PARIS -- Three times Mary Pierce served for the French Open championship, each time pausing to blow on her sweaty fingers, to breathe deeply as the rhythmic clapping of fans gave way to nervous silence.
This was a moment French fans had waited 33 years to see, a moment Pierce had waited her whole career to deliver, a moment neither will forget.
''Joue avec ton coeur!'' -- play with your heart! -- a fan called out, and so Pierce did, cracking a 100 mph service winner to finish off Conchita Martinez 6-2, 7-5 Saturday and become the first Frenchwoman to win at Roland Garros in the open era.
''I'm happy, I'm pleased, I have so many emotions that I don't feel anything,'' Pierce said. ''It's incredible. It was always, always, always my dream to win this tournament, and now I did it.
''Everything that's happened here in the past, everything that I've been through, there are just so many emotions here that attach to this tournament for me. To win it is amazing.''
Pierce, the French runner-up in 1994 but an early-round loser in nine other appearances, said she was much more nervous this time than when she won her only other Grand Slam title at the 1995 Australian Open.
''This is something very special,'' she said. ''It's very emotional.''
The pressure couldn't have been greater on Pierce, and the stakes for her couldn't have been higher. She had been cast into the role of playing for the nation's honor as the French prime minister, the mayor of Paris and the sports minister watched at courtside.
On a more personal level, Pierce had to win to be accepted finally as French. Born in Canada, living in the United States, a French citizen by virtue of her mother's French origins, Pierce has struggled her entire career to win the support of French fans. They booed her when she lost and derided her accent when she spoke, and nothing would change that testy relationship more definitively than a victory in Paris.
As a symbol of that acceptance, Francoise Durr, the last Frenchwoman to win at Roland Garros in 1967, embraced Pierce and kissed her during the trophy presentation.
''I'm very happy,'' Durr said. ''I had to wait 33 years before it happened. I hope Mary will not wait so long.''
Pierce stretched frequently during the match but otherwise showed no signs of the leg cramps that hit her late in her semifinals victory over top-seeded Martina Hingis, forcing her to take intravenous fluids.
''I was a bit tense, so I felt my muscles were a bit hard,'' Pierce said. ''After the match, I felt my muscles were very tight. I didn't have cramps, but I was close to it, so I had to walk a little, drink, do stretching.''
She caught a break with the weather cool and hazy, and she seemed fresh at the end of the 1-hour, 52-minute match.
''I was pretty relaxed,'' Pierce said of the moment when she first served for the championship. ''I just thought, 'OK, just one more point, just play this point.' I usually play my best when I don't think too much between, just go to the next point. When I start taking a long time between points is when I can tend to let my mind wander or get a little nervous.''
But Pierce admitted she did get nervous during that point when she netted an easy forehand.
While she stood waiting to serve again, a man in the crowd broke the silence by urging her to play with her heart. Pierce had been doing that all match, pounding shots down the lines and into the corners. More important, she played with brains, taking pace off the ball at times and sharply angling short shots that sent Martinez scurrying in futile dashes from her usually comfortable perch behind the baseline.
A groan swept the stadium when Pierce hit another forehand into the net to face break point, but that vanished on an unforced error by Martinez. Pierce set up her second championship point with a crisp, two-fisted backhand crosscourt, the kind of confident shot she'd been playing all afternoon, especially in the first set when she yielded only three points on serve.
''I was very nervous,'' Martinez said of that first set. ''I mean, it's my first final here at Roland Garros. It was a very difficult match because I couldn't get loose enough. My strokes weren't working.
''I didn't want to give the match away. Mary was playing very aggressive, very good. I felt more confidence in the second set, but she was too good today.''
When Pierce stood ready to serve out the match on the third championship point, blowing on her fingers, letting the tension out with a deep breath, she looked up at the stands for a moment, then down at the ground.
''I got fired up,'' Pierce said, ''like, 'OK, you've lost two now. This is the third one. Usually the third one is the good one, let's try and win this one.'''
She bounced the ball twice, tossed it high and hit the serve that made her a champion and a truly accepted Frenchwoman at last.
''It doesn't matter that she has double nationality,'' said one of the fans, Francoise Sully, who came with her daughter. ''It's very good for France, and she played a beautiful match.''
It was a sentiment shared by virtually all the fans.
''I'll try not to cry,'' Pierce told the crowd in French after she accepted the trophy and the $575,000 winner's check. ''I am very moved. I never thought I would win it. It's my dream that has become reality. It's really unbelievable to have done it here in Paris.''
In English, Pierce thanked her family and her fiance, Cleveland Indians second baseman Roberto Alomar.
''I'm really happy for her,'' Alomar said after batting practice in Cleveland before the Indians played the Cincinnati Reds. ''After all that she's been through, it's great. She's worked hard and she's come a long way.''
© 2017. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us