On June 10, 2000, exactly 20 years ago to this day, Mary Pierce rewrote the tennis history books by becoming the first—and so far only—Frenchwoman to win the French Open in the Open Era.
Pierce’s form that fortnight shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone—six weeks earlier, she stormed to one of the biggest titles of the clay-court lead-up season, losing only 12 games in five matches—yes, you read that right—to win the Family Circle Cup on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. It was a packed field, too: she blitzed Monica Seles in the semifinals, 6-1, 6-1, and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario for the title, 6-1, 6-0.
The World No. 7 brought that same form to Paris, surrendering just 13 games in her first four matches.
Things would get much, much tougher from there, though. Next up in the quarterfinals was Seles, who had been gathering major steam since getting routed on Hilton Head Island—she went on to win another one of the biggest lead-up events in Rome. And she not only took the first set this time, she was also up 3-2 in the third—Pierce managed to hold the World No. 3 off, though, prevailing, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Her semifinal match against Martina Hingis was just as grueling: Pierce originally built a 6-4, 5-3 lead and even held a match point with Hingis serving at 4-5, ad-out in the second set, but the No. 1-ranked Swiss pushed the match to a third set before Pierce finally closed it out, 6-4, 5-7, 6-2.
Pierce’s final opponent, Conchita Martinez, had beaten her in the second round the year before. But the Frenchwoman steamrolled through the first set and held off some resistance in the second set—she was down 2-0, and served to stay in the set at 4-5—before clinching the title, 6-2, 7-5.
“I don’t know what to say. There are no words to express how I feel,” Pierce told French TV in her on-court interview. “It was just incredible. This is something I’ll never, ever forget my whole life.”
As part of her press tour ahead of being inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2019, almost 19 years later, the Frenchwoman reflected on her historic run on the terre battue.
“Winning the French Open was my dream in tennis,” she said. “You’re playing in front of your home crowd, they’re cheering for you, there’s no better feeling. It was always the toughest one to compete at, deal with the expectations, the pressure, the stress, the media—I always found it very difficult.
“I guess you could say that all the years from 10 years old, when I started, until 25, when I won, so 15 years of the hard work, the suffering, the sweating, the tears, all the difficult moments, it was all worth it in that one moment when you win championship point and your dream comes true.”
Pierce’s victory at Roland Garros is even more meaningful given that statistically, it’s the toughest major for home players to win. Not only is Pierce the only Frenchwoman to win it in the Open Era, but only one Frenchman has captured the men’s title in the Open Era: Yannick Noah in 1983.
Brits have had almost as tough a time winning Wimbledon, with two men’s titles and two women’s titles in the Open Era, but the other two majors have been a very happy hunting ground for home players in the Open Era, with Aussies winning the Australian Open 16 times (six men’s titles and 10 women’s titles) and Americans winning the US Open 44 times (19 men’s titles and 25 women’s titles).
And there’s more: Pierce also won the doubles title at the 2000 French Open with the player she beat in the semifinals of the singles, Hingis. The Frenchwoman is one of only three players since 2000, male or female, to win both the singles and doubles at a major, alongside the Williams sisters.