Mary Pierce showed up to the 2000 French Open as a different person. When members of the media asked the 1995 Australian Open champion what had changed, Pierce explained it all had to do with her decision to dedicate her life to Christ that March.
Twenty years ago today, on June 10, 2000, Pierce became the first French woman in the Open Era to win the French Open. It was the first time since 1983 that a French player had claimed a singles title on home soil at Roland Garros.
“It was my dream in tennis,” Pierce said this week on the Sports Spectrum Podcast. “It was my dream in tennis to one day play Roland Garros and to win Roland Garros. I give all the glory to the Lord, that’s for sure.”
Pierce grew up in Canada as the daughter of a French mother and an American father. She began her professional tennis career at age 14 and chose to represent her mother’s native country. As a teenager, Pierce was verbally and physically abused by her dad, Jim, who also served as her tennis coach. She left her family when she was 18, fully expecting to never speak with her dad again.
“I was living in fear every day,” Pierce said. “At the end, towards 16, 17, 18, I hated my dad and I was in so much fear. I just could not wait to leave my family.”
What appeared to be an enviable life as a Grand Slam winner at the age of 20, with years of success to come, was actually an extremely painful existence for Pierce. She was searching for something to heal the scars of her childhood.
“On the inside, I was so empty,” she said. “I just always felt like something was missing and I didn’t know what that was. And that was really frustrating for me. I tried filling it with so many different things like relationships or partying. There was nothing that could fill that void. Things were only temporary, and I would feel worse and worse.”
While on tour, Pierce was befriended by another player. Linda Wild, one of the few Christians in professional tennis at the time, introduced Pierce to the idea of a personal relationship with Christ.
Pierce grew up Catholic and was familiar with the Bible. She believed Jesus was the son of God. The idea of repenting and inviting Christ into her life, though, was completely new to her.
“I just knew that what [Wild] was saying to me was the truth,” Pierce said. “It spoke to my heart and I knew that was the truth.”
It was because of those conversations with Wild that Pierce became a Christian. Her understanding of God’s love for her helped Pierce restore her relationship with her father before he passed away.
Today, Pierce serves on the board of the International Tennis Federation and mentors young tennis players. She wants to introduce people to Christ just like Wild did for her.
“Wherever He sends me, I pray that people would see something different in me like I saw something different in Linda, and that that would cause them to want to know more and to have conversations and to be able to share the Gospel with them,” she said.
Before retiring, Pierce 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. She ranked as high as No. 3 worldwide during her early rise in 1995.
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