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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 worked his daughter eight hours a day. Sometimes he made her practice until midnight while David napped by the net. Bob Butterfield, a coach who worked briefly with Mary in Florida in 1989, says her decision to sever ties with her father "is the smartest thing she's ever done. You could say it comes eight years too late. This kid played under extremely adverse, even deplorable conditions."

From time to time she rebelled against those conditions. She would say she planned to remain at a girfriend's house for a sleepover and then go out dancing. She would wise off or ignore Jim. Sometimes she would tank a match or default one to spite him. At the International Players Championships in Key Biscayne, Fla., in 1992, Jim became particularly vocal during her third-round match against Brenda Schultz of the Netherlands. As Jim grew more and more abusive, Mary's play deteriorated. Finally, after Jim screamed at her once again, Mary, now trailing 4-0 in the third set, walked to the chair and defaulted, claiming she had a strained hack.

Ron Woods, the director of player development for the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA), noticed a similar pattern when Mary was playing satellite tournaments in the late 1980s. "Mary doesn't respond well to pressure," says Woods. "She would typically tank matches or simply give up. Remove the distraction and imagine what she could do. Now she'll have a chance to work things through."

During a three-week swing through Europe last year without Jim, Mary reached the semis of one tournament and won another. He didn't accompany her to this year's Australian Open, and she reached the quarterfinals, where she had three match points against Sabatini. Performances like those are what lead some observers to believe that Mary will have a breakthrough if she can remain free of her father and learn some strategy from Gimenez. "Mary can hit," says Nick Bollettieri, who has worked with her. "Now she has to learn how to win."

The public humiliations Mary has endured are as painful as the slaps. In 1988 the family was asked to leave the Harry Hopman Tennis Academy in Wesley Chapel, Fla., because of Jim's rages. A year earlier, at the Orange Bowl junior championships, Jim screamed during Mary's match against Magdalena Maleeva, "Mary, kill the bitch!" Mary reacted by throwing her racket toward him.

The Florida Tennis Association banned Jim for six months from junior tournaments in 1987 after receiving a series of complaints from players and parents. Once Jim slapped another player's father, knocking him to the ground. Another time he swore at and menaced a 12-year-old player who had just beaten Mary. After the match he stepped from behind a car and screamed, "You're a——, ——scumbag and you're never gonna amount to anything. You only beat my daughter because you got lucky. You're a piece of——."

In 1989 the USTA's player-development program withdrew its funding from the Pierces because Jim had quarreled with every coach the association had assigned to Mary. USTA staffers had the impression that Mary feared that her father would harm her physically. "It's surprising that she could play with that kind of baggage," says Woods. "We witnessed emotional outbursts at tournaments or when he was coaching her. We heard the intensity of his language. We were pretty convinced it went deeper than that, but we had no firsthand observations."

At the 1992 French Open, Jim punched two fans who had baited him during one of Mary's matches—and then bragged to the press about what he had done. At the Olympics in Barcelona, Jim berated Mary so fiercely after her second-round loss that she fled to the locker room in tears. Still furious, Jim then went out and wrecked his rental car.

The final straw for the WTC was a verbal outburst by Jim during Mary's third-round win at this year's French Open over Kimberly Po. Tournament officials ejected him from Roland Garros, pulled his pass and submitted a report to the WTC. There was more. A day earlier at the stadium, Jim had knocked down and choked Mary's 22-year-old cousin, Olivier, who had to be treated at the tournament infirmary. The reason? Jim had become furious when Mary and Olivier laughed and talked while watching a match she was supposed to be scouting.

WTC officials now say that the mounting evidence of physical abuse was a factor in their decision to ban Jim from the tour. They had received reports from players who had witnessed Jim's attacks on his daughter. One official had seen bruises on Mary at this year's French Open. When asked about the bruises, Mary pointed to two places on her arm where her father had gripped her so hard he left marks. Although the reports of physical abuse were not officially brought before the WTC when it met in June to rule on Jim's ban, sources say that members of the council were aware of them, "It certainly consolidated the decision," says a council member.

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