The unpredictability in modern day women’s tennis is not bad, says two-time Grand Slam singles champion Mary Pierce, who also misses the ‘serve and volley’ style and rivalries of the old time.
Pierce had won the Australian Open (1995) and her home major French Open (2000), apart from two doubles Grand Slams in a successful career, in which she touched the world number three rank in 1995.
The men’s tennis is literally owned by the ‘Big 3′ when it comes to winning the majors but different champions are emerging in the women’s game.
Japan’s Naomi Osaka won the 2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open but struggled to repeat her performance at majors after that.
It was Sofia Kenin who took home the 2020 Australian Open trophy.
The 45-year-old Mary said the game had evolved a lot since her playing days.
“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,” said Mary, talking to a select group of journalists.
However, she does miss certain aspects of the old times.
“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.”
Mary felt probably because the tennis equipments have undergone a sea change in the last few years, the serve and volley is difficult to play these days.
“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,” she said.
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.
Mary, who also partnered with India’s Mahesh Bhupathi and won the 2005 Wimbledon mixed doubles trophy with him, felt the new-generation players struggle to cope with the pressure that comes with success.
“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 Coco Gauff has been the centre of attention these days as she became one of the youngest to break into top-50.
Mary said Coco can’t avoid attention but need to have good people around her who would help in handling the limelight.
“It’s difficult, not easy having lot of attention. It’s not going to change, every time there is a young player 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.”
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 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. May be occasion gets to her. Personally I would like to see that happening.”