20 years ago, Mary Pierce ended France’s 33-year drought at Roland Garros, becoming the first woman to lift the Suzanne Lenglen trophy since Francoise Dürr, by beating Conchita Martinez in the final. Since then, despite successes in doubles, no French player, male or female, has replicated Pierce’s win in singles at the French Open. I had the pleasure of speaking to her about her win at Roland Garros in 2000, as well as her experience of growing up in America and France and her role with the French Fed Cup team.
Listen to the full podcast on “The Double Bagel” here.
Mary Pierce: 2000 Roland Garros Triumph
Pierce arrived at the 2000 French Open already a Grand Slam champion, having won the 1995 Australian Open, but her road to the title certainly was not straightforward. The Frenchwoman had to overcome the great Monica Seles in the quarterfinals, before beating Martina Hingis in the last four and Martinez in the final in front of a capacity crowd on Chatrier. She went on to reach two further Major finals, both in 2005, at the French and the US Open, but lost to Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters respectively.
“It’s incredible to think it’s 20 years. It’s quite a long time. But it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long ago. It feels still fresh and recent,” Pierce said. “It’s amazing to think that I’m still the last French player, male or female, to have won the French Open since then, so it’s something I’m very proud of”.
Pierce was born in Canada to an American father and a French mother, beginning her journey towards tennis stardom aged 10. Her talent was immediately apparent. Indeed, after playing tennis for the first time, her coach saw something special in Pierce and asked to see her parents immediately. The rest is history.
“When I turned 13, my dad was like “That’s it. No more junior tennis. You’re going to play pros now”.
Within a few years, she found established first as the best in Florida, before becoming the #1 ranked junior in America and the world #2 for her age group. She then finished as runner-up at the prestigious Orange Bowl junior tournament.
“So that’s when we moved to France, I played all the French tournaments. And we’d go to any professional tennis tournament that was in Paris or the area. We would go and watch the matches all the day long, and my dad would say to any girl or woman playing the tournament “You want my daughter to warm you up?”. So there, I was able to hit with women pros, and I could actually see “Wow- I’m good enough.”” she added.
Fed Cup Vice-Captaincy
The Fed Cup was been an important part of Pierce’s playing career and she won it twice in 1997 and 2003. She returned to the French Fed Cup set-up in 2016, joining captain and 1983 French Open champion Yannick Noah’s team as the vice-captain. We discussed how she was offered the job and why it wasn’t an easy decision to accept.
“Yannick [Noah] contacted me and it was a great experience. I feel like I learned a lot through that. It also wasn’t very easy because my dad was sick. But I did speak to my dad about it and his doctors, and it was perfectly fine for me able to travel”.
We also talked about what Noah is like as a coach and as a captain and his philosophy.
“Yannick is a very deep guy. And he really gets into your head and into your heart. He’s more into the emotional aspect of the game, he’s not too worried about what your technique is. Tactically a little bit. But not so much either. It was more about getting a connection with the player… He really gets into the soul of the player.”
This year marks not only the 20th anniversary of Pierce’s victory at Roland Garros, but also her finding her faith as a born-again Christian.
“Despite all my success in tennis, I always felt there was something missing and I didn’t know what it was and it really bothered me… When one player shared the gospel with me on tour, I just knew that what she was telling me was the truth.”
Throughout her career, Pierce had a difficult relationship with her father, due to his abusive and destructive behaviour. Pierce, who left home at the age of 18 and did not speak to her father again for several years, candidly discussed how her faith allowed her to reconcile with and forgive her father, who later admitted to regretting his actions.
“I was really searching for something that was going to bring me peace. Something that was going to heal my heart from all the past wounds and my childhood and all the difficulties I had with my dad being my coach who was really abusive verbally and physically”.
“The Lord healed my heart from all my wounds and my past. And then I was able to forgive my dad, which was a huge miracle. My dad for me I was never going to see him, never going to talk to him again. Hated him, afraid of him, and the Lord showed me, that you need to forgive your dad.”
If you enjoyed this overview, feel free to listen to the full episode of The Double Bagel Tennis Podcast.
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