Pierce focuses on tennis, shuts out abusive father

September 04, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Mary Pierce would have been forgiven had she made just a cameo appearance in this year's U.S. Open. With everything else swirling around what has become her soap-opera life, it would have been easy for Pierce's mind not to be on her tennis.

But slowly, the headlines Pierce has made with allegations of physical and emotional abuse by her father and former coach, Jim, have started to move to the background. The focus is now on winning matches.

"Even in the beginning of the tournament, I tried to stay focused on the court, but it is kind of hard," Pierce, the women's 13th seed, said after defeating Brenda Schultz of the Netherlands, 7-5, 7-6 (7-3). "But I think as the tournament does go on it is probably easier. I get more confidence when I win more #i matches."

Pierce will need all the confidence, and concentration, she can muster when she meets Steffi Graf, the No. 1 seed and a two-time Open champion, in the fourth round. The 18-year-old Pierce lost to Graf in a close match last month in San Diego at a time when her private life was again bursting into the public's view.

Not that Pierce's family problems have been quietly pushed aside since they were the subject of a Sports Illustrated cover story last month. Jim Pierce, who was banned by the Women's Tennis Association from attending his daughter's matches and is xTC under court order not to have any contact with the family, has been waging his own publicity campaign in one New York tabloid.

Pierce has alleged that his estranged wife, Yannick, is having an affair with one of the bodyguards who now accompany his daughter everywhere. Yannick Pierce, who is here watching her daughter play, told New York Newsday that he has made these accusations before. Mary Pierce said after her first match at the Open that she is done talking about her family and will now talk only about her tennis.

"I feel like I am playing better than my first match, my second match a little better," Pierce said yesterday. "But I am still not happy about my game."

But Pierce is more relaxed with her surroundings. The nervousness of her opening-round match -- it appeared as if she was looking over her shoulder, scouring the crowd to see if her father had somehow sneaked through security -- has disappeared.

When she closed out the match yesterday against Schultz, one of the hardest hitters on the women's tour, Pierce was more animated than she has been in a long time, with a big smile and pumping her fist. It seemed she was enjoying herself.

And now comes her chance against Graf, with a surprisingly supportive New York crowd that will likely be on her side. Asked if she noticed that the fans here were rooting for her, Pierce smiled. "When I played here before, they would be for both of us," she said. "But it does seem that the crowd is a little bit more [for me] when I'm playing. It is a good feeling. It is nice to know."

Shoes are made for walking

Graf, who is used to rolling over her early-round opponents at most tournaments, had something different happen yesterday: a walkover. It came when her third-round opponent, Judith Wiesner of Austria, pulled out because of an upper respiratory problem.

Upset bug, or just a bug?

This year's U.S. Open has not only set a record for early upsets in the men's draw, but a remarkable number of players also have withdrawn because of physical ailments.

Two more pulled out yesterday -- Weisner and Ronald Agenor, who had gastroenteritis -- to bring the number to 10, nine of them in singles. There was talk of a stomach virus going around, since four players had the flu or cramps.

And Bob and Carol. . . .

With Andre Agassi out of the Open, it means that Barbra Streisand will not make any appearances here as she did at Wimbledon. But men's top seed Jim Courier had his picture taken yesterday with film star Sophia Loren, who has been in attendance the past couple of days.

Asked if he was going to spend any time with Loren, Courier joked. "I am going to go see her now," he said. "I guess it's kind of news to me, telling me, 'I saw Barbra and Andre and you and Sofia.' "

Can't wait to see today's New York Post.

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