Juicy Jim Pierce interview...talks about Mary, Justine, Richard Williams and more!
Pierce: Strike up the banned
Mary Pierce wants her once-notorious father, Jim, in the players' box at the French Open.
Published February 12, 2006
It has been almost 13 years since a half-dozen gendarmes in size-50 jackets forcibly escorted Big Jim Pierce off the grounds of the French Open, resulting in a ban that rocked the women's tennis tour.
Year after reclusive year in which Pierce has battled through a divorce, patched things up with his daughter, Mary, and carefully avoided television and newspaper reporters.
Even after a half hour on the phone with Pierce a week ago I'm not sure why he called, though one fascinating piece of news came out of the long conversation.
Mary, who last year resurrected her 16-year career by reaching the finals of the French Open and U.S. Open and the quarters at Wimbledon, wants dad to be with her in Paris this year, sitting in the players' box for the first time since 1993 and cheering her on -- graciously, of course.
"Mary told my wife she was hoping we'd come. Of course, she'd never tell me because she's afraid I'd tell a reporter," Pierce said. "Print this and she'll see it, and then she'll really get on me about it.
"Of course, I'd love to be with her in Paris, sitting on the Court Centrale and watching her win. If she does the training like I want her to do, she's going to roll over everyone.
"Emotionally, it would be fantastic," Pierce said. "What could be better? When you win the French, you're the best. To me, anyone can win on grass on a given day. The French to me is better than 10 Australian Opens."
Yep, it was Jim Pierce's voice all right. And though he's obviously a changed, much more relaxed man, his patois is the same -- reverence for his daughter blended with a sense of impending doom if she doesn't keep coming back to Bradenton to work out with him.
"I told her how to play [Lindsay] Davenport at the French and she won. Then I told her [Justine] Henin can't hurt you in the final. She's a fighter, but not a great player, but she didn't win that one.
"Mary to me this past year, as I saw her and know her, she was maybe 65 to 70 percent where she could be. I was on the phone to her every day and sending her e-mails. She's got her woman's maturity now, and when she does her training, no one can beat her."
Last year's 43-13 record, with titles at San Diego and Moscow, was Mary's best season since 2000, when she won the French Open -- her second Grand Slam title.
It was the year she and her father reconciled for good. "I was standing on my balcony in Delray Beach, just thinking about Mary over in the Far East and wishing she would call me. Honest to God, the phone rang and she said, `Dad, you might have to coach me again.'
"So, I came up to Bradenton and we started training on some public courts near Bollettieri's until one day Nick told us to come inside, and he gave us a court in the back."
It's always hard to know how much of what Pierce tells you is dead on and how much is a proud father embellishing his role in her career, but I suspect it's a lot more truth than fiction.
Pierce was never a great tennis technician, but the man knows the game and he was the one who drove Mary, who can be very lazy, to the fitness level it took to win a couple of majors and 16 other titles.
That drive also was responsible, however, for what the WTA described as abusive behavior toward Mary's opponents at tournaments and the unpleasantness at the 1993 French Open.
"I didn't do anything wrong at the French Open," Pierce protested. "All I said was, `Come on, Mary. Fight.'
"But my ex-wife had the power over there because she's French and she told them, `If he says one thing, good or bad, take him out.' And after that they gave me a reputation as an abusive father.
"As God is my witness, may I burn in hell, I've never even spanked my children one time. They might have gotten a whack once when one of them said the F-word, but I've never abused them."
Pierce was banned from the WTA Tour for a year, but, in fact, he has not been to a tournament with Mary since the 1993 French. When Mary comes home to Florida, she trains with her father and younger brother, David, who is her traveling coach. Then Jim goes back to whatever he does all day and Mary hits the road.
For years, he had only occasional conversations with his daughter, when she would take his calls, and things were not good for Pierce financially, either.
"When my family left me back in '93, Richard Williams [father of Venus and Serena] came to my apartment and put a thousand dollars on the table and said, `That's yours every month as long as you need it.' But I couldn't take it."
Five years ago, Pierce married Svata, the Croatian aunt of a player Mary was training with at Bollettieri's. He's 70 now, and life seems to have evened out for him.
Meanwhile, Mary, at 31, doesn't quite have the movement she once did, but it was good enough to reach the final of the 2005 French, and that means covering a lot of court for two weeks.
Emotionally, I've never seen her in a better place. She's calm on the court and, apparently, committed to blazing through these last few years of her career in high form.
As for Big Jim, I wouldn't mind seeing him back at Roland Garros, sitting in the players' box and calling out encouragement to his daughter.
I can hear that booming voice screaming now: "Come on, Mary. Fight." Or something like that.
But I, being poor, have only my dreams
I have spread my dreams under your feet
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams