It read like a script for tennis's version of Damn Yankees. Mary Pierce took the 2000 French Open singles title and, as the first Frenchwoman to win at Roland Garros since 1967, became an instant Gallic heroine. Then, as if she had made a Mephistophelean pact, her career immediately collapsed. She hasn't won a tournament since, and she's spent most of the past four years in rehab, beset by shoulder and back injuries. As her ranking plummeted, Pierce burned through a series of coaches. For good measure she called off her engagement to major league second baseman Roberto Alomar. "The last few years," says Pierce, "have been really difficult."
Her fortunes are finally starting to turn. Sound of body and mind, Pierce defeated Venus Williams at the Olympics last month. Though she entered the U.S. Open seeded a modest 27th, she upset Wimbledon champ Maria Sharapova in the third round before losing in straight sets to ninth-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova on Monday. After calmly outslugging Sharapova, Pierce dropped to her knees in front of her chair, overwhelmed by the occasion. "I believe in myself," she says, "and it's nice to have that confirmation."
For all the drama and melodrama that have visited her career, Pierce has always been among the sport's best pure ball strikers. She has reunited with her younger brother, David--who coached her in 2000--and is confident that she still has a few lines to add to her tennis dossier.
"I haven't accomplished everything I want to in my career," says Pierce, who will turn 30 in January. "I don't know exactly what it is, but hopefully I'll know one day soon."