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'05 finalist Pierce finally fit

9/1/2006 - Tennis

PIERCE WINS IN STRAIGHT SETS

By Keith Hawkins, ESPN.com tennis editor

NEW YORK -- Each one of last year's U.S. Open finalists seems to have a compelling story for this year's fortnight: Andre Agassi's farewell tour; Roger Federer attempting to become the third men's player in the Open Era to win three straight U.S. Open titles; and Kim Clijsters, who isn't even in Flushing Meadows (the defending champ is out with a wrist injury).

Then there's Mary Pierce, whose presence, despite being the No. 13 seed, has gone virtually unnoticed -- especially for someone who was one win from the title last year.

The Frenchwoman advanced to the third round of this year's U.S. Open following a 6-3, 6-4 win Thursday over Eva Birnerova. Pierce is playing in her first Grand Slam since losing in the second round of the Australian Open, her year shortened by various injuries to her right foot. But that's all behind her.

Mary PierceEd Betz/AP Photo2005 finalist Mary Pierce is finally healthy after battling injuries most of the season.

"I'm healthy now," Pierce said. "I probably wouldn't say I'm at my best fitness level and I haven't played that much lately, but I'm healthy and that's all that matters."

Next up for Pierce is No. 24 Na Li, a three-set winner Thursday over Eleni Daniilidou. This will be the first meeting between the two.

"I like to keep things pretty simple, so I'll just try to figure out a little bit about her and that's pretty much it," said Pierce when asked how she plans to prepare for someone she's never played before. "I like to go on the court and have a little bit of information about my opponent.

"The main thing is just really to play my game … and while you are playing the match, as it goes along, you kind of figure things out."