BBC tennis presenter John Inverdale has cited hayfever as the main reason for his controversial comments about the appearance of Wimbledon women’s singles champion Marion Bartoli.
Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, the 56-year-old broadcaster questioned whether the Frenchwoman’s father had told her as a child that she was “never going to be a looker” and that she was “always going to have to compensate for that”, in the aftermath of her victory over German Sabine Lisicki in the final at SW19 in July 2013.
His comments sparked outrage among listeners and even political figureheads, as over 700 complaints were received by the BBC and Culture Secretary Maria Miller was also angered at what had been said by the Today at Wimbledon presenter, as she wrote to Lord Hall, Director General of the BBC, complaining about the remarks.
There has been no sign of acrimony between Inverdale and Bartoli, however, as they both held a joint interview for the Radio Times, where Inverdale spoke of how illness had lead him to lose focus while he was presenting the broadcast.
"I was feeling so ill that day, I had terrible hay fever and all I could think of was that I wanted to go home to bed," he said.
He went on to say that the training he had been given by the BBC taught him not to apologise for the gaffe that he had just made.
He continued: "It was drummed into us over and again: never explain, never apologise, because if you do you'll dig an even bigger hole. So I thought, 'I'll just keep going and hope nobody heard it'."
Inverdale also said that the incident was resolved when he apologised to the former world number 7 at the Wimbledon champions’ dinner.
"I went up to say I was sorry and her exact words to me were, 'Don't worry about that, what do you think of my heels?' he added. "And I said, 'They look great.' Which they did."
They will in fact be working alongside each other when Bartoli begins working for ITV, with their coverage of this year’s French Open beginning on Sunday.
The 29-year-old, who decided to retire immediately after winning her one and only Grand Slam title last year, holds no grudges with Inverdale, stating that her elation over her tournament victory was not to be upset by the controversy.
"I'd won Wimbledon," she said. "That was always the most important thing. For a month and a half afterwards I was literally sleeping with my trophy just to make sure it was mine. That was all that was in my mind.
"I'd known John a long time, and I knew what he was trying to say. At the end of the day I am a tennis player, I know I'm not 6ft tall, I'm not the same long, lean shape as Maria Sharapova, but the beauty of tennis is that anyone can win, tall or short.”
Her achievement at the All England Club was the pinnacle of her career, which also included a run to the final of the tournament in 2007, which she reached after coming back from a set and a break down to beat Belgian Justine Henin in the semi-finals, before losing to Venus Williams in the final.
Bartoli also reached the semi-finals of the French Open in 2011, and managed to win eight WTA singles titles over the course of her career, with the first of those coming in Auckland in 2006.
While she has not played tennis publically since her retirement, she is set to play at the Liverpool Hope University International tournament at Liverpool Cricket Club alongside Virginia Wade and Greg Rusedski in June.
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