We had the chance to meet with Mary Pierce at the French Open. Last player from France to be crowned singles champion of Roland Garros in 2000, she is now happily coaching in Mauritius and commentating on the French TV and on the radio.
Now 40 years of age, the Montreal-born Frenchwoman was very open and talked at great length about winning Roland Garros, her career, the injury that ended up putting a stop to a great career, and how she has never, ever stopped loving the game that has given her so much.
BATennis World: Mary, it’s an honour for us to have you for an interview.
Mary Pierce: Thank you.
BATW: You’re the last French singles champion. It’s been 15 years from your very emotional title. What do you recall from that title?
MP: It’s just amazing, you know. It’s my dream come true to have won here in Roland Garros. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do as a tennis player. It’s been my dream since I was a young girl. And it’s just amazing to think that it’s been 15 years already because it feels almost as though it was just last week! It was the most amazing and special moment of my whole tennis career.
BATW: Is there something you remember, the whole 15 days? You must have a lot of memories and a lot of emotions, going all the way to the final and how you finally won it. What do you recall about it?
MP: I remember stepping onto Centre Court for my first round. I didn’t do well the week before. I had lost first round in a tournament in Spain. Hence, of course, you can arrive at a tournament and have a little bit of questions, not sure of how you’re going to do it. And I walked onto Centre Court, the crowd cheered and welcomed me, roared, and I just had a very special feeling in my heart and I thought, “Well, maybe this is my year”. I just kept that to myself. I didn’t share that with anyone. I just kept going day by day, match by match, and just really playing amazing! I felt very inspired from every match that I played, and finally making it to the end, obviously nervous, playing in the finals against Conchita [Martínez], who’s a tough player on clay. I feel like I did very well to stay calm and focused for that match. I played consistent and well. Winning that match point in the end, the championship point, it’s an unbelievable feeling! You’re so relieved. You’re so proud. You’re so happy. It’s all the years of hard work, the suffering, the pain, the sweat, the tears that have finally paid off.
BATW: When you have your emotions bottled, and then finally letting them loose after the match point, I might imagine that it’s like you own the world. Is that so?
MP: [She laughs] Wow! It’s so difficult to put into words! You definitely have to keep your emotions intact, because you have to focus for that last point. Then finally the moment that you do, it’s like you can totally just let everything go. You can totally relax and then… It’s almost as if… “I did it!!” and then “I can’t believe it!!” and “Oh, this is amazing!!” There’s just so many different emotions that go through your mind and through your body at once. It’s amazing!
BATW: Just tell me about your career in general. You won two Grand Slams and reached a couple of finals as well. Are you pleased with your career? Because I know that in tennis, you lose more than you win, but you’ve managed to win a lot.
MP: [She laughs] Yes. I look back on my career and I’m just amazed, really, at what I achieved. I never, ever would’ve imagined to have done what I did. Looking back to the first day at the tennis park at the age of 10 years old, and becoming pro at 14, I couldn’t imagine how quickly that happened. Winning my first big tournament in Palermo at 16. Everything just really happened so quickly! I look back on my career and I’m just amazed to see how well that I did. I’m so proud! I think, as a competitor, you can always look back and think that you would’ve loved to have done more or improve more, or achieve more. But I can only be so proud and so happy with everything that I did and that I can say that I achieved my dream in tennis, and that was to win the French Open.
BATW: You had one of the most heartbreaking retirements in the history of sports. I’ve seen the video. I was watching that match, and every time I see it I have goosebumps. How did you cope with retirement?
MP: I think definitely my faith has made the hugest difference in my life. I’m a Born Again Christian since March of 2000 and when I hurt my knee, as I was wheeled off the court, I thought, “Is this one of those injuries that end your career?” Because I never really had that bad an injury. I’ve had a few, but nothing serious. And when I found out after going to the hospital and having MRIs that I would need to have surgery on my knee if I wanted to play, I thought, “OK, it’s bad, but I’ll need surgery and then I can play again.” Then I tried to rehab and come back, and the doctors and the physios around the whole world that I went to couldn’t understand why I still had pain and couldn’t come back. So, for me, I knew that it was the plan of God for me to move on and do something else. And I’ve always believed since I was a little girl, my mum always said to me “Everything happens for a reason and it’s always for the best”, so I knew that it was time to move on to something else. Today, I’m very happy. I moved to Mauritius. I was able to go and do a lot of things that my heart has desired to do for years while I was on Tour but couldn’t because I was traveling and competing. And I’m coaching. Today, I’m coaching two young kids from Mauritius. It’s a great challenge. I’m learning and growing a lot through that process. But it can also be very rewarding to see that everything that you’ve done through your experience and your mistakes, that you can teach them to learn from them and not repeat. But also the great things that I’ve done to help them to try to achieve their goals and their dreams and be the best that they can be. It’s very rewarding.
BATW: You once said that you never let go of your first love, and tennis is, of course, the first love of the real, true tennis players, not those who embrace tennis as a profession but as a part of life. We can say that tennis has never left you because you’re here coaching and you’re still working on the French TV, right?
MP: Yes. I love tennis, what can I say? It’s in my blood, it’s in my being, it’s something that I enjoy and I love so much. I’m a fan of it and I love to watch it and obviously play it when I can. I also enjoy doing some commentating and doing some matches for BBC Radio and I love to do it. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a great team. It’s wonderful to still be able to be a part of tennis.