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post #493 of (permalink) Old Mar 8th, 2013, 06:40 PM
country flag Ms. Anthropic
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Re: 1992

Well, we all know how this turned out...

The Miami Herald
Thursday, January 23, 1992

If only Mary Pierce had spoken into a tape recorder.

As Nick Bollettieri approached her on an indoor court at his Bradenton, Fla., tennis academy, signaling the end of one practice drill and the start of another, Pierce let out a playful laugh and said quietly, "This is fun."

If only that comment could have been captured and replayed for all the self-designated psychologists who have analyzed Pierce, 17, the No. 26 player in the world, and concluded that she cannot be enjoying herself. They say she is a slave to her rigorous schedule and her driven father. They say she is a talented but force-fed tennis player ready to splinter beneath the pressure. Too much, too young, read the headline of an article on Pierce in the May 1990, Sports Illustrated.

That assessment ignores one fairly significant detail: Mary Pierce.

Perhaps, in truth, everything's not right. But it's far from all wrong.

For all the trauma Mary supposedly has gone through, she seems to be growing up just fine.

Last year, her best on the tour since she turned pro at 14, Mary jumped from 106 to 26 in the Virginia Slims rankings and won one singles tournament, beating Sandra Cecchini in the final at Palermo.

Mary is articulate and intelligent -- she gets A's in her high school correspondence courses -- and she's friendly, conversational and extremely modest. Bollettieri loves her, feeding her encouragement like tennis balls during practice. "Right there!" (Wham.) "Beautiful!" (Wallop.) "That's perfect, Mary!"

But Pierce, who skipped the Australian Open because of a lingering knee strain, is the focus of a controversial seven-year-old family project to build a tennis star. Her schedule, set by her father, gets her on the court four or five hours a day and requires an hour or two more of running and weightlifting. Her free time is restricted; she must be in bed by 10 every night and she's not allowed to have a boyfriend.

Yannick Pierce, Mary's mother, said coordinating Mary's tournament schedule and the family's travel is a full-time job. David, Mary's 15-year-old brother and an aspiring tennis player
himself, adjusts his plans to fit his sister's. Her earnings -- $90,000 in 1991 -- are the family's only income.

"It's a family affair," said Yannick Pierce, who has a Ph.D. in linguistics. "She's like the president of a company and we all work for her."

The most scrutinized element of the family business is Jim Pierce, Mary's father. Though Mary picked up a racket on her own at age 10 when the family lived in Clearwater, it was her father, a former jeweler and Marine, who put her on an eight-hour-a-day practice regimen a year later after Mary won her first junior national tournament.

Though Mary has spent the past three months in Bradenton working closely with Bollettieri, there is no question who is boss.

"I ask Jim's opinion on everything," Bollettieri said. "I'm not taking his daughter away -- it's all three of us working together."

They are working to get Mary to the top of the rankings where they believe she belongs. The Pierces leave Friday for Germany where Mary will compete in her first tournament in 1992, the $350,000 Nokia Grand Prix in Essen.

"Mary hits the ball as hard as any girl in the world from both sides," said Bollettieri, whose most famous former pupil is Andre Agassi. "She's big (5-11); she's fast; she's an athlete. In 12 to 18 months you could have a top five player in the world."

One day, when Jim Pierce saw Mary walking off the court, seemingly finished with practice for the morning, he looked at his watch and said: "Look at that. An hour and fifteen minutes and she thinks she's finished. She's not finished."

She wasn't. Jim Pierce had his daughter return balls for another 20 minutes. Mary offered not a word of protest.

This is the point in the story where the skeptics begin to shake their heads. Too much pushing, too much work, too little childhood, they say. Not true, Mary insists. Even when Jim Pierce's criticisms and manner sting, she said she realizes that, deep down, he has her best interest in mind.

"If I didn't like it, with all I've gone through," she said, "I wouldn't be playing now. Every coach in tennis will get mad. My dad does get very mad sometimes, but he loves me and he's doing what he thinks is best for me."

Jim Pierce, who dropped out of school after the eighth grade, said he is just trying to give his children the guidance he never had.

"I committed myself one million percent to my daughter and my son and my family. People just can't stand to see that kind of family unity. America doesn't have that any more." Mary disdains criticism but she genuinely loves the game. A very large smile spreads over her face when she talks about her dream: winning the French Open in her mother's home country. Though she and her family have lived in various parts of Florida for most of Mary's life, Mary said her strongest allegiance is to France, the country that has supported her most and for which she will play in the Olympics.

Sure, the practices are long -- maybe too long -- but Mary said she doesn't mind. She didn't want to miss a workout last week because of a cold, but her father insisted that she take the day off to rest. Like Jim Pierce, Mary is a perfectionist.

"I don't like to miss one shot," she said. "I figure if I can make one, I can make them all."
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