Tennis: Pierce adds class to ASB Classic
Mary Pierce has some big scalps this year. Picture / Reuters
By David Leggat
Confirmation that two-time Grand Slam champion Mary Pierce will play next month’s international women’s tournament is a timely shot in the arm for the event.
The 29-year-old Pierce, who played in the ASB Classic last year, is expected to slot in as third seed for the US$140,000 ($196,000) tournament, starting on January 3.
The classic was short on pulling power, especially when set alongside the high quality Heineken Open men’s event starting the following week, and Pierce will be the star attraction.
She is fitter than on her previous visit to Auckland, when she reached the last 16. She has had an impressive list of scalps this year, in which she won her 16th WTA singles title, at s’Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands.
That was her first title since 2000, the year she won an emotional French Open, her second Grand Slam crown to sit alongside the Australian Open of 1995.
In Paris she became the first Frenchwoman to win at Roland Garros since Francoise Durr in 1967.
Pierce, who has pocketed more than US$7 million in a career in which her first WTA title was won at Palermo in 1991, has recovered from a late season shoulder injury. Had it not been for that layoff, she may have pushed her way into the world top 20.
As it is, Pierce is eyeing a concerted campaign next year to rejoin the world’s elite players and has been training at altitude in the United States in preparation for a big push in the New Year.
Classic tournament director Richard Palmer is delighted Pierce is back, not only from an on-court perspective but also remembering her willingness to make a contribution in the promotional elements of 2003’s event.
"She was brilliant, very amenable to doing the extra things," Palmer said last night. "She’s someone who has the ability to win at the top level and she’s beaten a lot of top players this year. We’re delighted to have Mary back."
Her scalps this year include Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova in the third round of the US Open, and world No 12 Russian Nadia Petrova and former world No 1 Venus Williams in successive rounds at the Olympic Games before losing to eventual winner Justine Henin-Hardenne in the quarter-finals.
Pierce’s presence also ensures the eight seeds are all inside the world top 50.
The field is headed by American Amy Frazier, world No 26, with young Serbian Jelena Jankovic, No 28, second followed by Pierce.