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Persona Non Grata
Sally Jenkins
August 23, 1993
Because of his abuse of his daughter, Mary, Jim Pierce isn't welcome on the tour
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August 23, 1993

Persona Non Grata

Because of his abuse of his daughter, Mary, Jim Pierce isn't welcome on the tour

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Jim refused to be interviewed by SI, which first reported his abusive behavior toward Mary in our May 7, 1990, issue. When reached by telephone, he said, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has done me so bad, the only reason I can see talking to them is if they pay me."

In interviews with other publications, he has denied physically abusing Mary. He said that at Yannick's instigation his family had thrown him out "like an old dog" and that he is so poor he will have to sell his gold jewelry. He admits to punching Mary's bodyguard in Italy but says, "I just wanted to talk to her."

Mary says she pays all of Jim's bills, including the rent on the condominium. Mary, who earned $183,436 in prize money last year and next to nothing off the court, also offered to open a bank account for her father and to help him resume his former occupation as a jeweler, but he refused. She provides him with $500 a week but is loath to give him more for fear he will buy a plane ticket and follow her.

According to Mary, she has no intention of ending her relationship with her father. "My dad has done a lot for me," she says, "and I thank him very much. He was there in the beginning." But she does not want any contact with him for the time being, and she resents his attempts to control her. "I don't know what he thinks he's going to accomplish," she says. "It's not going to make things any better with me or my mother or my brother."

Jim has displayed a pattern of physical abuse toward Mary ever since she first picked up a racket, when she was 10. "He would slap me after I lost a match or sometimes just if I had had a bad practice," she says. Mary seldom told anyone of her father's abuse, including her mother. "When I told my mom, that would cause fights too," she says. "So sometimes you're afraid to say anything because of that."

Jim has admitted to striking her once, at a tournament in Italy in 1991, when he slapped her for spitting and cursing at him after a practice session. Yannick demurs when asked if Jim has struck her as well. "I don't answer that," she says. "It's too private." However, according to the restraining order Yannick filed on Mary's behalf in San Diego on July 29, Jim "would threaten to kill me, would slap me around." As long as Mary didn't complain, no one could help her. Jim made sure Mary had no close friends, insisting that the family was enough. In November 1990, when Mary's very first date came to pick her up, Jim made the two of them sit in the living room and watch a match between Sabatini and Monica Seles. He would not let them leave until it ended.

A legion of coaches and hitting partners came and went. "As soon as they got friendly with Mary, he'd get rid of them," says David. "It was all about control."

Small wonder that Mary has been an isolated figure on the circuit. She keeps company with the entourage that she financially supports: her mother and brother, Gimenez, hitting partner Doug Sachs and the latest bodyguard. In San Diego that was Theo; at Flushing Meadow it will be someone else. Mary has not been back to Delray Beach in four months, and until she's eliminated from the U.S. Open, she will live in New York-area hotels.

When she wanted a snack in San Diego, Theo dashed from the practice court to the concession stands with her, keeping a protective hand on her shoulder. Last week, during a tournament in Los Angeles, she lunched on the terrace of a restaurant with her mother and a scary-looking guy dressed all in black and wearing a billed cap that bore the legend NO FEAR. He was her new best friend, Nelson.

Mary has not had a permanent home or attended school since 1986, when Jim pulled her out of sixth grade so that she could train full time. She and David take correspondence courses. Says Mary, "I would like to have stayed in school, gone to a prom." Instead, the Pierces lived a nomadic existence: Jim quit his job, and the whole family traveled the junior and satellite circuits.

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