STANFORD, California - Marion Bartoli is no longer needled by the "little voice" that told her she did not belong in the winner's circle at grand slams and finally regards herself a true contender ahead of next month's U.S. Open.
Since announcing herself with a surprise final appearance at Wimbledon in 2007, the Frenchwoman struggled to reach those giddy heights in subsequent years.

She has re-emerged as a force this season, however, making her first French Open semi-final before following up with a last eight appearance at Wimbledon.

The 26-year-old said a day of rest after her upset of three-times champion Serena Williams and before her loss to German giantkiller Sabine Lisicki could have proved the difference between her quarter-final exit and a run to the title at Wimbledon.

"I could have won," Bartoli, who lost in three sets in a ferocious match with Lisicki, told Reuters at the Stanford Classic, where she has reached the semifinals.

"I was so close. It's not that before I didn't believe I could win a grand slam, but in a way there was a little voice saying, 'maybe you don't belong there, maybe it's not your spot'.

"Now I really know I can be a grand slam champion. I beat Petra Kvitova in the final of Eastbourne and she won Wimbledon.

"I'm sure if keep the same level and positive energy, I will be able to win a grand slam. But between thinking you can do it and actually doing it, there is also a gap."

Bartoli, who has won six career titles and amassed more than $6 million in prize money, feels she is now playing a better brand of tennis than in 2007 when she lost the Wimbledon title to Venus Williams.

Part of that she attributed to her improved fitness, which enabled her to play 21 matches in seven weeks between Strasbourg and the end of Wimbledon and win 18 of them.

"It showed how much I improved physically," she said. "To be able to break all those barriers and to improve so much is surprising and exciting and now I know I can finish this season strong."

She also feels beloved in France for the first time. She left the country with her family when she was a teenager and moved to Switzerland, and had differences with the French Tennis Federation, rarely playing Fed Cup.

This year, however, she decided to engage the public rather than put her head down and avoid them.

"It's really changed in France," she said. "I received really good press and everyone in the street recognized me, from the supermarket to the gas station.

"People said they were crying at how good my matches were. The way I was acting on the court this time was totally different. I was showing more my emotions and sharing with the crowd."

Bartoli said she would be happy to walk away from the game after her brilliant summer this year, but she has her eye on the U.S. Open where she has never really found her stride.

"The main goal for me is to break the barrier at the U.S. Open because for many reasons I haven't done great there," said Bartoli, who won the 2001 US Open junior title but has not gone past the fourth round at Flushing Meadows.

"This year I'm playing a smarter schedule and I will arrive fresher and be ready to fight."