Mary Pierce has always bristled at any mention of the “R” word.
Despite nearly three full years away from the WTA Tour due to ACL surgery (and rare surgical reaction-caused setbacks), Pierce still wouldn’t dare utter anything even resembling the word “retirement.”
“Playing professionally is something I still want to do and something that I think I still can do,” Pierce said. “I just love competing at the highest level.”
At 34 years old, Pierce still holds out hope of making a comeback, with grueling on- and off-court workouts a daily routine. Monitored by IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy’s Director of Tennis Performance, Yutaka Nakamura, Pierce still struggles agilitiy-wise at times with her surgically repaired left knee. Her tennis stroke, though, is still as pure as ever.
“I feel like I’m hitting it as well as I ever have,” she said.
Yutaka has seen the progress first hand. With years of training stars like Tommy Haas, Maria Sharapova and Nicole Vaidisova, Yutaka still ranks Pierce near the top of natural athletes he has ever worked with.
“She’s almost a perfect student,” he said. “She never skips a workout. To make this kind of comeback, it’s going to be about heart, but she has it.”
Pierce’s talent was undeniable from the start. She picked up a racket at 10 years old and won a junior national championship two years later. She’s won four Grand Slams (two singles, one doubles and one mixed doubles) and rose as high as No. 3 worldwide.
At October 2006 at a tournament in Austria, Pierce chased down a ball and planted her feet, when her left knee buckled. She fell to the court, screaming in agony.
“The first thing I thought was that I don’t want to die” she said, able to laugh about it now. “I was in so much pain.”
Her body had a negative reaction to the surgery, which set her back even more. But her desire to get back to the WTA Tour never wavered.
And now she wants to get back to the top level of tennis. Not for the prestige — she casually states that she doesn’t miss the tennis “lifestyle” and watches very little tennis on television. No, she wants to return for herself and her fans.
“I’ve had people come up to me and tell me that I’ve inspired them, which is hard for me to comprehend, but hopefully I’ve made some kind of difference,” she said. “To me, that’s the greatest accomplishment I could have done.”