Bartoli calls it quits, feels complete

CINCINNATI - Marion Bartoli only needed to win Wimbledon to feel like she achieved everything she ever wanted to in tennis.

At least that's the message the reigning Wimbledon champion delivered late Wednesday night, when she suddenly announced her retirement from tennis after a second-round loss to Simona Halep (3-6, 6-4, 6-1) at the Western & Southern Open.

"Well, it's never easy and obviously there is never a time to say it or whatever, but that was actually the last match of my career," said Bartoli, not even trying to fight back the tears. "It's time for me to retire and to call it a career. I feel it's time for me to walk away, actually."

The 28-year-old reached her second Wimbledon final last month -- her first was in 2007, when she lost to Venus Williams. This time around, Bartoli achieved what she set her heart on years ago as a child. She won Wimbledon, taking the title with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Sabine Lisicki. On that day in July, she was so excited at winning, she couldn't stop smiling.

If anyone had suggested at that time Bartoli -- currently ranked No. 7 in the world -- would retire the following month, they would've been considered crazy. But they would've been right.

It took Bartoli nearly two hours to come to her postmatch news conference. It was right before the scheduled time that the tournament press officer told the few remaining reporters they didn't want to miss what the Frenchwoman was about to say.

The feeling among the media was that Bartoli must have suffered an injury and was going to withdraw from the upcoming US Open. Retirement was likely the furthest thing from anyone's mind.

When Bartoli arrived in the interview room she was crying, and a box of tissues was placed close to her on the table. She cried throughout the news conference, but also managed a few smiles as she explained why she made her monumental decision after the match.

"My body just can't do it anymore," Bartoli said. "I've been through a lot of injuries since the beginning of the year. I've been on the tour for so long, and I really did push through and leave it all during that Wimbledon.

"I really feel I gave all the energy I have left inside my body," Bartoli added. "I made my dream a reality and it will stay forever with me, but now my body just can't cope with everything. I have pain everywhere after 45 minutes or an hour of play. I've been doing this for so long. Body-wise, I just can't do it anymore."

Since Wimbledon, Bartoli has played three matches, reaching the second round in Toronto last week and losing her one match here in Cincinnati.

She played an excellent first set against Halep, but then slowly lost her feel for the match as her aches and pains heightened. On her last service game -- the sixth game of the third set -- she served three straight double faults from 40-0 and then surrendered the next two points to fall behind 1-5. There would be one more game to lose, and it would turn out to be the last game she would play.

"You never kind of know before it's going to be your last match, but I felt that way after the match," she said. "You know, everyone will remember my Wimbledon title. No one will remember the last match I played here."

One of the first things Bartoli did when she left the court was phone her father, Walter, a doctor who left his profession behind to travel and coach her through her storied career.

"My dad knows me enough," she said. "He kind of knew it a bit when he saw me leaving home for the States. He kind of felt I was tired and exhausted, and he was not surprised by the decision."

When it was suggested that she might be walking away too soon considering she is still a top-10 player, Bartoli said it would be like "cheating" if she continued to play with halfhearted interest.

"If I had to be tomorrow on the practice court and prepare for the next tournament, I won't be at 100 percent because my mind is not there, my heart is not there, and I just can't lie like that," Bartoli said. "I'm just too honest and too true to my values to just kind of being there, but not really at 100 percent."

As a player, Bartoli definitely had a reputation as being quirky in personality as well as in her style of play. Her backcourt ritual between points -- the dance shuffle, the shadow stroke routine -- tended to amuse spectators and sometimes drive opponents a bit nuts.

No one, however, could doubt the penetration of her two-fisted shot-making off of both flanks, and her cunning ability to decipher a match. She joined the tour at the start of this century, and would win eight singles and three doubles titles. She played at 47 Grand Slams, every one from the 2002 U.S. Open to her Wimbledon title.

Beyond the thrill of going down in history as a Wimbledon champion, Bartoli insists that who she is holds more importance than what she has achieved on court: "I think if people ask, 'How is Marion Bartoli?', they will always respond, 'She's a nice person.' That's what I'm most proud of."

As to what comes next for Bartoli, she had no answers. Making the impromptu decision to retire only a couple of hours before hadn't allowed for time to map out life after tennis. But she didn't appear worried about finding plenty of options for the future.

"Oh, gosh, I don't know," Bartoli said, fashioning one her few smiles of the evening. "There is so many things to do in life rather than playing tennis, so I'm sure I will find something. I just need a bit of time to kind of settle down.

"There is some excitement as a woman. There is a lot of excitement as a wife. There is a lot of excitement as a mother. There is a lot of excitement to come up. Obviously, I'm excited to live my future, but I will have some time to think about it for the months, years to come."