venus Rosewater dish on a sun-drenched Centre Court.
”Finishing with an ace to win Wimbledon, even in my wildest dreams I couldn’t have imagined that.
“Honestly, I cannot believe it. I have practised my serve for so long, at least I kept it for best moment!”
Lisicki, the 23rd seed, entered the match as favourite having beaten defending champion Serena Williams in the fourth round and last year’s runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska in an absorbing semi-final.
She broke Bartoli’s serve in the opening game of the match but then began to unravel as the occasion got to her.
“You try to calm yourself down as much as you can with different techniques, breathing techniques that usually help, but didn’t help today,” Lisicki said.
Bartoli, runner-up to Venus Williams at the All England club in 2007, reeled off the next six games to win the first set in 31 minutes - many points being won without a fight as Lisicki’s error count mounted.
Lisicki’s booming serve never functioned smoothly and the astute Bartoli kept the ball away from the German’s dangerous forehand as she moved within one set of her first grand slam title.
Lisicki went for the now “obligatory” toilet break at the end of the first set and returned a little more composed, holding her serve in the opening game of the second set but she wasted four break points on Bartoli’s first service game and was then broken to trail 2-1.
Struggling to hold back tears, Lisicki dropped her serve again and in a flash she was 1-5, 0-40 down on serve.
“There would have been no place Lisicki would rather have been an hour ago,” former men’s champion John McEnroe, commentating for the BBC, said.
“Now it’s the last place she wants to be. Her mind’s all fogged up.”
The fog cleared briefly as Lisicki courageously saved three match points, then broke Bartoli to trail 3-5 and held confidently to finally apply some pressure on her opponent.
Bartoli, whose manic mannerisms and practice swings make her stand out from the crowd, regrouped and held serve to love, sealing her first grand slam title on her fourth match point after only one hour 21 minutes.
As a crestfallen Lisicki sat in her chair Bartoli clambered into the stands to embrace her entourage which included father and former coach Walter and Mauresmo.
After Bartoli had paraded with the trophy she walked off and put a consoling arm around the shoulder of her opponent.
“We’ve known each other for a while,” Lisicki said.
“She’s been on tour for so long. I‘m happy for her. I‘m disappointed, but I‘m happy for her. I hope that I’ll get the chance to go one further one day, as well.”
Bartoli’s triumph after 47 grand slam appearances beats the previous record held by Czech Jana Novotna who won Wimbledon in 1998 in her 45th major appearance. (Editing by Martyn Herman)