MASON, Ohio — Marion Bartoli spent much of her 13-year career leaving people in a state of confusion. So less than 24 hours after her surprising retirement announcement, the reigning Wimbledon champion continues to leave her colleagues in a state of shock.
Victoria Azarenka heard about the news on Twitter and she thought it was a joke. “I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s some crap,’” she said. “But, yeah, I think everybody’s a little bit surprised about that. I think it’s very brave to do that. I think she was chasing her dream for such a long time. When she got it, it felt good.”
Azarenka, 24, is a two-time Slam champion and former No. 1. She found it difficult to relate to Bartoli’s decision to walk away after achieving her career triumph at Wimbledon. “I don’t want to think about my retirement pretty much at all right now. If I retire, it’s because I want to do that. It’s not because something will stop me or something will not allow me to play more.”
Sloane Stephens couldn’t understand why Bartoli would choose to retire at a less-prestigious tournament in Mason, Ohio. “I think maybe it’s a trick or something,” Stephens joked. “She’s going to like come back and be like, ‘I’m playing New Haven next week’ or something.”
“She should have just retired at Wimbledon,” the 20-year old said later. “That would have been, like, epic. You win Wimbledon and you retire on the court. That’s like more of a dreamy situation.”
While the younger players had trouble wrapping their minds around the decision to walk away after winning a Slam, the older players who have been plagued with retirement questions gave credit to the Frenchwoman for her courage in knowing when the time was right to walk away.
Li Na, who won her first Slam when she was 29-years old, was one of the first to hear the news having played the last night match on Wednesday. She was shocked. “I mean, just one half month ago she just won Wimbledon. She should have a lot of confidence to win more titles. But at the same time, I can understand what happened, because of course you’ve got a lot of pressure. And also [it] was pretty hard work, the way she’s working.”
Li says she never thought about retiring after she broke through to win the French Open in 2011. “I think because I play tennis because I love tennis. If I was deciding to retire, that means maybe my body couldn’t handle anymore or maybe so many injuries.”
Indeed, Bartoli cited injuries as the primary reason for her sudden retirement. “My body just can’t do it anymore,” Bartoli told a small pool of reporters on Thursday. “I’ve been on the road for more than 13 years. It’s tough to take. I really felt that year after year my body started to fall apart everywhere.”
“And I really did it all during this Wimbledon. I really went through a lot of pain. A lot of the mornings it took me more than 30 minutes to be able to start to walk because of my achilles pain and the same for my shoulder. So I really pushed myself to to all the limits to make it happen and to achieve my dreams. I really left all I had over there and it was time for me.”
Bartoli, an unabashed and vocal Roger Federer fan, will be pleased to know that he applauded her decision.
“Everybody who announces their retirement should be very happy and proud of what they achieved,” Federer said. “It comes clearly at a time when maybe you wouldn’t expect her to do so because she could take advantage of her rankings and it maybe filled her with motivation, but it actually maybe just pointed out that she’s down either physically, mentally, whatever it is. When somebody takes that decision, I think you can only be happy for that person, not sad.”
“She had a great work ethic, and for that reason I congratulate her for taking the difficult step to retire.”
‘Work ethic’ was a familiar phrase used by many of the players who were asked about Bartoli. Serena Williams had a number of classic matches against Bartoli, including a tough loss at Wimbledon in 2011 when Williams was just coming off her illness and injury woes. She credited Bartoli’s competitive fight and recalled the first time she saw Bartoli play. “I was actually in Paris for the Paris Indoor Championships,” she said. “It was long, long, long time ago, probably in like the early 2000s, and I just remember her being so young and working so hard, and that was her whole career.”
“It just shows you how much and how far you can go by working so hard. She’s had a great career by winning Wimbledon as well. It doesn’t get better than that.”