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Performance pressure giving rise to new women tennis champions, says Mary Pierce

Sayan Mukherjee

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Mary Pierce
Mary Pierce.

New Delhi: Some call it exciting, for many it is too unpredictable. For Mary Pierce it is inevitable as more money and overnight fame has brought enhanced pressure at the pinnacle of tennis, which modern Grand Slam champions are struggling to adapt to.

While the ‘Big Three’ (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic) dominates men’s tennis, winning 56 of the last 69 Grand Slams (around 80%), women’s tennis has witnessed new champions in almost every Grand Slams in the last four years.

The competition or unpredictability, whichever way one views it, has reached such an extent that it makes Pierce coy when asked to predict the 2020 French Open women’s singles champion.

“I really don’t know who could be the French Open women’s singles champion. In the men’s section it is easy, Rafa (Nadal). He is so difficult to beat him on clay. But in women’s section the field is so open,” the 2000 French Open champion, in the country to promote the 2020 Roland-Garros Junior Wild Card Series, said on Tuesday.

“It has become very difficult to handle fame and pressure. The prize money, nowadays, is incredible. The attention that young players now get is not easy to deal with too. I understand it as I turned professional when I was only 14. It is very important to have the right kind of people around you in the early stages of your career,” she added.

Tennis has also evolved from her heydays, transforming into a more power and baseline oriented game, hence the tendency to ‘chip and charge’ has dwindled, an aspect of the game she regrets and misses.

“The game is very different today, it has changed a lot tactically, technically. In my time we could see a lot more one handed backhands. But today players are happy to play from the baseline and not charge to the net to volley. I miss the serve and volley style that was prevalent in my time,” Pierce observed.

Tennis has historically thrived on big rivalries, be it men’s or women’s, but the ‘openness’ at the top has also led to more intensified competition among a host of potential suitors.

“Now it is so open, which is exciting in a way. Don’t think it is bad (for the game). But of course, rivalry helps (to enrich the sport). But it doesn’t exist anymore. People now tend to like the competition,” the Mauritius-based Pierce said.

Serena Williams’ struggle to win record equaling but elusive 24th Major title baffles Pierce. But she hopes the American, who defeated her in the 2002 French Open quarter-finals, can finally go level with Margaret Court, possibly in Paris, after getting beaten in her last four Slam finals.

“It seems the sense of the occasion gets to Serena. I would like to see her win No. 24. After Serena no one is able to stay on top. Maria (Sharapova) has struggled because of a longstanding shoulder injury,” the last French player to win at Roland Garros said.

She admires the “passion and hunger” of Serena and “pleasantly surprised” to see Kim Clijsters’ return from retirement but was quick to downplay any possibility of her emulating the Belgian.

“Hats off to Kim. To get back to that level requires a tremendous amount of training and courage. It would be interesting to see how she would do for the rest of the year,” the 45-year-old said .

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Sayan Mukherjee is the Content Head at Sports Lounge. He has over 10 years of experience in sports journalism (print and digital) having worked for some of the leading media organisations in the country including The Statesman, The Asian Age, IANS and Sports Illustrated.