20-year-rewind: Renewed faith powered Pierce to history

Mary Pierce erased a decade of difficulty in Paris with an epic title run that still resonates today at Roland-Garros.

Mary Pierce, Roland Garros 2000© FFT
 - Chris Oddo

Imagine you are Mary Pierce in 2000, stepping to the line to serve to become the first Frenchwoman to claim the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen since 1967.

A jam-packed crowd inside Court Philippe-Chatrier tries - unsuccessfully - to remain silent in appreciation of the moment as Conchita Martinez stands ready to return at her baseline.

Quiet please! The umpire doesn’t speak, that’s the inner voice in Pierce’s mind talking…

Buoyed by newfound faith and backed by pure power, Pierce did her best to forget about the scoreline, the 15,000 expectant fans and the magnitude of the moment. 

The crowd, meanwhile, roared its thunderous approval with each point she claimed during the final moments of her 6-2, 7-5 victory over Martinez in the final.

Tears flowed as Pierce, serenaded by appreciative throngs on a sun-baked afternoon in Paris, hoisted the trophy - her long journey in Paris had come full circle.

“To win Roland-Garros 20 years ago with the support of the country, the fans, the whole stadium cheering for me, to have my whole family and team there - it was very special to be able to live that,” Pierce told rolandgarros.com. “You feel such strong emotions and feelings when the whole crowd roars and claps and cheers your name. Basically your whole body illuminates with an amazing feeling.” 

The triumph was a long time coming for Pierce, who was making her 11th main draw appearance in Paris, and had lost a final to Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in 1994. The very next year, in 1995, Pierce broke through and won her first major title at the Australian Open - a crowning achievement that only served to heighten the expectations placed on her shoulders each time she returned to Stade Roland-Garros. 

Mary Pierce, Roland Garros 2000© FFT

In the ensuing years, Pierce burned to win the title, but couldn’t manage a trip beyond the round of 16. In 1999 it was Martinez who toppled her in the second round. Fans wanted more from Pierce and let their desire be known. Pierce wanted more from herself and finally, after embracing her faith and becoming a born-again Christian just three months prior, she was able to fulfill her promise in Paris by producing a stunning title run in 2000. 

“It’s hard to believe that I’m still the last French woman to have won it, 20 years later,” Pierce says. “When I reflect on it, I look back and think - that’s amazing, how did I do that? But it was because of all those years of hard work and dedication that I was able to lift that trophy.” 

Even more amazing is the route that the Frenchwoman took to the final. She defeated legend Monica Seles in three sets in the quarter-finals, then knocked off her doubles partner, the great Martina Hingis, in three sets in the semis just to get to the final. 

If you’re scoring at home, Pierce also claimed the Roland-Garros doubles title in 2000 - to this day she remains the last player to take home singles and doubles titles in the same year at the tournament. 

For much of her career, Roland-Garros was the one that got away. The '90s were dominated by the likes of Seles and Steffi Graf, who claimed seven of the 10 titles over the course of the decade in Paris. But when the calendar flipped, it was time for Pierce’s rebirth. 

“For me, it was just my dream in tennis,” Pierce remembers. “It’s what I worked hard for and what I wanted to accomplish in my tennis career. Winning Roland-Garros makes it all worth it. All the hardships, difficulties, blood sweat and tears of all the years. It’s definitely the best memory of my whole career.”

Mary Pierce, Martina Hingis, Roland Garros 2000, doubles final© FFT