Mary Pierce: Wasn't surprised when Sania developed into a top player

Four-time Grand Slam champion Mary Pierce remembered the first time she saw Sania Mirza and expected the Hyderabadi to develop into a top player.

File Photo: Sania Mirza partnered with Mary Pierce during the 2003 WTA Indian Open in Hyderabad.   -  mohammed yousuf

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 even though she had grown up on clay.

In fact, the tall and power-stroking Mary 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, Mary 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 Roland Garros junior wild card 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 Mary, in a telephonic conversation from Paris.

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

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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 wild card.

Even though there are good Indian girls at the lower levels of the ITF circuit, especially during the tournaments organised by her in Mauritius, Mary was unable to pin point the reason for other Indian girls not being able to follow the foot steps 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 tennis 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 Mary, while suggesting that it was natural gift that took some players to greatness.

Mary 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 Mary.

The 45-year-old Mary 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," observed Mary.

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