Whenever tennis season heats up, Mary Pierce’s name is bound to resurface.
Not only is she the last French player to win the French Open — a feat she pulled off in 2000 at age 25. She’s also, as ESPN’s Sharda Ugra explains, “the power-hitter who straddled the generations of Monica Seles and Serena Williams.”
Before retiring, she won 18 Women’s Tennis Association single titles, 10 doubles titles and three Grand Slam titles. And in between those, she appeared in the U.S. Open, Australian Open and the Athens Olympics, also winning mixed doubles at Wimbledon in 2005.
In other words, she was no stranger to tennis fame during her more-than-two-decade career, ranking as high as No. 3 worldwide during her early rise in 1995.
It wasn’t until she accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior, however, that Pierce, a sports staple of her generation, truly felt alive. It wasn’t until, as Ugra reported, she embraced her faith that she found the calmness that fueled the peak of her on-court success.
“I had been seeking and searching from 18 years old on, my own spiritual seeking,” she says. A friend on tour, the American pro Linda Wild, helped her find a way. In early 2000, the morning after a defeat at Indian Wells that had left her feeling “empty and miserable,” Pierce says she “gave my life to Jesus and was born again … things in me changed instantly.”
Her conversion wasn’t always well received at first. According to Ugra, Pierce said “some friends were actually mad at me” because they found her “boring” and no longer interested in partying. But the then-up-and-coming tennis star also found that her peers were more willing to be vulnerable with her as a result of her own confidence in Christ. And from that point forward, her entire mindset on life on and well beyond the court was never the same:
“God is in control of everything, I don’t have to worry. I knew my life was in His hands, my tennis, my results … it took off so much pressure and so much stress, and I was able to be so much more free. It changed everything.”
Now 43, Pierce is still involved with tennis, per Ugra, coaching kids in Mauritius, the Indian Ocean island nation, and exploring the start of her own International Tennis Federation circuit for women. All of her efforts, however, are sandwiched in between life in the church — the “spiritual solace” she found in Jesus decades earlier.