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Pressure to perform: Mary Pierce decodes why women's grand slams are witnessing different champions every time

New Delhi, Feb 25: Former French tennis player Mary Pierce believes new crop of women tennis players are finding it difficult to handle the pressure and expectations and that is a reason why different champions are emerging in the women's grand slams at the moment.

While the men's tennis is literally dominated by the 'Big 3' - Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, no one women's singles player is able to defend her major title.

Mary was speaking as tournament ambassador of the Roland Garros wild card series, which gives junior Indian players a chance to be in the reckoning for the junior French Open wild card.

"Maybe the players are finding it difficult to handle the pressure and expectations. Winning a Grand Slam comes with the number one rank. There is not one player who is dominating besides Serena," she said.

The 15-year-old American sensation Coco Gauff has been the centre of attention these days as she became one of the youngest to break into top-50.

While talking to a select group of journalists, the 45-year-old stated the US teenager can't avoid attention but needs to have good people around her who would help in handling the limelight.

"It's difficult, not easy having a lot of attention. It's not going to change, every time a young player is playing extraordinarily will get attention. It's part of the package. "What's important is to have the right people around you, to stay humble and grounded. Like in Nadal family, when Rafa comes back home, he does the dishes, like everybody else in the family. That's important."

Mary was only 20 when she won her first grand slam, the Australian Open, in 1995 and went on winning her home major, the French Open in 2000. She made it to the Roland Garros final in 1994 which she lost but had defeated legendary Steffi Graff in the semis.

When asked about her emotions after winning her maiden grand slam the 5'10 feet tall athlete said, "Winning my first grand slam at 20 at Melbourne Australia was incredible. I remember that year, starting of '95, my goal was to try to win a grand slam and finish the year in the top five and after winning the Australian Open I was three. So, I was like okay, now it's January and I am already ranked three at the beginning of the year. Now I'll have to find a new goal for the rest of the year (laughs). But the moment I won, there were so many mixed emotions coming in one moment. There was disbelief, then there was joy, relief and happiness. You think that everything that you've been through is worth it, all the hard work and struggles, and pain to go through to get to your goal eventually paid off. And from that moment, your life changes for the rest of your life because you are a grand slam winner."

Throwing more light over the unpredictability in the modern-day women's tennis, the two-time Grand Slam singles champion said it's not bad for the game. Pierce - who won the Australian Open (1995) and French Open (2000) along with two doubles Grand Slams in a successful career - also believes the game has evolved a lot since her playing days.

The 45-year-old added further, "It's very different today. There were rivalries, there was depth. Every top-10 player wanted to be number one. Now it's so open. You go to a tournament and you don't know who is going to win Grand Slam because the player who wins a Grand Slam does not dominate the rest of the year.

"So, it leaves it very open and it's exciting. I don't think it's bad. It keeps everyone hanging on. It' interesting to see different players coming up every time."

Mary, who partnered with India's Mahesh Bhupathi and won the 2005 Wimbledon mixed doubles trophy with him, claimed that she misses the 'serve and volley' style which are now a thing of the past.

"There were a lot more one-handed backhands and serve and volley. Today there is a lot of power from the baseline, personally, I miss serve and volley, I miss the players coming on to the net very often."

The reason behind the same, according to Mary could be because the tennis equipment has undergone a sea change in the last few years, the serve and volley are difficult to play these days; also the courts are relatively faster than they were before.

"The racquets and the strings have more power in them. The game is faster and probably the balls are coming back faster, so serve and volley is not easy. But it should come back in the game. Even the courts are assisting fast-paced games," she said.

Asked how to make tennis more affordable since it is still considered a game for the elite, Mary struggled to provide an answer. The former French player admitted that she was lucky to have a sponsor when she was as young as 13. In her message to the young Indian players, Mary said getting rich in experience is key.

"(Performing better on big stage) That comes from experience. There have to be the right facilities, access to competition and good coaches. Nothing takes place of experience. A lot of hard work, sacrifice, discipline, eating well, sleeping well is required. More you play, more you can analyse the situation better."

Mary said it was "incredible what Serena has done in her career". After giving birth to her first child, Serena has made four major finals but has not been able to win a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam trophy. "What she is doing now just shows the emotional and mental side of humans. Maybe the occasion gets to her. Personally, I would like to see that happening."

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Story first published: Tuesday, February 25, 2020, 17:32 [IST]
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