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Up-and-down Pierce on the rise again

NEW YORK — NEW YORK - The first match point came and went for Mary Pierce in the second set yesterday, and then the challenge began.

By the time she had overcome a 1-5 deficit to reach her next match point at 6-5 in the third-set tiebreaker, she had dealt with her hopes, her nerves and her lack of conditioning.

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So after she blasted a backhand crosscourt for a ripping winner, she turned her back on No. 22 seed Jelena Dokic, cocked her head skyward, closed her eyes and shook her fists and racket with a mixture of determination and thanks.

She pointed her index fingers skyward and mouthed, "Just one more!"

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When her second serve drew a forehand error from Dokic and the match was in Pierce's victory column, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), she swirled and smiled with pure joy as she moved into the third round of the U.S. Open.

"Five-one?" she said when asked about the comeback. "I didn't realize it was 5-1. I knew it was 5-2. I just tried to stay calm and just told myself to fight, you know. Just kept repeating that one word to myself. You never know what can happen in tennis."

So much has happened to Pierce.

Through 15 seasons, Pierce's story has been one of ups and downs. On a virtual roller coaster, she rose from No. 236 in her rookie season to No. 5 in 1994 and again in 1995, when she won her first Grand Slam event, the Australian Open, and then played steady Top 10 tennis until after winning the French Open in 2000.

The next year, her ranking dropped to 130. It was during that 2001 season that the injuries started to overwhelm her. Back, thigh, shoulder, ankle, abdomen, elbow.

Then came July 2002, when she declined to play Fed Cup for France (Pierce, a Florida resident, has French citizenship) because of personal problems. In August, she simply disappeared from the tour, citing injuries. She broke up with her boyfriend, former Oriole Roberto Alomar. The French media, which have tracked her every move over the years, could not contact her.

Her current coach, Sven Groeneveld, said yesterday that even he does not know exactly what kept her off the tour for four months at the end of last season.

"When she called me after the French to rejoin her, I said, 'Listen, I don't want to go into the past. I just want us to concentrate on the future.' "

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Groeneveld, who last coached her in January 1997, found a changed player and a thoughtful person, one who learned a deep appreciation and love for the game while she was on the sidelines.

"She's more experienced as a person and a personality," he said. "In the past, in a match like today's, she would have thrown in the towel. But she is out there now because she loves the game and she realizes at age 28, all she has left to do is fight."

Pierce had experienced three years of disappointment and injuries. She called Groeneveld because he knew her, because he had been there when she was winning and because she thought he could help.

He put her on a workout program, found her a physical trainer who has tested her body, looking for strengths and weaknesses. He has told her not to be impatient, to strengthen her body, lose weight and grow strong so the injuries don't return. And then, at the end of six months, he told her, they will assess where she is.

"When I won the French Open, I just felt like I was only starting to scratch the surface of coming into myself and my potential and being the best that I can be," Pierce said of her continued motivation to try again. "Since then I, you know, had some injuries. I've been out for a while. So I just feel like I haven't really done everything that's in me to accomplish in tennis. What that is, I don't know. But I just feel like I have more in me."

Yesterday, she seemed to be down and out, with little more to give in the third set. Dokic was rolling, looked confident and served for the match twice at 5-2 and again at 5-4.

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But after forging that 5-1 lead, Dokic won just four of the next 24 points.

"I played her last year, and she was much worse than she was now," said Dokic, who blamed her own nervous play, not Pierce's performance, for her loss. "She's lost some weight and she's moving better. ... And she hits the ball harder than anyone. I mean, some of the shots she hit, I didn't see."

Pierce, who is ranked 64th, smiled at her good fortune yesterday. She said she is still "not back on the level" she wants to be.

"It's still a process for me," she said. "So, the fitness and my physical level is getting better, but it's not there yet. That was also an issue for me. My legs kind of weren't there in the third set, so I just said, 'Just start going for your shots.' "

Pierce has no expectations here as she moves into the third round. She said she has basically "started from zero, started all over again."

