Mary Pierce interview: Pressures of fame difficult to handle for younger players like Naomi Osaka, says former Roland Garros champion

  • The open-nature or unpredictability of the women's tour has led to lack of rivalries but former Australian Open and Roland Garros champion Mary Pierce doesn't believe it to be a bad thing.

  • The Frenchwoman compared the tennis today to what it was in the 90s and 2000s

  • She emphasised the unpredictability of the WTA Tour could be down to the pressure that comes with winning big tournaments

Francesca Schiavone, Li Na, Petra Kvitova, Samantha Stosur, Victoria Azarenka, Marion Bartoli, Flavia Pennetta, Angelique Kerber, Garbine Muguruza, Jelena Ostapenko, Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki, Simona Halep, Naomi Osaka, Ashleigh Barty, Bianca Andreescu and Sofia Kenin. Women's tennis has seen 17 first-time grand slam winners in the decade gone by. Put that in comparison with the men's tour with just three (Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Marin Cilic). In this period, the rest of the slams have been shared by the 'Big 3' - Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

 Mary Pierce interview: Pressures of fame difficult to handle for younger players like Naomi Osaka, says former Roland Garros champion

Mary Pierce (second from left) at the Roland Garros junior wild card series event in Delhi.

The open-nature or unpredictability of the women's tour has led to lack of rivalries but former Australian Open and Roland Garros champion Mary Pierce doesn't believe it to be a bad thing. She compared the tennis of today to what it was in the 90s and 2000s. "For me, you don't know who is going to win. It keeps everyone hanging and considering who is going to win this week, who is going to win this week. I don't know if it's a fan thing or media where the thought is there is no rivalry, we need one dominating or two that are always meeting in the final. At a certain point, one must want to see other people play as well. I think it's interesting to see different players coming through," she said on her trip to New Delhi as part of the Roland Garros Junior wild card series.

Beyond the nuances of the opponents and the players themselves, tennis has changed significantly, she admitted. "The game has changed tactically and technically also. When I started there were a lot of one-handed backhands, there was serve and volley. Today the game is more power from the baseline. Personally the change of pace, the players coming to the net a lot more, I enjoy watching (Ashleigh) Barty play because she has a little bit of an all-court style of game," said the 1995 Australian Open and 2000 Roland Garros winner.

Pierce said that the unpredictability of the WTA Tour could be put down to the pressure that comes with winning big tournaments. The Frenchwoman used Naomi Osaka's example to illustrate her point. The Japanese player won the 2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open for her maiden grand slam titles but has dropped off the chart since. From being the top-ranked player in the world at this point last year, Osaka has dropped to No 10. Her best showing was the fourth round finish at Flushing Meadows last year.

"There isn't just one woman who is able to dominate. You have Osaka who came on to the scene, incredibly young, incredibly talented, plays really well, wins grand slams but then it just seems that afterwards, players are having that difficulty handling the fame and pressure. So you have these young players coming up, experiencing these things, maybe finding it difficult to handle. There hasn't been anyone such player who has been dominant besides Serena (Williams)."

One player who hasn't won a title, yet, but has garnered plenty of attention is CoCo Gauff. She entered the top-50 this past week and became the first 15-year-old to crack the mark in 15 years. She also became the youngest American to enter the top-50 since Jennifer Capriati in 1990. But the rise in media attention comes with its own pressure.

"It's normal when you're young, you're good, it's exciting, it's surprising. It gets a lot of attention. It is not easy you know. For myself being on the tour at 14, being young and having a lot of attention on me. It is not easy to deal with and very hard at a young age. You can talk to a player about things, you can teach them, prepare them for things but nothing can replicate living through it."

"You're playing professional tennis, you're travelling the world, you're on an international stage so it is normal that your face and name is all over the world. What is important is to have the right people around you that are going to help you stay humble, grounded, be like a normal person. Toni and Nadal family, for example, with Rafa coming home and doing the dishes. He's like everyone in the family, like a normal person, if you just have the right people around you, that's really important."

She also spoke about Kim Clijsters, who returned to tour after seven and a half years, earlier this month. Pierce and Clijsters played each other four times with the Belgian winning three of their encounters. But as Clijsters returns, she has a massive hurdle to climb not least on the fitness front. "I was pretty surprised but also not surprised because I know she was commentating and watching tennis. So I thought she's been watching, she sees the level, she's seeing the girls that are playing. There would be a bit of exclaim that this player is in the semis, quarters of a grand slam. I wish I was playing right now! I wish I was 10 years younger! I'm sure Kim was thinking that I could be there."

"The prize money that is on offer is insane compared to earlier. She still has that passion, the love for the game. She probably thought that I just needed to get fit because I'm as good as these girls, give it a try and not have any regrets. Hats off to her to get back to that level as it takes a tremendous amount of training, courage, hard work, dedication and sacrifice. Hats off to her husband also for the incredible support to be able to do this. She played against Muguruza and had a really close match. She played well because Muguruza is playing good tennis recently. If she's playing then it's not to lose, it's to win and to win titles. So she's definitely wanting to win grand slams and be World No 1 again. But it is going to be incredibly hard! The older you are, the tougher is the recovery and the movement," signed off the four-time grand slam winner.

On the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association (DLTA) courts, action on clay will see Dev V Javia face Chirag Duhan in the boy's final while Vaishnavi Adkar will go head-to-head with Sanjana Sirimalla for a chance at flying to Paris for the qualifying.

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Updated Date: Feb 25, 2020 18:36:03 IST