Bartoli hops her way into French Open semifinals

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Associated Press

Posted on June 1, 2011 at 5:35 AM

PARIS (AP) — Hopping around between points to psych herself up. Swinging away at nothing but air while awaiting an opponent's serve. Screaming with abandon at almost any time during a match.

Hey, that must be Marion Bartoli out on court.

The 11th-seeded Frenchwoman is known for her eccentricities while playing tennis, but they all seem to be paying off at this year's French Open — right into the semifinals, where Bartoli finds herself after beating Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-6 (4), 6-4 Tuesday.

"It's really to stay focused on what I have to do," Bartoli said in explaining her quirks. "It's really important for me to relieve the pressure ... and really focus on myself and what I need to do."

She is only the fourth Frenchwoman to reach the semifinals at Roland Garros in the Open era, which began in 1968.

Bartoli, who next faces defending champion Francesca Schiavone, is known as a maverick in France. With her father as coach, she has clashed with the French Tennis Federation and Fed Cup captain Nicolas Escude.

But she has also already reached one Grand Slam final, at Wimbledon in 2007, when she lost to Venus Williams. Now Bartoli finds herself in a major semifinal for the second time.

"Even if I played the final of Wimbledon, I never felt that excited," Bartoli said, describing her emotions as victory neared against Kuznetsova. "When she missed that forehand, then I was just like, 'My God, I'm in the semifinal of my home Grand Slam.'"

On Wednesday, Australian Open runner-up Li Na and No. 4 Victoria Azarenka will play for another semifinal spot, as will three-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova and No. 15 Andrea Petkovic.

Bartoli said she has often crumbled under the pressure of playing at Roland Garros, advancing past the second round only twice in 10 previous attempts. To reach the final, she will have to beat Schiavone, who rallied to defeat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 1-6, 7-5, 7-5.

The fifth-seeded Schiavone was two points from defeat before rallying to beat the 19-year-old Pavlyuchenkova. She was the youngest quarterfinalist at this year's tournament; the 30-year-old Schiavone was the oldest.

"I never stopped believing in what I could do," Schiavone said. "I started too slow, absolutely too slow. But in the end, I felt better."

A year ago in Paris, Schiavone became the first Italian woman to win any Grand Slam singles title. Bartoli is hoping to give France its first singles champion at Roland Garros since Mary Pierce in 2000.

"In the past years, I really felt the pressure here, but in a bad way," Bartoli said of her history at the clay-court major. "I was really going to the court without any confidence."

But her unusual routine has helped her deal with the pressure — and perplexed some of her opponents.

"It's weird," the 13th-seeded Kuznetsova said. "I just try not to think about it. It's a little bit hard, a bit frustrating, when you serve and you look at the opponent, and she's swinging the racket."

In Tuesday's match, Bartoli broke Kuznetsova twice in the third set and finished with only 21 unforced errors, 12 fewer than the 2009 French Open champion.

"She had all the luck possible," Kuznetsova said. "She hit so many lines. My balls were going three millimeters, four millimeters out. I missed so many chances."

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