With the 20th anniversary of her historic championship runs at 2000 Roland Garros just days away, Mary Pierce was the latest WTA Legend to appear on “Hall of Fame Live,” as the International Tennis Hall of Fame's series continued via Facebook Live.
Pierce, one of the newest Hall of Fame members, having been inducted last summer, took time on Thursday to chat with commentator Blair Henley about many topics -- most notably this year being the 20th anniversary of her fabulous fortnight at the French Open, where she claimed both the singles and doubles titles in front of her thrilled compatriot crowds.
"It’s incredible to think that it’s been 20 years," exclaimed the two-time Grand Slam singles champion. "Honestly, I can’t believe it!"
Pierce notched her second Grand Slam singles title in Paris in 2000 with victories over Monica Seles in the quarterfinals, Martina Hingis in the semifinals, and Conchita Martinez in the final. She also teamed with Hingis to win the women's doubles that same weekend.
"The feelings and the memories are still very fresh and very vivid," added Pierce, who became the first Frenchwoman to claim her home Grand Slam singles title since Francoise Durr in 1967, and is still the most recent French player to clinch the clay-court classic.
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"We were saying that you can only celebrate your 20-year anniversary winning Roland Garros once in your life!" Pierce effused. "It’s a very special time in my life right now, to be able to look back and remember all those amazing memories from when my dream in tennis came true."
"Normally we’d be in Paris right now, at the French Open, but I’m at home in Florida and we’re celebrating it a different way," said Pierce, as the professional tennis hiatus continues. "It’s very interesting to be doing it this way. Hopefully, we’ll be in Paris later in the year for Roland Garros."
2000 was the year where it all clicked for the former WTA World No.3 at the tournament she wanted to win the most. Her tremendous run was epitomized by a classic tweener during her come-from-behind quarterfinal victory over three-time Roland Garros champion Seles.
"That’s a shot that I never practiced, I would do it just every once in a while in practice sessions for fun," said Pierce. "It was the only time I’ve ever done that shot in a match, ever, in my whole career!
"Monica Seles is such a tough opponent for me, I love Monica, she’s a friend, I respect her so much. She was just making me run side to side, and I knew that she was going to hit the ball to the next side, so I just went as fast as I could. All of a sudden, the ball was right on top of me!
"I didn’t even think, it was automatic reflex. I just jumped, hit the ball, between my legs, jumping in the air. It was a miracle that I actually hit the ball, let alone hit it in the court for a winner. When I see the images and I look back, I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t think I could jump that high!’"
There were indicators which led up to her romp to the 2000 Roland Garros title throughout Pierce's Hall of Fame career. In 1994, at age 19, Pierce reached her first Grand Slam final at Roland Garros. The Frenchwoman dropped just 10 games in the six rounds en route to that championship match, including a 6-2, 6-2 semifinal victory over defending champion Stefanie Graf.
"Totally unexpected for me to beat her, and I played amazing and beat her in two sets," said Pierce, referring to what she identified as her most memorable match. "Everything that I touched turned into gold, I couldn’t miss! Everything was a winner. So I think that, for me, was probably the best match of my career."
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The very next year, Pierce won her first Grand Slam title at the 1995 Australian Open in similarly powerful form. "Coming into my second Grand Slam final, I was more relaxed and had more confidence than in the first one, where I was so nervous," Pierce said.
"Winning the Australian Open was just amazing, and I was so happy, it was a Grand Slam title," she continued. "I love Australia and the Australian Open, so it was amazing. It totally changes your life, and then you’re shot into stardom, everywhere you go people recognize you, and now the players want to beat you. It’s a life-changing experience for sure."
Straight from the source on a once-in-a-career shot at @rolandgarros 🤩— Tennis Hall of Fame (@TennisHalloFame) May 28, 2020
We covered a wide range of subjects with @_MaryPierce today on #HallofFameLive! Catch the full Q&A with @BlairHenley on our Facebook page: https://t.co/YAbPTwixTv pic.twitter.com/P3PSdfvCFQ
Still, it is Pierce's second Grand Slam title, coming on home turf, which she calls "a whole different ballgame. It’s a whole other level, because growing up I was watching the French Open, that was the tournament to play, the tournament to win -- it was my dream! Playing as a French player, with the crowd all behind you, and feeling their support, and living those moments.
"The most powerful and strongest emotions you could possibly live on the tennis court is playing your home Grand Slam on center court with a packed crowd. Winning the French Open, for me, was the most amazing experience in my tennis career because that’s when my dream came true. Living that with the fans made it that much more special."
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The French Open was also the site of Pierce's resurgence five years later. After a couple of years plagued with injury and middling results, 2005 was a tremendous season for the French star, as she propelled herself back into the Top 5 and reached finals at the US Open, the WTA Finals, and, initially, her beloved Roland Garros.
"2005 was very, very special to me, because I was 30 years old, and a lot of people at that time were kind of like, ‘Oh, Mary’s done, she’s already won the French Open, which is what she wanted to achieve in tennis,’" said Pierce, who struggled with a back injury and fell well outside of the Top 100 in 2001.
Just prior to the 2005 run, Pierce said she "wasn’t really seeing any results, but I was getting fit and in shape. All of a sudden, 2005 comes, and boom, I make the final. And every match in that French Open felt almost as if I had won the tournament.
"Each victory was so much sweeter, coming back from an injury, being 30 years old, and everyone thinking that you’re done. For me, I knew in my heart that I wasn’t done, and there were still great things to accomplish.
"That’s what motivated me, that’s why I kept working so hard," Pierce continued. "Winning the  French Open was obviously the best, because I won it, and that was my dream come true. But that final in 2005 was one of the best experiences in my career because each victory was that much sweeter."
All of these milestones led to her induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame one year ago. "Your whole career is being recognized as one of the greatest players in the history of the game," said Pierce, reminiscing about the 2019 ceremony. "That’s really super humbling, and really mind-blowing, and such an honor and such a privilege."