Twice is nice for Pierce
Former tournament champ serves up a pair of upsets
BY RICK NELSON
Of The Post and Courier Staff
Mary Pierce had to work twice as hard Thursday, but she wasn't complaining.L
The unseeded former champion finished off an upset of No. 7 Anastasia Myskina in the morning and beat No. 10 Amanda Coetzer in the afternoon to advance to the quarterfinals of the Family Circle Cup.
It was another step forward for the popular Pierce, a former top-10 player who has been plagued by injuries since winning the French Open and Family Circle Cup in 2000.
She has won at least one match in all seven of her tournaments this year, and made it to the quarterfinals at Hyderabad.
"I feel like I am coming closer and closer to a level that I will be happy and pleased with," she said. "I definitely (am) starting to feel like I am out there and giving myself a chance to be able to compete with the girls at the top.
"I haven't felt this good in two years, so it's really encouraging."
Pierce, 28, was ranked in the top 10 six of seven years from 1994-2000, and her 15 singles championships include Grand Slam titles at the '94 Australian Open and the 2000 French Open.
But she missed nearly all of 2001 with tendonitis in her ankles and inflammation in her lumbar spine, and battled a series of medical problems in 2002.
Those were frustrating times, but Pierce smiled when she talked about her pair of upsets Thursday at the Family Circle Tennis Center on Daniel Island.
"I said to myself today, 'MP' is back," she said. "It's kind of like I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now."
Pierce came into the tournament ranked 43rd in the world, but that number could change after her terrific Thursday.
Her day started with a 6-4, 1-6, 6-2 win over Myskina. The 21-year-old Russian beat Pierce at Doha in February and rose to 10th in the world rankings this week after winning on clay at Sarasota.
Pierce and Myskina, whose match was halted after two sets Wednesday because of rain, took just 27 minutes to play the final set Thursday on the Club Court. Both players struggled with their serve, combining for 17 service breaks with Myskina committing seven double faults. She also appeared to become rattled with the score tied at 4-4 in the third set, swatting balls and mumbling to herself as she struggled again with her serve and some of her 39 unforced errors.
A few hours later, hundreds of fans crowded around out-of-the-way Court 4 as Pierce and Coetzer battled for a spot in the quarterfinals. The 18th-ranked Coetzer was able to break Pierce's serve just three times while Pierce held a 43-30 edge in winners, including 11-0 in the third set.
Pierce dominated the final set with her powerful groundstrokes, and won all of her first-serve points.
Pierce even felt comfortable enough to joke around after failing to convert her first match point. She chased down shots from side to side until Coetzer finally put one away.
After the exhausting point was finished, Pierce laughed and leaned against a fence.
"I'm up 40-love," she said to no one in particular, drawing laughs from the fans. "What am I doing? I just want to end it."
That's what she did on the next point as Coetzer sent a backhand into the net.
The 6-3, 1-6, 6-0 win capped an exciting day for Pierce, whose only health complaint these days is blurred vision due to laser surgery. She doesn't appear to be as fit as she was when she won the 2000 Family Circle Cup, but she finally is healthy again.
And after two years in which her ailing body could not keep up with her mind, that's a good feeling.
"I'm starting to enjoy it more and having more fun," she said.
"It's really frustrating when I'm out there and I don't feel like I can play my game the way that I want to.
"And it takes a lot of pressure off of me, just to be able to go out and play hard and have fun. Whatever happens, win or lose, happens. I know that I can walk off the court and say that I gave my best and had a good time."