French tennis player
At five-feet-ten-inches and 150 pounds, Pierce has a powerful ground stroke that can overwhelm even her toughest opponents. She has won 15 tournaments, including two Grand Slam singles titles, the Australian Open in 1995 and the French Open in 2000. During the first half of her career Pierce's accomplishments on the court were often been overshadowed by antics of her overzealous and abusive father in the stands, who was banned from attending his daughter's tennis tournaments in 1993 by the Women's Tennis Council (WTC).
A Tennis Natural
Mary Pierce was born on January 15, 1975, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, to an American father and a French mother. Soon after her birth her parents, Jim and Yannick (Adjani) Pierce, married. The following year Pierce's brother, David, was born. The family moved to Florida, where her father, an ex-Marine with a criminal record, made and sold jewelry. In his first attempt at the classic middle-class American life, Pierce's father joined the local country club and took up golf, and Pierce was persuaded to join the club's junior tennis clinic. After just a couple of sessions of watching the already athletic ten-year-old Pierce strike the ball, her father's attention turned from golf to his daughter's future in tennis.
Just two weeks after picking up a racket for the first time, Pierce, who also participated in gymnastics and ballet as a child, defeated the twentieth ranked local player in a 12-and-under division tournament. By the age of 12, Pierce was the No. 2 player in the United States in the 12-and-under division. Although he had no experience in tennis, Pierce's father studied the game until he was ready to take over as his daughter's coach. Everything in the Pierce family began to revolve around Pierce's tennis. They sold their house and replaced two cars with one, and in 1986, when Pierce was in sixth grade, Jim Pierce pulled Pierce and her brother out of school so they would be free to travel the amateur circuit.
The children were taught by their mother, and both children took correspondence courses to complete their high school education.
As quickly as Pierce was earning a reputation for her hard-hitting forehand, her father was becoming infamous for his abusive and berating behavior. He bragged about how hard he worked his daughter, telling The Sporting News in 1993, "For seven years, eight hours a day, I hit 700 serves at Mary. We usta work until midnight. My young son slept by the net. I wouldn't let Mary leave until she got it right. Sure, she cried. I cried, too. So what?" He controlled everything, including her diet, her workouts, and her friends. Pierce told Sports Illustrated "He was always very tough, but the more and more I was winning, the better I was doing, the tougher he got." Even early in her career, Pierce's father was openly abusive both to his daughter and anyone else who happened to be in his line of fire. In 1987 Pierce was playing 12-year-old Magdalena Maleeva in a tournament when her father screamed from the stands, "Mary, kill the bitch!" In response, Pierce threw h! er racket in her father's direction. As a result the Florida Tennis Association banned Jim Pierce from attending its tournaments for six months.
In 1988 the highly regarded Harry Hopman Tennis Academy in Wesley Chapel, Florida, refused to renew Pierce's scholarship because of her father's behavior. Pierce turned professional just three months after her fourteenth birthday in 1989. At the time she was the youngest professional ever. (The following year Jennifer Capriati turned pro at the age of thirteen.) In 1990 the United States Tennis Association (USTA), who had been working to provide Pierce with financial and coaching support, withdrew funding because of Jim Pierce's volatile and abusive behavior that routinely included courtside tantrums and verbally berating his daughter, lines judges, opponents, and fans. Claiming that he was fed up with the USTA's lack of support, Jim Pierce moved the family to France where Pierce and her French-born mother had citizenship. Pierce received financial support in exchange for playing on the French Olympic and! Federation Cup teams.
The Jim Pierce Rule
Although Pierce, who spoke little French, had difficulty adjusting to the move, her tennis game continued to improve. She won her first tournament in Italy in 1991, but winning only seemed to fuel her father's fanatical behavior. When Pierce, playing for France in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, lost in the second round, her father screamed at her so much that she ran to the locker room in tears. Later, still enraged, he totaled his rental car. During the 1992 French Open, in which Pierce reached the fourth round, he punched two fans who were ridiculing Pierce's play. As Pierce walked off the court after losing to an unseeded player in the Italian Open, Jim Pierce threw an equipment bag at her. He then followed her into the parking lot and was seen slapping her. The next week, 17-year-old Pierce withdrew from the tournament. Later Pierce would admit that her father was physically as well as verbally abusive.
