Canadian-born Frenchwoman Mary Pierce infuriated the Roland Garros fans for years with her eyelash-tweaking and hair re-arranging between points, there was also the little matter of a 1994 final defeat, as each year she flattered only to deceive on 'home' ground.
That was before she settled into a long-term relationship with Major League Baseball star Roberto Alomar and re-embraced Catholicism.
Thus galvanized, she promptly became the first French winner of the Roland Garros singles crown since Francoise Durr in 1967 and having accomplished her life-long dream 25-year-old Pierce can now take a more relaxed view as she contemplates how best to transfer that form to Wimbledon.
Pierce is not by any means an instinctive serve-and-volley merchant and her best finish in five trips to Wimbledon remains a quarterfinal loss in 1996.
Last year she bowed out in the fourth round to Aussie teen star and qualifier Jelena Dokic, who had humiliated Martina Hingis in the opening round, but Pierce says she has no problem with the grass court game.
"I feel every year I enjoy grass more and more and I'm playing better on it. But I only play three weeks a year on it, it's not like you get a lot of practice," says Pierce, who begins her challenge against Nicole Pratt of Australia.
"Playing on grass against anybody is a really tough match, bad bounces every time the ball hits the ground," she added warily prior to arriving in England, where on Wednesday she echoed recent criticisms of Wimbledon made in Paris by Andrei Medvedev.
Medvedev blasted the organizers for, as he saw it, treating the top stars better than the rest and Pierce weighed in with an attack of her own.
"Wimbledon is not very player-friendly. They don't want to pick you up at the airport," she sniped.
"It is the most prestigious tournament but not so enjoyable as the others."
That aside, Pierce, who won her first Grand Slam title at the 1995 Australian Open, hopes to take advantage of her superlative form and the confidence which accompanies it to give herself, and French tennis, another huge shot in the arm.
To date 'La Grande Nation' has only had one women's singles champion in London, the legendary Suzanne Lenglen, who won the last of her six titles back in 1925.
With Pierce, the French scent a long-overdue addition to the record books.
She, meanwhile, is content for fate to bring with it what it may.
"Everything is in God's hands. I no longer want to torture myself on court. Just offer up a prayer and things will be fine" -- (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)