Tennis: Mystery over Pierce withdrawal: Why won't the No 7 seed be at Wimbledon? John Roberts reports

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THE Mary Pierce affair continued to dominate Wimbledon yesterday as speculation increased concerning her reasons for withdrawing from the Championships, which start today.

Did the No 7 seed fear that her troublesome father would attempt to defy the ban preventing him from attending tournaments? Or did she dread making her debut in match against a French compatriot who had already beaten her twice?

Pierce, the runner-up at the recent French Open, left England with her mother, Yannick, on Saturday afternoon after informing the All England Club that she was unable to compete, 'For reasons far beyond my control'.

The only reason, it was assumed, was that her father, Jim Pierce, had told The Sun last week that he intended to come to Wimbledon and cause a scene. This was followed by rumours that The Sun intended to fly him over from his home in Florida. Though the newspaper admitted paying Pierce for the interview, they denied that they intended to bring him to London.

Yesterday, however, Billie Jean King, the winner of 20 Wimbledon titles, said in a BBC 2 interview that Pierce's fellow players believed stage fright was responsible. In the first round, Pierce had been drawn to play Julie Halard, the French No 2, the winner in straight sets of their previous two matches, in Puerto Rico and Berlin.

'Many of the players,' King said, 'think that the stuff about her dad is just a smoke screen. Last week the players at Eastbourne were taking bets when she would withdraw. A mass of players thought she would withdraw because she had a tough draw. I think it is probably a combination of all things. Not being comfortable on grass is one of them, and there's the story about her father being paid by a newspaper to come over here.'

The French No 3, Nathalie Tauziat echoed King's thoughts. 'Just look at her draw,' she said.

The Wimbledon tournament referee, Alan Mills, admitted that security would have been a difficult problem. 'If her father was determined to get in it would be difficult to recognise him, especially if he was planning a disguise,' he said. 'If she was aware he was coming, she did not say anything about it to us. But she and her mother were very, very worried and didn't want to be part of any possible outburst.'

In the 21 and under event at Eastbourne, Pierce, 19, lost in straight sets in the second round to Ludmila Varmuzova, aged 15. Pierce also competed in the doubles event with Jana Novotna and said adjusting to the grass courts after playing on clay had produced a few aches and strains.

At the time, Pierce did not seem overly concerned about the newspaper story involving her father, an ex-convict who was banned from tournaments by the Women's Tennis Council after his disruptive behaviour at the French Open last year. She said she did not believe he had said he would come to Wimbledon.

The increasing publicity which surrounded her during the course of the week did, apparently, begin to worry her mother.

Pierce withdraw from Wimbledon last year on the first Monday, because of a viral infection.