“To prove to myself that I’m alive.” Marion Bartoli interviewed by @sophiedorgan about her illness, being gaslit in a toxic relationship, and the profound reasons for her comeback

My translation of the interview with Marion Bartoli by Sophie Dorgan in l’Équipe, print edition, Tuesday, January 9, 2017, pages 2-3.

After spending Christmas and New Year with her family, Marion Bartoli returned to the National Training Centre (NTC) to prepare for her return, forecast first for March 7 at Madison Square Garden for an exhibition against the Williams sisters, then officially at Miami on March 21. Tired from a fitness session and preoccupied by a meeting with French Federation officials, she agreed to return at the end og last week to talk about what motivated her comeback.

You announced your comeback three weeks ago. Have you received many messages?

I received messages from Serena and Monica Seles. They were very positive messages. When Serena tells me I’m really a proof of courage, that pleases me very much. The same with Monica Seles, who was my absolute idol when I was small. When she tells me: “You’re a Wimbledon champion, something I never was”, that’s something exceptional. Monica advised me to really take my time. She reckons she came back too soon, with a bit of excess weight, and she paid for it with quite a few small injuries. She told me to be very careful and come back at my in form weight. Advice I’m going to follow.

Any messages from French women players?

No, none [smiles], but I’m expecting some.

And Yannick Noah?

Yes, he sent me a very nice message. He told me he was following my comeback, that he’d heard that I was training very hard, and that he was a captain who’d give me my chance if I deserved it. I think he’ll wait for my results, which makes perfect sense.

What’s your daily routine right now?

When I’m at the NTC, I arrive at 9.00, and I leave at 21.00. I do around 3½ to 4 hours of tennis every day, 2-2½ hours of fitness, then the recovery and the kinesiologists. Between sessions, I take a little siesta just behind [she points to the French club’s sofa at the NTC].

Does that rather monastic life suit you?

I love it. I think all high-level athletes love it. To achieve the top results, you have to live like that. It’s impossible otherwise.

You still have the need to prove things to yourself?

I need to prove to myself that I’m alive.

But your organism still suffered.

That’s why it took me a year-and-a-half to get to the correct energy level.

Were there after effects?

Not any more, but I had them for a very long time. I couldn’t eat what I wanted.

Are you obsessive about your weight?

No, especially after what happened to me [smiles]. That lets me put things even more into perspective. Before, I complained a lot after a hard day of training. Today, I don’t experience it in the same way at all, because it’s nothing compared to what I’ve been through. I’m happy just getting up in the morning, being in good health, having energy and getting through the day. Going radically to works and losing 10 kg in a month, that’s not possible. On the other hand, I stick to my dietary regimen.

No danger any longer of being skeletal, like at Wimbledon?

No. I’d lost a lot of weight before my virus because of my ex, who made my life hell. He was really a total arsehole. I learned a lot there too. Because of my personality, I accepted the unacceptable. I was telling myself, “no, it’s not serious, no, it’s not serious”, and it completely destroyed me. I don’t want to live like that any more. It’s true, I’d lost a lot of weight, I was weak, and with a weakened immune system, I caught a virus in India that finished me. I was already extremely thin, or even skinny, but I didn’t see it.

You kept hearing you were overweight …

When I retired, I was the happiest person in the world. Then I met my old boyfriend in 2014, and every day he told me I was fat. Every day. When he saw a thin girl on the street, he told me, “you see how she’s thin and pretty”. That wasn’t helpful.

You wanted to get thinner for him and it turned out badly?

Once you’re caught in the trap, it’s tough to escape. After, I stabilised at a weight that was weak, but I stabilised. But at ‘Wim’, that was the lowest of the low. I couldn’t swallow anything any more.

After more than a year, there’s no medical risk in training so much?

Today, I really don’t think I’m putting myself in any danger. If I thought I were, I’d stop. I’ve done every medical test, and everything’s OK. If I increase training a bit and I see that it’s starting to endanger my health, I’ll stop my comeback and I’ll say, “sorry, I pictured it, we thought it was possibly, but medically I have a contraindication, and I’m stopping.” It wouldn’t be a personal defeat. It would just be that, at thirty-three, with everything I’ve been through, my body can’t take any more.

Why start with such a big tournament like Miami? Nishikori and Agassi, for example, decided to go through Challengers.