But the victory didn't hurt.

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"Let's see how she recovers," said Groeneveld, when asked if expectations come with a victory like yesterday's. "But that victory, it shows there is a lot of character and will in there determined to come out."

Results

Men's singles

Second round

Paradorn Srichaphan (11), Thailand, def. Dominik Hrbaty, Slovakia, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3.

Juan Ignacio Chela (33), Argentina, def. Tomas Berdych, Czech Republic, 2-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-3.

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Lleyton Hewitt (6), Australia, def. Lee Hyung-taik, South Korea, 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4.

Fernando Verdasco, Spain, def. Davide Sanguinetti, Italy, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-3.

Jonas Bjorkman, Sweden, def. Ramon Delgado, Paraguay, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

Juan Carlos Ferrero (3), Spain, def. Jurgen Melzer, Austria, 1-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2, 6-4.

Yevgeny Kafelnikov (28), Russia, def. Kenneth Carlsen, Denmark, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3.

Todd Martin, United States, def. Martin Verkerk (16), Netherlands, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (9).

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Radek Stepanek, Czech Republic, def. Fabrice Santoro, France, 6-2, 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-3.

Guillermo Coria (5), Argentina, def. Bohdan Ulihrach, Czech Republic, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4.

Gregory Carraz, France, def. Arnaud Clement (31), France, 3-6, 1-6, 6-2, 7-6 (3), 6-1.

Karol Kucera, Slovakia, def. Mardy Fish (24), United States, 6-4, 7-6 (7), 6-4.

Taylor Dent, United States, def. Nikolay Davydenko, Russia, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7).

Fernando Gonzalez (15), Chile, def. Stefan Koubek, Austria, 7-6 (1), 6-1, 6-2.

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Robby Ginepri, United States, vs. Wayne Ferreira (23), South Africa, 6-2, 6-4, 6-7 (0), 6-2.

Andre Agassi (1), United States, def. Andreas Vinciguerra, Sweden, 7-6 (1), 6-1, 6-4.

Women's singles

Second round

Dinara Safina, Russia, def. Ludmila Cervanova, Slovakia, 6-4, 6-1.

Saori Obata, Japan, def. Marie-Gaianeh Mikaelian (32), Switzerland, 7-5, 6-4.

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Claudine Schaul, Luxembourg, def. Samantha Reeves, United States, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3.

Ai Sugiyama (15), Japan, def. Virginie Razzano, France, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Mary Pierce, France, def. Jelena Dokic (22), Serbia-Montenegro, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5).

Shinobu Asagoe, Japan, def. Tathiana Garbin, Italy, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2.

Maria Sanchez Lorenzo, Spain, def. Magui Serna (30), Spain, 7-5, 6-1.

Elena Dementieva (11), Russia, def. Tatiana Perebiynis, Ukraine, 5-7, 6-4, 6-0.

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Nicole Pratt, Australia, def. Silvia Farina Elia (20), Italy, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-1.

Amy Frazier, United States, def. Nathalie Dechy (23), France, walkover.

Tina Pisnik, Slovenia, def. Katarina Srebotnik (33), Slovenia, 7-5, 6-0.

Justine Henin-Hardenne (2), Belgium, def. Silvija Talaja, Croatia, 6-1, 6-2.

Anastasia Myskina (7), Russia, def. Antonella Serra Zanetti, Italy, 6-2, 2-6, 7-6 (3).

Francesca Schiavone (29), Italy, def. Arantxa Parra, Spain, 6-4, 6-3.

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Jennifer Capriati (6), United States, def. Martina Sucha, Slovakia, 6-1, 6-1.

Emilie Loit, France, def. Maria Sharapova, Russia, 6-3, 6-4.

Feature matches

Men today

* Jean-Rene Lisnard

vs. Roger Federer (2)

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* Ivan Ljubicic

vs. Andy Roddick (4)

Women today

* Kim Clijsters (1)

vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova (27)


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