I found healing for my wounded heart, says retired tennis legend Mary Pierce
French-American tennis player Mary Pierce hit her first tennis ball in Florida at 10 years old. She was moved from court to court as the coaches tried to figure out where to place her. "How many years have you been playing tennis?" head coach Kevin Quay finally asked her. "It's my first day," she replied.
That day marked the beginning of an unexpectedly successful international tennis career for Mary. She made her professional debut at 14 years of age, which was the youngest on record at the time, and at the 1995 Australian Open in Melbourne she was the first French woman since 1967 to capture a major win. Then in 2000 she beat Conchita Martinez for the second time and won the French Open.
Mary's journey to the top has been both challenging and rewarding, from the beginning of her professional career to her final match in 2006.
"You've sweated, you've cried, you've had injuries, you've suffered physically for years and years, hoping that one day your dream would come true," she explains. But when all that hard work finally pays off Mary says the feeling is indescribable.
"That's where I belong," Mary explains. "The connection with the crowd, the atmosphere, the energy, the contact with the fans... There aren't really words to describe it."
"It's such an amazing feeling," she says of winning.
Yet even that feeling cannot compare to another moment in her life.
"The best moment of my life – there is no doubt about that – was when I was born again [by faith in Jesus Christ]," she says.
"My life changed from that day and it's never been the same. Winning the French Open was an amazing experience but you can't compare that to knowing Jesus."
Despite her success Mary always felt something was missing. "I could win a big tournament and still be lonely and unhappy in my hotel room afterwards," she says. The quest to fill that gap led her to try New Age practices, yoga, psychology and self-help, none of which proved helpful.
"I was looking for something that was going to heal my heart from all my pain, all my wounds, from all my past; my childhood," she explains, referring to the years of stress and immense pressure her father and coach, Jim Pierce, put her through.
"Then, one day, a girl on tour told me about her faith and right away I felt that's what was missing. I was raised a Catholic but this went deeper."
Soon after the encounter with fellow player Linda Wild, Mary decided to abandon of her old life of disobeying God and surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ. As the Holy Spirit came to live within her, Mary recalls that she suddenly lost all desire to drink, swear or have casual boyfriends.
Just three months after that she won the 2000 French Open.
"From that moment [of faith in Jesus] I had such an instant peace," Mary describes. "I felt [God's] love and forgiveness."
She says she was delivered from grudges she held, notably against her father, and learned to forgive. Their relationship slowly began to heal.
"[Jesus] showed me how to have a clean and pure heart, and have nothing against anyone," she explains.
Her attitude towards tennis also change. Instead of nerves and stress leading to sleepless nights she felt nothing but peace before a game.
"I basically went on the court and gave 100 per cent and enjoyed what I was doing, and left everything else in the hands of the Lord [Jesus]. I was completely relaxed – I was a different person."
Retired from tennis since 2006, Mary now lives on the Island of Mauritius, living fully her love for Christ and coaching two teenagers from her church.
"I am surrounded by Christians who are giving their lives; walking the same road as me," she says. "I want to be a part of what [God] is doing. He gave His life for me and it is an honor for me to do the same."
Mary Pierce interview courtesy of Warcry magazine/Heather Tomlinson