For all the dysfunctional tennis parents that are a few games short of a set, Jim Pierce long ago distinguished himself from the field. Jim, the erstwhile coach of his daughter, Mary, did time in jail for attempted robbery, punched out two fans at the 1992 French Open, regularly berated Mary in public and admitted to having hit her, and in 1996 sued her for breaching their coaching agreement. He chalked up repeated warnings from the WTA about his egregious conduct at tournaments and, after a verbal outburst at the '93 French Open, was banned from appearing on the grounds of WTA tour events. (The ban ended in 1997, but, at Mary's behest, he is still required to notify tour officials if he plans on attending a WTA event.) During the past seven years he has mercifully been off tennis's radar screen, save for a brief stint coaching U.S. pro Vince Spadea in 1998, and has had virtually no contact with Mary.
That changed two weeks ago. After a disappointing fourth-round exit from the Australian Open in January and a bad loss to little-known Lilia Osterloh at an event in Tokyo in February, Mary, ranked sixth in the world, summoned her father to help extricate her from a slump. Focusing primarily on conditioning, the two worked out for five days in Mary's hometown of Bradenton, Fla., and reportedly have an agreement to get together the next time she's in Florida. Their rapprochement was particularly perplexing given that as recently as the Australian Open, Mary told reporters that she and her father had no relationship. Asked why she abruptly ended the estrangement, Mary said, "My relationship with my father is personal and private. That's the way we want to keep it."
Currently coached by her older brother, David, Mary looked sharper after the workouts with Jim. She reached the semifinals of the State Farm Classic in Scottsdale, Ariz., early this month before losing to top-ranked Martina Hingis and as of Monday had reached the fourth round at the Tennis Masters Series at Indian Wells, Calif. Will Jim join his daughter on tour? "It's up to Mary," he says. That's not entirely true. Should Mary wish for Jim to attend events, she would still have to apply to the WTA in writing and explain why she was revoking her former request to restrict his access.