Tennis

Wasn’t surprised that Sania became a top player: Pierce

The four-time Grand Slam champion Mary Pierce will visit Delhi next week to inspire Indian boys and girls

Mary Pierce was 20-years old when she won the Australian Open in 1995, dropping a mere 30 games in seven rounds.

It took her five more years to win her favourite Grand Slam on clay at the Roland Garros in Paris, even though she had grown up on clay.

In fact, the tall and power-stroking Pierce had looked ready to win the French Open in 1994 itself, when she reached the final, dropping a mere 10 games along the way, which included a 6-2, 6-2 triumph over Steffi Graf.

However, Pierce was beaten in the final by Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in straight sets.

The four-time Grand Slam champion, who won the Wimbledon mixed doubles title with Mahesh Bhupathi in 2005, will be in Delhi to inspire the Indian boys and girls who will be competing in the Oppo Roland Garros junior wildcard event in Delhi from February 24 to 26.

“I am very happy to be coming to India. It is one of my favourite countries,” said Pierce, in a telephonic conversation from Paris.

Throwback

She distinctly remembered competing in the WTA tournament in Hyderabad in 2003, and partnering the 16-year-old Sania Mirza in doubles.

“Mahesh was organising that tournament and wanted to know whether I would like to play with a local girl. It was Sania’s first tournament at that level.

“She was not that well known then. I saw her hitting the strokes well. There were a lot of mistakes. But, I knew that once she started keeping a lot of balls on court, she would be good. I wasn’t surprised when she developed into a top player,” said Pierce.

In fact, Sania won her first WTA tournament two years later in Hyderabad when she had a breakthrough season, playing fearless tennis against Serena Williams in the third round of the Australian Open, on the Asian wildcard.

Even as she conceded that she had seen many good Indian girls at the lower levels of the ITF circuit, especially during the tournaments organised by her in Mauritius, Pierce was unable to pinpoint the reason for other Indian girls not being able to follow in the footsteps of Sania into the big league.

“It is a good question, but there is no answer. Some players have natural gift. Indian tennis has had great champions. Am sure there will be more in future. Yes, passion for the game, hard work, dedication, sacrifice and very supportive people... are all important. You need good structure, training and sponsors to help you travel for tournaments,” said Pierce.

Lot to learn

Pierce was understandably thrilled to promote clay court play. “I developed my game, playing on clay. You need to have strong legs and patience to play long rallies. Clay teaches you a lot. It is so special to me. It is great to promote the event,” said Pierce.

The 45-year-old Pierce does follow women’s tennis closely, and was happy that Sofia Kenin won the Australian Open with her fearless game. “It is too early to assess the chances for Roland Garros. We will see how the girls, so many of them and so good, compete in the clay season, before we take a pick,” said Pierce.

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2020 2:10:17 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/tennis/wasnt-surprised-that-sania-became-a-top-player-pierce/article30853757.ece

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