Pierce Slowly Wakes Up From Worst Nightmare
By Patrick Vignal
BERLIN (Reuters) - Two years ago Mary Pierce was about to taste the greatest moment of her tennis career but now she is happy just to be playing again.
"It's nice to be healthy and doing what I love to do," the Frenchwoman said on Tuesday as she returned to the red clay of Europe for the first time since her 2000 French Open triumph.
The former world No. 3, who has plunged to a miserable 195th in the WTA rankings, showed glimpses of her old form as she moved past Argentine Mariana Diaz-Oliva, 6-1, 7-5, in her first round match at the German Open.
Her troubles started shortly after her final victory over Spain's Conchita Martinez at Roland Garros. A few weeks later tendinitis forced her to bring her season to a premature end.
Last year she hardly played at all as he fought tendinitis in both ankles before a chronic inflammation of the lumbar spine forced her to remain out of action for more than seven months.
Her athletic body, both admired and feared by her rivals, had let her down.
She was full of hope when she returned to Melbourne at the start of the year to enter the Australian Open, an event she had won in 1995 to burst into the limelight.
But after four games in her first match, she had to withdraw with a pulled stomach muscle. Two more months on the sidelines followed and she came back only last month.
"It hasn't been easy coming back but that's the way it goes," she said.
Never this year has she gone further than the third round. On top of all her injury worries, her personal life also suffered turmoil with a break-up with partner Roberto Alomar, the New York Mets baseball player.
"I've been through a lot of difficult things in my life," she said on Tuesday. "But it's been an interesting journey. I feel you can learn something every day, on and off the court."
In February she started working with a new coach, Bobby Banck, who once trained former world number one Monica Seles, and in the last few weeks she has managed to remain free of injuries at last.
Now the French Open, which starts on May 27 and for which she has been granted a wild card, is just around the corner and will present her with the perfect stage for a new start.
"I'm very excited about it," she said. "The red clay is my favorite surface and I'm happy to be playing on it again but I'm trying not to think too much about Paris."
The 27-year-old, who has been on the circuit for more than a decade, made headlines early on for the antics of her father Jim, who was her mentor at the start of her career and was once banned from the circuit for his violent behavior.
After going through turbulent times once again, she was careful not to set precise goals for herself.
"At the moment I just want to stay healthy and play as many matches as I can," she said.
"I still have a tendency to get bored and hit silly shots," she added after surviving two set points against the unheralded Diaz-Oliva. "I need to be more disciplined."
"But I feel it's coming back. I believe I have the ability to be among the top players. I just have to be patient."