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Pierce Wins Hard-Fought Match
Ronald Atkin
Monday, June 24, 2002

Mary Pierce took another step along the recovery road with this 6-4, 4-6, 8-6 victory against Alicia Molik, but it was a hard-earned success in the end. Molik, the 21-year-old Australian who is ranked one place higher than Pierce (73 against 74), saved five match points before eventually falling in two hours and six minutes.

Pierce, who missed much of last year because of back problems, has slipped in the rankings since her Grand Slam triumphs at the Australian Open in 1995 and the French Open two years ago, so she was delighted at overcoming the hard-hitting Molik, whose 11 aces were counter-balanced by 10 double-faults.

Pierce of France began tentatively and trailed 4-2 in the opening set before winning the next four games. A single break of serve was enough to give Molik the second set before the two players embarked on a 52-minute final set in which Pierce let slip a 5-2 lead. At 5-3, Pierce missed two match points on her own serve, and another pair of match points escaped her on the Molik serve at 6-5.

Then, having served out safely for a 7-6 lead, the 27-year-old Pierce pounced on Molik's serve, went 40-love up and had a further three match points. Molik managed to save one before netting an over-ambitious drop shot.

Pierce admitted it had been a tough match. "First rounds are good matches, not easy rounds like they used to be. Girls are stronger, faster, hitting harder," she said. "The level's a lot higher and everybody's a lot fitter than before."