BENGALURU (Reuters) - Former French Open champion Mary Pierce has backed Romanian Simona Halep to end her Grand Slam jinx and believes this year’s wide open Roland Garros draw bodes well for the future of the women’s game.
Pierce, the last French player to win the singles title in Paris, also told Reuters that Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic, France’s best hopes at the tournament this year, might struggle under the pressure of their home slam.
"I do believe in Simona," Pierce said in an interview in Bengaluru, where she is promoting the TCS World 10K run tcsworld10k.procamrunning.in. "I think she will win a Grand Slam. Which one and when I don't know, but definitely clay is a good surface for her."
World number one Halep, who faces American Alison Riske in the first round in Paris, has a reputation for cracking in big matches and lost to newcomer Jelena Ostapenko in last year’s French Open final.
Halep’s defeat by the Latvian ended arguably her best chance of winning a maiden slam, and she also lost to Dane Caroline Wozniacki in this year’s Australian Open final.
The Romanian’s reputation of faltering when the lights are brightest was born after her defeat by Maria Sharapova in the 2014 Roland Garros final.
She did little to dispel that perception when losing to Elina Svitolina in this month’s Italian Open final.
“She hasn’t yet handled the pressure really well, and the moments where she could have won her first grand slam, the pressure just got to her,” added Pierce, who was champion at Roland Garros in 2000.
“I think she’s been through enough of those and I wouldn’t count her out because once a grand slam comes around, the top players, they shift to another gear.”
While the men’s game has been dominated by Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in recent years, the women’s game has been more open, especially with Serena Williams denied a seeding at the French Open this year.
Pierce said the rules preventing Serena, who starts against Czech Kristyna Pliskova, from being seeded upon her return to the tour after giving birth to her daughter should be changed.
“They decided not to seed Serena. I don’t know why they would do that, honestly,” she added. “I think she should have been seeded.”
Still, Pierce believes the absence of a favourite or an enduring rivalry in women’s tennis is by no means a bad thing for the game.
“I think right now where women’s tennis is, you’ve got such an open field and you’ve got two handfuls of players that are able to potentially win a grand slam,” she said.
“It does add a suspense element and also a bit more interest and excitement about who’s going to win.”
The 43-year-old Pierce, who is proud of her status as the last French player to triumph in the singles at Roland Garros, revealed how Garcia has been working with a sports psychologist to mentally prepare for the tournament.
“I was reading that there’s several players who have the possibility of finishing number one in the world if they win Roland Garros and Caroline Garcia is one of them,” Pierce said. “I was pretty surprised.
“How she’s going to handle the pressure, playing in France as a French player, I don’t know. It’s very difficult to do.”
“Mladenovic... is not in as good form as she was last year. She hasn’t been playing that well, so I’d be surprised if she did as good as last year.”
Garcia will play China’s Duan Yingying while Mladenovic faces Germany’s Andrea Petkovic in the first round.
Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Writing by Simon Jennings; Editing by Ken Ferris