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Marion Bartoli: technical whiz or talented tactician?


Originally published on: 26/02/10 16:32

MCTA Managing Director and Tennishead Coaching Editor Dave Sammel has vast experience in advising international players, many of whom have represented Great Britain and South Africa in Davis Cup and at the Olympics.

After Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli blazed her way to the Monterrey title last weekend, we asked Big Dave to explain what makes the Frenchwoman so good

Sammel on Marion

The key to Marion’s success is her ability to take the ball earlier than any other player on the women’s tour, especially on the return of serve.

I remember watching her as a junior standing two metres behind the service line attempting to destroy second serves. There were many raised eyebrows at her method of play but her and her father knew exactly what they were trying to achieve by taking advantage of her strengths and mitigating her weaknesses. Her strengths are formidable when aligned with the gamestyle she has developed.

Two-handed tennis explained
If a player is going to be two handed on both sides they have to time the ball incredibly well because the lack of reach means they have to play up the court effectively making it smaller. Marion has wonderful timing.

She has fast and excellent adjustment steps around the ball

The heavy ball
Taking the ball early is one thing but its also imperative to have weight of shot. Marion hits a very heavy ball because she gets behind the ball well and rarely gets pushed back. This is similar to a good squash player who is very difficult to dislodge from the T. She holds her position very well.

Clever footwork
It is interesting that the great two-handers on both sides in women’s tennis, Monica Seles and Bartoli, are both not the quickest athletes. What they both have in abundance are fast and excellent adjustment steps around the ball so their positioning is fantastic allowing them to strike clean, early and have weight behind the ball.

Early preparation
Add to my last point the ability to pick up the ball early and read their opponents (excellent reception skills), this allows them to reach most balls in two steps and hide the vulnerable area which is having to play wide without getting their bodies behind the ball. Get Marion on the run unable to position herself behind the ball and youve found her Achilles heel. Easier said than done, however.

Fighting spirit
The key ingredient that makes this all work is her personality. Marion never compromises her style of play. She understands the focus, the high level of aggression and the commitment to her gamestyle. She is and never has been afraid to express this playing style on the match court.

In summary, if any of the attributes above are missing, especially the personality, playing with two hands on both sides is difficult. Her reach on wide balls is limited so staying up the court and taking the ball early is key. This means good timing and great anticipation. It is also difficult to volley well with two hands although drive volleys are heavier and very effective with two hands.

Coaching perspective
My coaching instinct says this is not a style of play you teach, it is an individual choice that naturally happens. If the player has the capabilities outlined above then this style can be encouraged, although most players will move to a one-handed forehand in time.

Wimbledon runner-up Kevin Curran, for instance, changed during his college years and first year on the tour from fully two-handed to more and more single-handed until he no longer used the two hander.

I seriously doubt it can be successful on the mens tour as the weight of shot will not hurt top male players as much as the women and the footspeed required to play this way in the mens game would have to be exceptional.


Tim Farthing, Tennishead Editorial Director & Owner, has been a huge tennis fan his whole life. He's a tennis journalist and entrepreneur as well as playing tennis to a national standard. He also helps manage his local club and volunteers for his local tennis organisation. He's a specialist in content about the administration of professional tennis and tennis coaching for all levels.