The seventh seed from France, who had been overwhelmed by Hingis in the Australian Open final, got off to a phenomenal start in Thursday's match and held on for a 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 victory over the 17-year-old Swiss that brought a standing ovation.
"I gave it my all. I left everything I had on the court," said Pierce after reaching the semi-final of the season-ending tournament for the third time.
Pierce now plays compatriot Nathalie Tauziat, who kept up the steady stream of upsets by defeating Iva Majoli, the sixth-seeded French Open champion, 7-6, 7-6. Tauziat, at 30 the senior member of the elite 16-player field who started the tournament, had already disposed of fourth-seed Amanda Coetzer.
The fans at Madison Square Garden gave Hingis a warm reception, but then got behind Pierce as the drama unfolded.
"I think the crowd was awesome. They really helped me a lot. I think they appreciated the great tennis from both of us." Pierce said.
She finally got the seemingly unflappable Swiss teenager to lose her temper in the third set when she broke Hingis for a 6-5 lead that left her serving for the match. Hingis responded by flinging her racket across the court towards her seat, which resulted in a code violation.
However, in the next game, Pierce was a bundle of nerves. Before each serve she had to take deep breaths to calm herself and went through a series of nervous twitches, earning a time violation after reaching her third match point.
She twice double-faulted in the final game, but followed the second with a 99mph ace at break point. Hingis, runner-up to Steffi Graf last year, saved two match points in the final game, while Pierce fought off three break points.
On her third match point, Pierce chased a ball deep into the corner but managed a terrific lunging backhand. Hingis' return was wide and Pierce thrust her fists over her head in victory.Reuse content