As the pressure to win every point became more and more unbearable, Pierce began to show signs of cracking. She was nervous and ill-at-ease on the court. Sometimes she would lose on purpose or simply forfeit, feigning an injury. The situation reached a climax during the 1993 French Open. Jim Pierce became enraged when he saw his daughter in the stands chatting and laughing with her 22-year-old cousin, Olivier. He attacked Olivier, choking him badly enough that he required medical attention. Jim Pierce's excuse was that the cousin was distracting Pierce, who was supposed to be scouting an upcoming opponent. Later, when Pierce was playing a match, her father began yelling at her, and tournament officials ejected him.
As a result the WTC enacted a new rule, known as the Jim Pierce Rule, that allows a player's disruptive family members or coaches to be banned from attending tournaments. Jim Pierce was denied entrance to tournaments in which his daughter played. At the same time, Pierce finally decided to break ties with her father and fired him as her coach. Her mother also began divorce proceedings. However, Jim Pierce did not go quietly; he made physical threats and stalked his daughter around the country. Tournament officials and ticket booths were supplied with his picture to prevent him from getting into a tournament. Pierce, fearing for her safety, hired bodyguards and requested restraining orders against her father.
Two Grand Slam Singles Titles
Pierce's break from her father proved to be a turning point in her career. In 1994 she reached the quarter finals of the U.S. Open and the finals of the French Open. In 1995 she won her first Grand Slam tournament by beating Arantxa Sanchez Vicario , 6-3, 6-2, in the Australian Open. Feeling the pressure from fans to continue winning, Pierce's game slumped for the remainder of the year and into 1996. By 1997 she was back on track, reaching the finals of Australian Open and the fourth round in the U.S. Open, the French Open, and Wimbledon. In 1998 she was once again in the top ten, with a No. 6 ranking.
|1975||Born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada|
|1985||Begins to play tennis at the age of 10|
|1987||Withdraws from school to travel to tournaments; ranked No. 2 in the United States among 12-and-under girls|
|1989||Turns professional soon after her fourteenth birthday|
|1990||Moves to France after the United States Tennis Association (USTA) withdraws its financial support|
|1990-92||Plays with French Federation Cup Team|
|1991||Wins first professional tournament in Palermo, Italy|
|1992||Competes in Olympic Summer Games for France; Pierce's father punches two fans at the French Open|
|1993||Pierce's father is banned from attending tournaments; Pierce fires her father as her coach; hires body guards and seeks restraining orders|
|1994-97||Plays with French Federation Cup Team|
|1995||Wins first Grand Slam, the Australian Open; attains No. 3 ranking (January 30-June 11; July 31-August 6)|
|1996||Competes in Olympic Summer Games for France|
|2000||Wins second Grand Slam, the French Open; regains No. 3 ranking (June 12-July 9)|
|2001||Withdraws from matches due to injury|
|2002||Returns to tour; reaches quarterfinals of the French Open|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1994||Reaches final of French Open|
|1995||Wins Australian Open|
|1997||Wins Italian Open|
|2000||Wins French Open, singles and doubles|
|2002||Wins Sanex Fans Award as most natural and nicest player at the French Open|
Pierce won the French Open in 2000, giving her a second Grand Slam singles title. Seeded sixth in the tournament, Pierce beat third and first seeds, Monica Seles and Martina Hingis , and then overcame Conchita Martinez, 6-2, 7-5, in the final round. She also won the doubles championship at the 2000 French Open, teaming with Hingis. An injury forced Pierce to sit out much of the 2001 season, but she returned in 2002; her best finish was the quarter finals of the French Open.
In 2001 Pierce forged a partial reconciliation with her father. He sporadically helped her train, but Pierce has yet to ask the WTC to lift the ban on her father's attendance courtside. Pierce has refused to answer questions regarding her father, maintaining that their relationship is a private matter. In November 2001, Pierce ended her engagement to professional baseball player, Roberto Alomar . She lives in Sarasota, Florida, with her two long-haired Chihuahuas, Gilbert and Ginger. Over the course of her dramatic and often melodramatic career, Pierce has earned more than $6 million on the court.
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Sketch by Kari Bethel