By Matt Cronin, special to EmiratesUSOpenSeries.com
STANFORD, Calif. -- Marion Bartoli is a tried and true veteran of the Bank of the West Classic, so much so that the Frenchwoman seems like an American in her commitment to the tournament. This is her 10th straight year playing the event, and she has played a significant roll since 2008, winning the title in 2009 with three straight hard-fought wins over an all-star list of players in Jelena Jankovic, Sam Stosur and Venus Williams. Last year, she reached the final, going down to Serena Williams.
The 27-year-old keeps coming back, not only due to her fine play at Stanford University, where the event is held, but because the environment suits her. A painter in her spare time and a voracious reader, she has already visited the library.
"I’ve always loved Stanford," said the second-seeded Bartoli. "I’d love to be at school, and it’s a nice university. It fits the two parts of me: I love to study off the court, and I love to be on court playing."
Bartoli does not come into this year’s version of the event as hot as she did last year during the clay and grass-court seasons, when she went deep at Roland Garros and won 18 of her 21 matches in the seven weeks between Strasbourg and the end of Wimbledon.
This season, she lost early both at Roland Garros and at Wimbledon, but there is an up side to that, as at least she hasn’t arrived at the Emirates Airline US Open Series exhausted.
"It was tough emotionally to be outside of Wimbledon early," she said. "I knew I was able to play better, and that’s hard for me to take. As a player, you want to be at your best, and when you aren’t, it hurts."
A bit of a play-aholic –- she has played a remarkable 726 singles matches and has yet to turn 28 -- Bartoli has learned to get back on the horse again, but she is an intense, driven person, so it’s not like losing hasn’t occasionally taken its toll.
"I get emotionally involved in all my matches, so when I lose a match I felt I should have won, I can think about it for days, so that’s when the people around you play a huge part. My parents help me a lot. You don’t really put it all behind you, but it makes you go on the practice court and work harder to find solutions."
A native of France who lives in Switzerland, Bartoli is known to speak her mind and wouldn’t have it any other way. She does not suffer fools gladly and has said how much she dislikes those who put on airs and pretend they are people they are not.
A finalist at 2007 Wimbledon, she reached a career-high No. 7 earlier this year and still believes she has a Slam in her. But the clock is ticking on her chances, so she realizes that the rest of this summer will be important to her. She has reached the quarterfinals or better at three of the majors but has never done so at the US Open, even though every time she has arrived at Stanford since she became a significant player she has declared her intention to do so.
This summer will be no different, despite her recent poor results.
"You have times when you go down to rock bottom, but I’ve always been able to bounce back," she said. "The bad times make the good times so much sweeter."
Bartoli mentions how some players of her generation have begun to fall off due to injury, but she keeps pushing on, and despite a lot of nicks and cuts over the years, she has never suffered a very serious one, knock on wood.
"Tennis is so physical. I try to practice at the same rate, but with the passing of the years, I find it harder and harder. Maybe those breaks she took helped [Wimbledon champion] Serena physically and mentally," she said of Williams, who is the Bank of the West’s top seed.
The Marion Bartoli that fans see in front of the camera has a remarkable amount of energy, but when the lights go down, you will often see her heading to the massage table or taking an ice bath. She’s willing to put the hard yards in, but some weeks she feels like she has run a marathon.
"Fans only see players on court. They don’t see them packing, traveling, having jet lag and doing it over and over again," she said. "After 10 years, it gets to your body."
She then added, with a laugh, "When I was 18, I was able to travel the world without feeling it, but now it takes me three days to recover."