Marion Bartoli, an 18-year-old out of Retournac (in France’s Loire valley), is the most dominant player to come out the qualifying ranks here this year. Coached by her father Walter, a doctor who quit his practice several years ago in order to guide his daughter’s tennis career, Marion steamrolled through her two qualifying matches and then impressively brushed aside veteran Henrieta Nagyova Wednesday in the first round, 6-1, 6-4. Already ranked in the top 100 (at 96th), Bartoli was a semifinalist in Canberra this year.
Bartoli is an unorthodox player. She has what they call in basketball a “wide body”, with a thick, muscled torso and broad shoulders. She plays two-handed on both sides and takes the ball early in a Selesian manner, except that she seems more willing than Monica to venture to the net (19 trips to the net today). Her trademark is a very aggressive return of serve, sometimes standing a good five feet inside the baseline to return even first serves.
We were interested to see how she would handle one of the tour’s more solid veterans. Chanda Rubin, ranked 12th in the world but coming off a disappointing second round loss in Scottsdale last week, was playing her first match in Indian Wells since 2000 (assorted injuries kept her away the last two years). Rubin has had success here in the past, reaching the semifinals in 1999 and the quarterfinals on three other occasions.
While the French teen had some good moments with her returns and aggressive play, it was a composed and proficient Rubin on the other side of the net. Chanda’s lethal forehand was working well (14 forehand winners), and Marion’s sometimes sluggish movement prevented her from defending against Rubin’s attacks effectively. It was a routine win in the end for the American.
After the match, Chanda admitted that she had to overcome problems caused by Bartoli’s unique game. “She’s an unorthodox player who forces players into errors. She plays her style of play very well. She‘s a good player who forced me to be quick, to work on my game and work on my shots.” The likeable Louisianan was pleased with her match and with the way her game is coming along. “I feel like I’m building, hitting the ball well,” she said with her well-known beaming smile. “I’ve improved my timing compared to last week.”