It’s not the same comeback situation. They hadn’t gone through being close to death. Honestly, I’m not going to put up with playing Challengers. I played the $50K’s when I was sixteen. I’m not going to do it at thirty-three. If I’m coming back, it’s to try and play big matches on the big courts and experience those feelings. It’s not a question of ranking. I’m not going to have a twenty-five match schedule.

Do you foresee skipping clay?

If I start in Miami, I won’t skip. I’ll play a lighter schedule, with Madrid, Rome and Roland. If I don’t start in Miami, I’ll skip clay and I’ll do Nottingham, Birmingham and Wimbledon.

Will you play practice matches to gauge yourself?

The period of practice matches in February will be very important. I need to them to reassure myself and see if I have the level. If I take it on the chin 6-1 against girls who are between 15th and 30th, it won’t be possible.

If you play ranked at 100, you won’t come back?

No way. I’m not coming back to be ranked 100. I spent my entire career in the top 20, and at my best in the top 10. If I’m playing top 100 in February and getting my butt kicked by top 30 players, I’ll really need to question myself. If, with no pressure, during practice sets, with my coach behind me, I don’t have the level, I won’t have the match level. I might give myself a longer training time up to grass, and if I then don’t have the level … I’m coming back to have fun, play big matches and enjoy myself.

There won’t be any shame?

Oh yes, I’ll take it very badly [laughs].

Playing ranked 30 isn’t obvious

– If I have the level in practice, but I can’t carry it through to matches, that’s one thing. But if I don’t have the level in practice, that’s something else. Without any pretension, with my career, it seems logical. I’m not coming back at thirty-three to be ranked 80-100. That’s of no interest. At fifteen, a girl can start the year at 80 and end the year at 20, but not at thirty-three. That’s not going to happen.

And you reckon you have the level?

Yes. I’m hitting well. Is that enough for today’s level? I don’t know. It will be important to gauge it.

Is the timetable you set holding up?

I obviously need to lose some weight, between five and seven kilos. I’ve been playing with a seven kilo weight vest. When I lose it, it’ll be easier. Doctors Montalvan and Barbiche are helping me with my nutrition. After what happened to me, it’s even more difficult to manage. They’ve worked out a nutritional plan that suits me and that I can maintain every day. Right now, the whole plan is working out. My weight loss will be the measure of my comeback. I won’t go back on court if I’m not at the right playing weight.

When we remember you at Wimbledon, we can’t help wondering if you’re putting yourself in any danger by coming back.

If I get there, it would mean that I have an inner strength.

But you’ve already shown that!

I’m not so sure [smiles]. I have to prove to myself at least a second time. Not to others, but at least to myself. I let myself be destroyed by someone and I didn’t think that was possible. I let myself be swallowed up. I’m so happy when I’m on a tennis court that I’m reliving happy times every day. They make up for the “unhappy times”, in quotes.

Do you have a psychologist to help you?

No, because it’s so complicated, it wouldn’t be of any use. I don’t feel like it, it would take too much time.

Your ex devalued you so much, you feel the need to rebuild your self-image?

There’s that. There’s a double process in this comeback, and that’s why I’m putting so much force and energy into it. It’s both to escape this illness, to prove to myself that even if I was centimetres from death, I can once again be on a tennis court and fight for three hours to win a three-set match. And the second reason, it’s for everything that devalued me. Every single day, in an insidious way, he made me lower than dirt. I want to prove I can get back up again.

It’s a rebuilding process?

I came out of Wimbledon [2013] telling myself: “ I’ve realised my dream, I’ll be happy ever after.” I had a huge daily joie de vivre. He took it all. He extinguished it bit by bit every day. He even took away my love of playing. Every time we played tennis together, he did everything to beat me playing doubles by putting himself with the best possible player and me with the worst. He did it even with singles. So, he took everything. I managed to get out of it, but it took time. Eighteen months, that’s a long time. I was very young in a real love relationship, living with someone everyday. But I didn’t think I could be walked on – I had character.

There’s a sort of revenge?

Certainly.

The comeback is doubly important for you.

Yes, but, whatever the result, it will be won when I’m on the court. I’ll never forget Wimbledon 2016, I’ll never forget it. When the doctor told me I couldn’t play legends because my heart was so weak, I risked having a heart attack on the court, when it’s been three years since your name was on the board, it’s a punch in the face, it’s violent! … But I was grabbing on to that. That was it. When I went to bed, I didn’t know if I’d still be alive the next day.

 

Translated by MAN

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