Almost two decades have passed since the last time a French player has won the home Grand Slam in singles -- and such a record will not be broken in 2019. The path to Mary Pierce’s first and unique Roland Garros singles trophy, which she lifted in 2000, is remembered by the bleu-blanc-rouge nation as much as Yannick Noah’s equal feat, achieved in 1983.
Other French names have to be sought much further back in the chronology of singles victors. Pierce’s triumph in Paris was not single-themed: sixth best-ranked player of the event, she got past three higher seeds (Monica Seles , Martina Hingis , and Conchita Martinez ) to make it to the summit place; along with Hingis, she crowned herself champion of the doubles category as well; to the date, she remains the only Frenchwoman of the Open Era able to associate the Roland Garros singles title to her name.
Yet, those facts may perhaps not be the most stand-out features of Pierce’s Major home win. Perhaps, an indelible hit is still too popular among tennis passionates -- even exactly nineteen years after its execution -- for anything else to characterize the French’s golden exploit.
In Roland Garros' 2000 quarter-finals, Mary Pierce faced -- as the sixth seed -- the third favourite of the tournament, USA’s Monica Seles, in a match that has left a sizable impact on the world’s most famous red courts.
With a score of 4-6 6-3 6-4, Pierce booked her place in the semifinals, and offered to the world a hit that will hardly be forgotten. “I knew that Monica [Seles] was making me move from right to left and back and that I did not have the time to reflect on my moves,” the two-times Grand Slam winner recalls in an exclusive interview.
“When that ball came, I had nothing else to do”. Opening the point with a serve to Seles’ backhand, Pierce didn’t seem to direct the exchange, rather defend herself from her opponent’s powerful strikes by racing from side to side of the court.
Taking advantage of a desperate backhand from the French, Seles hit a drive volley from inside the service area; as her last resource, Pierce executed an air tweener. The ball lobbed Seles and kissed the opposite singles line, earning the French an ovation from the packed stands.
“It was a hit that I liked to practice for fun during training, and it came instinctively. [...] It was exceptional, and the public reacted well to it. I was very happy”. Some days later, the French Open crown would add to her happiness, and forever nickname her the “darling of Roland Garros”.
In 2019, the former World No. 3 still participates to the French Open, but from the commentators' box for France TV. She analyzes the players' struggles, and does not face them anymore; she has had enough of them. The first steps toward success were not easy for Pierce.
When she was still a child, her parents moved with her from America to France, a place where she had never lived before. In this new country, the future Australian Open winner struggled to adapt: she did not speak the local language yet, faced a nearly-impossibility of developing friendships, and had to make a lot of sacrifices.
“The moment when I understood that I could become a professional player was when I turned 18,” Pierce confessed. “I was an adult already and had to choose what to do with my life. I had three options: tennis, studies, or finding a job.
It was my decision to keep playing. I had to decide it”. Although she misses just a very few aspects of her life as a professional player, Pierce has driven many conclusions from her experiences. “Believe in yourself,” she says.
“Other people’s trust can help, but you are the only one who can fulfill your dreams”.
🇫🇷 Vous ne verrez rien de plus beau aujourd’hui 💥@_MaryPierce contre Monica Seles en 1/4 de finale de #RolandGarros 2000, dernier RG remporté en simple par un français 🙌
Plus beau tweener de l’histoire❓@WeAreTennisFR pic.twitter.com/23qqpBGGuL — SPORTRICOLORE (@sportricolore) June 4, 2019