Bartoli's retirement underlines rigors

The morning after she won her first Grand Slam singles title, Marion Bartoli made a low-key appearance at the Prince shop in Wimbledon Village.

"Tomorrow I will be ready for the practice court," she told Neil Harman of the London Times. "Motivation, for me, has never been a problem."

That was less than 24 hours after she defeated a wildly nervous Sabine Lisicki in the Wimbledon final, 6-1, 6-4, with some terrific tennis. The quirky Frenchwoman probably was still running on adrenaline after her lifetime achievement on Centre Court.

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Marion Bartoli awaited a Slam victory her entire career, making her decision to walk away from the game easier.

"What I have done shows that everything is possible and that a normal girl can win a Grand Slam," Bartoli said. "I think that is a good inspiration for a lot of girls."

Including, as it turned out, herself.

Five weeks later, with tears running down her cheeks, the 28-year-old Bartoli announced her retirement after losing only the third match she played after Wimbledon, in the first round at Cincinnati.

"My body was really starting to fall apart," she said. "I was able to keep it together, go through the pain -- with a lot of pain -- throughout this Wimbledon and make it happen.

"That was probably the last little bit of something that was left inside me."

For some time, Bartoli said, her entire body had begun to ache after only 45 minutes on the court. A partial list of recent issues: right ankle, left foot, right hamstring, Achilles tendon, back, right shoulder.

"I've been playing for a long, long, long time," she said. "It's time for me now. It is."

Her abrupt departure underlines the relentless wear and tear of professional tennis. Bartoli's timeline was fairly typical for a successful player; she appeared in her first full WTA season as a 17-year-old in 2002, reached the third round of the US Open and finished with a ranking of No. 106. She was remarkably consistent, maintaining a top-100 ranking for 12 consecutive years.

She was inside the top 20 for every week of the past six years. Considering her myriad injures, that is an impressive run.

Retirement, for any athlete, is an emotionally charged, life-changing decision.

There is only one other example in the Open era of a woman winning the very last Grand Slam she played. And Ann Haydon Jones, the Wimbledon champion in 1969, did not retire until two years later.

Pete Sampras didn't play another match after winning the US Open in 2002 -- but he wouldn't make the decision to walk away until months later. Elena Dementieva, the gold medalist at Beijing in 2008, was still in good form when she retired at the end of the 2010 season, just past her 29th birthday.

Belgians Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters won 11 Grand Slam singles titles between them. And both retired -- twice.

A washed-out Henin stepped off for the first time in May 2008, just before she would have defended her three consecutive titles at Roland Garros. After 16 months away from the game, Henin returned, but she never won another major. She left for good after the 2011 Australian Open with an elbow injury at age 28 -- the same as Bartoli.

Clijsters, who had struggled with numerous injuries, retired in May 2007 to have her first child. Two years later she returned triumphantly, winning the 2009 US Open in only her third tournament back. She was the first mother to win a major since Evonne Goolagong in 1980. Clijsters' last match was a second-round loss at the 2012 US Open.

Clijsters, by the way, is still only 30 years old. That's younger than Lleyton Hewitt, her former boyfriend, who still labors on the ATP World Tour at age 32. These days, Hewitt, currently ranked in the 60s, barely wins more matches than he loses -- probably not enough to cover expenses -- but, clearly, he's not in it for the money. He simply loves the life.

The same is true for Tommy Haas, who at 35 is playing some of the best tennis of his life. Roger Federer, who just turned 32, has seen his ranking slide to No. 7, but there is no shame in being a top-10 player -- even if you have 17 Grand Slam singles titles to your name. Federer has said he wants to play in the 2016 Olympics, which would put him at 35 for that year's US Open.

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Marion Bartoli was one of the most consistent players in the game, never falling out of the top 20 for the past six years.

The Williams sisters show no signs of walking away any time soon. Venus is 33 and continues to play despite a debilitating autoimmune condition. Serena, who turns 32 next month, is the oldest player to be ranked No. 1. Ever.

Women's tennis has found itself graying in recent years. Francesca Schiavone was approaching her 30th birthday when she won her first (and only) Grand Slam singles title at Roland Garros in 2010. That made her the second-oldest, first-time major winner in the Open era. A year later, 29-year-old Li Na beat Schiavone in the French Open final for her first major title.

Both of them, well into their 30s, continue to play today.

For Bartoli, it wasn't about the money, either. She made $1.5 million last year. But when she won that major at the All England Club, she completed the circle. Finally, she had achieved the ultimate in her profession, simultaneously bringing delight … and an overwhelming sense of relief. Her hunger was no longer enough to mitigate the pain.

Amelie Mauresmo, a Frenchwoman who also found her game relatively late in life, was in Bartoli's box at Wimbledon. Mauresmo, who won her only two Grand Slams before and after her 27th birthday, helped Bartoli deal with her emotions on the court.

But she couldn't control them off it.

Back on Aug. 14, after splitting two matches in Toronto (the second by retirement), Bartoli took the court against Simona Halep in Cincinnati. She lost 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. Afterward, she called her father, Walter, and told him she was done.

"Everyone will remember my Wimbledon title," Bartoli said. "No one will remember the last match I played here. It's been a tough decision to take; I don't take this easily.

"I had a chance to make my biggest dream a reality. I felt I really, really pushed through the ultimate limits to make it happen. I just can't do it anymore."

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