Tennis: Sanchez Vicario reigns on Pierce's parade: Exultant Spaniard hails a unique French Open double as the darling of the Paris crowd sees her dreams of victory evaporate

Click to follow
THE French Open was transformed into the Spanish closed championships here yesterday the moment Arantxa Sanchez Vicario screamed with delight on match point as the ball fell wide of a sideline from Mary Pierce's racket.

Less than four hours after Sanchez Vicario renewed acquaintance with the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen, which she first held as a 17-year-old in 1989, Sergi Bruguera received the Coupe des Mousquetaires from King Juan Carlos after defeating Alberto Berasategui.

Spain had never before hailed two Grand Slam singles champions in the same tournament, let alone on the same afternoon (courtesy of Saturday's rain), and France was left with the consolation of Pierce's silver salver.

Francoise Durr, the last Frenchwoman to win the title, in 1967, handed the winner's prize to Sanchez Vicario and then offered Pierce a sympathetic shoulder, a la the Duchess of Kent to Jana Novotna at Wimbledon last July.

Though the sense of anti- climax was palpable, the crowd absorbed the disappointment of Pierce's performance in losing, 6-4, 6-4, and did their best to raise her spirits. 'Mar-ie] Mar-ie]' they chanted, with only marginally less enthusiam than after the 12th seed's sensational win in straight sets against Steffi Graf in the semi-finals.

Sanchez Vicario's retrieving style presents different problems, as Graf discovered here five years ago. Pierce's drives, which had boomed past the world No 1 on Friday, failed her too often against the No 2 seed yesterday, as 51 unforced errors indicate.

'Up until now I have just been enjoying myself, but today I was too nervous,' the 19- year-old Pierce said. 'I wanted to win too much. I was missing some experience, and I think she handled all the circumstances and situations better than I did.'

The circumstances could hardly have helped either player. Sent to the court shortly before 6.30pm on Saturday, four and a half hours behind schedule, and with sombre clouds merely pausing before resuming the drenching of Stade Roland Garros, they were back in the locker-room 17 minutes later, play suspended overnight.

Pierce, leading 2-1, had a break point to sleep on. She converted it with a backhand drive shortly after noon yesterday, when sunshine arrvied to accompany the wind. Everything went downhill from there. So much for psychological advantages.

Sanchez Vicario broke back in the next game, though it took her 15 minutes to do so, on her fourth break point. Pierce, who in the meantime had three game points, smacked herself on the head with her racket as a punishment for missing them. It had little affect. Having conceded only 10 games en route to the final, a championship record for the open era, Pierce suddenly found them mounting against her. In the hour and 34 minutes played yesterday, she was only once free of break points on her serve, and that was in the ninth game of the second set, when Sanchez Vicario could already see the gleam of the trophy.

The only sign of a Pierce revival had been and gone already. After saving a break point that would have put her 4-1 down, she provoked Sanchez Vicario into making errors and levelled the set, 3-3. A forehand over the baseline - the story of Pierce's day - offered the Spaniard an opportunity to move ahead again, and she was not to be caught.

After curtsying to the king at her court, Sanchez Vicario began to think of the reception awaiting her Spain. 'It is going to be crazy,' she said. 'It is going to be very exciting to see the same atmosphere that I had five years ago, and more proud because a Spanish man has won also.' Pierce's next stop will be Eastbourne, where she has entered the 21 and under event at the Volkwagen Championships in preparation for her first visit to Wimbledon.

Bruguera's victory, page 30