Pierce's stormy quest to be a winner has peaceful ending in Melbourne AUSTRALIAN OPEN

January 29, 1995|By New York Times News Service

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Mary Pierce, the prodigy who needed to cut her parental ties to achieve what a now-banished tennis father had demanded of her, finally attained some Grand Slam peace of mind yesterday by capturing the Australian Open.

Pierce, 20, a well-traveled citizen of the world who carries three passports but claims France as her nationality, became the first Frenchwoman to win a Grand Slam singles title since Francoise Durr prevailed at the 1967 French Open.

Pierce avenged her 1994 French Open final loss to Spain's Arantxa Sanchez Vicario with a vengeance yesterday beneath the gathering clouds at steamy Flinders Park, seizing her first Grand Slam title with a 6-3, 6-2 defeat of her top-seeded opponent.

As has been the case for the last two years, Pierce's father and former coach, Jim, was not on hand to see his daughter's victory by playing just the way he taught her: hitting her ground strokes with brute force. Jim Pierce continues to be unconditionally banned from the circuit for his habitual disruptions of Mary's matches on the court.

She did not mention him when she received her silver trophy, though she later alluded to her hope of pursuing a civil father-daughter relationship. "I have him in my thoughts outside of my tennis life," she said.

"My goal this year was to win a Slam and better my ranking, and now I've already done it," said Pierce.

The doubly destructive defeat not only cost Sanchez Vicario an opportunity to convert her seventh Slam final into a fourth Slam crown, but it also denied her, at least temporarily, the chance to become the first Spanish woman ever to acquire the No. 1 ranking.

Instead, Pierce made her second trip to a Grand Slam final a memorable one. "I'll never forget this my whole life," said Pierce, who almost forgot how to serve in the opening set, where she didn't manage to hold until the fifth game.

Fortunately for Pierce, the fourth seed, Sanchez Vicario had the same handicap in the early going. She didn't hold until the sixth game, so this off-serve format initially failed to prove a setback to either player.

But a nagging twinge of tendinitis in her right arm did, said Sanchez Vicario, hamper her serving ability, and without that component in working order, she felt herself to be all too exploitable.

Sanchez Vicario called it a small but deserved consolation that, due to Steffi Graf's withdrawal next week from Tokyo, where the German had a defending champion's points to defend, the No. 1 ranking will automatically be ceded to her on Feb. 6.

"It would be nicer if I had been able to win this event, but I've been working hard to get to No. 1," said Sanchez Vicario, who earned a WTA Tour-leading eight titles in 1994, including a pair of Grand Slam titles at the French and U.S. opens.

Pierce, although she prefers to keep her father at arm's length, did give him credit during her flawless Australian run for grooming her ground strokes with incessant practice sessions, and developing her hunger for Grand Slam glory with incessant harangues about her championship potential.

"When I was working with my father, he pushed me really hard, which I don't regret," Pierce said. "I think he gave me the hard-work ethic. In the eight years I was with him, I think I played maybe 15 years' worth because I put so many hours in. So, I think I perfected my strokes pretty much then."

Now coached by Nick Bollettieri and Sven Groeneveld, Pierce has apparently gained the missing link to her game, mental composure, that enabled her to reach this new height -- and a career-best ranking of No. 3 in the world.

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