Work in Sports
Pierce defeats Martinez in straight sets, captures title
PARIS (CNN/SI) -- Finally, France has a champion to call its own again.
Surviving some nervous moments and missed chances, Mary Pierce became the first Frenchwoman since 1967 to win the French Open, beating Conchita Martinez 6-2, 7-5.
A capacity crowd of about 15,000 fans roared with delight when Pierce closed out the victory with a service winner on her third championship point. The crowd included Francoise Durr, the last Frenchwoman to win the title at Roland Garros.
Pierce, whose only other Grand Slam title came at the 1995 Australian Open, accepted the first-place trophy from Martina Navratilova. Durr then kissed Pierce on both cheeks, and the two French Open champions hugged.
"I'll try not to cry," Pierce told the fans in French during the ceremony. "I am very moved. I never thought I would win it. It's my dream that has become reality. It's really unbelievable to have done it here in Paris."
In English, Pierce thanked her family and her boyfriend, Cleveland Indians second baseman Roberto Alomar.
After starting the match slowly, Martinez held serve for leads of 4-3 and 5-4 in the second set. But at 5-5, Pierce reached break point with a sharply angled forehand winner, then put away an overhead for a 6-5 lead.
Fighting nerves by exhaling deeply, Pierce squandered two championship points in the next game, hitting a forehand into the net and a backhand wide. But when Martinez bounced a forehand return into the net on the third championship point, Pierce had her second Grand Slam title.
She raised both arms and grinned, then bit her lower lip as if fighting back tears and buried her head in a towel.
The 25-year-old Pierce has had a strained relationship in the past with French fans, sometimes drawing jeers for lackluster play. But they warmly embraced her this year, even though she was born in Canada, lives in Florida and speaks with an American accent.
The sixth-seeded Pierce earned $575,000 for the title. Martinez, seeded fifth, received $287,500.
In the men's final Sunday, fifth-seeded Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil will try for his second French Open title against third-seeded Magnus Norman of Sweden.
Although the focus in the women's final was on Pierce, it was Martinez who looked tight and unsure at the outset. After the Spaniard struggled to hold serve in the first game, Pierce took charge, winning 13 of the next 14 points and five consecutive games.
Pierce then began to show signs of nerves, with more errors creeping into her groundstrokes. She finally closed out the first set on the fifth set point, then fell behind 2-0 in the second set.
Then Pierce's shots began finding the corners again, and she resumed coming often to the net, keeping Martinez on the defensive.
"It was a very difficult match for me, especially the second set," Pierce said. "If it had gone to a third set, I don't know what would have happened."
Pierce barely survived the semifinals, cramping from dehydration late in her match against top-seeded Hingis. She caught a break in the final because the weather was cool and hazy, and she seemed fresh at the finish of the one-hour, 52-minute match.
Pierce, whose other major title came in the 1995 Australian Open, accepted the first-place trophy from Martina Navratilova. Durr then kissed Pierce on both cheeks, and the two French Open champions hugged.
"She played very well," said Martinez, playing in her first French Open final. "I started playing very badly. I was very nervous. I could not put her under pressure."
The men's final may be short on star power, but it features a budding rivalry between the hottest players on the men's tour.
Norman, trying to emerge from the shadow of Sweish Grand Slam champions Bjorn Borg, Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg, will be playing in his major final. Kuerten, the gangly Brazilian nicknamed "Guga," won the French Open in 1997.
They'll meet on clay for the third time since early May. Norman beat Kuerten in the final at Rome, and Kuerten avenged the loss the following week in the quarterfinals at Hamburg.
The third-seeded Norman is 41-11 this year, while the fifth-seeded Kuerten is 31-6 since late February. They're ranked 1-2 in this year's ATP rankings race, and each has won two tournaments in 2000.
Norman, 24, has an edge because he's the fresher finalist. He has dropped just one set in the tournament and eased past unseeded Franco Squillari 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 in the semifinals Friday. Even six-time French Open champion Borg has been impressed.
"I actually heard from Borg through my old coach," Norman said. "He said, `Hello. Well done. Keep it up.'"
Kuerten, 23, has an edge because he's better acquainted with big-match pressure. In his past two victories he was down a break and a set in the fourth set before rallying to win in five sets.
"I used well the experience I had winning here," Kuerten said. "You've got to be full of weapons, but if you're not mentally prepared, you're not going to win it for sure."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.