I've been wracking my brain, trying to come up with a bigger upset than yesterday's barnburner, in which Marion Bartoli, a plump, cheerful, star-struck (if not by her WTA sisters) French lass took out the top seed at Wimbledon, Justine Henin. The closest I can come, ironically enough, featured the only other woman who reached even a Grand Slam quarerfinal using a two-fisted grip on both sides: Monica Seles. That match was a second-rounder, at Wimbledon in 1996; Seles was shocked by journeywoman Katarina Studenikova.
So what was it, in the end, that enabled Bartoli to rock Henin's world? What reserves did she draw upon to find a way to play her A game on an A+ occasion, against the most consistently competitive, professional woman of this era? I believe it was that, at heart, Bartoli is a nice, simple country girl - an outsider in some ways, humble enough to keep her nose to the grindstone on the job, yet sufficiently impressionable and unaffected to have drawn inspiration from the most unlikely - and easily mocked - source: the presence of a movie star in the Royal Box.
This would sound awfully cheesy if it were part of a plot-line in the sort of novel we call a bodice ripper, and when she walked off the court and told the BBC that Pierce Brosnan (an actor best known for his portrayals of James Bond) had been her inspiration, I chuckled and rolled my eyes along with everyone else.
Turns out she wasn't spinning tales or fantasies. She reiterated the claim in her presser:
Well, to tell you the truth. . . I saw Pierce Brosnan in the crowd, which is one of my favorite actor. I love his movies. I said to myself, it's not possible I play so bad in front of him. Because he watch me and I play so bad it was unbelievable. So I try to feel a bit more the ball (starting early the second set) play more smartly. I saw he was cheering for me, so I said, "Oh, maybve it's good. I kept going and I won, so maybe a little bit for Pierce Brosnan.
Now tell me that isn't refreshing, in its own wacky, You Meant It Was That????? kind of way. It's the kind of story a reporter hates to write, because it doesn't involve the deceased, the demented, the deliciously complex or a puppy that was flattened by an 18-wheeler somewhere outside Marseilles. Sometimes it is what it is, you know?
But don't for a moment think that Bartoli's heart started fluttering, and she began heartlessly flaming Henin. This is one clever little (5-6) player, even though she had never gone beyond the third round at a major before this Wimbledon,and often makes those who watch her think: interesting game, she could be good if only she lost a little weight.