Tennis / Wimbledon '94: Pierce out of Wimbledon

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THE extraordinary career of Mary Pierce took another dramatic turn last night when she announced her withdrawal from the Wimbledon Championships starting tomorrow. The 19-year-old Frenchwoman, preparing for her first appearance at the All England Club, took the decision, she said: 'for reasons far beyond my control'.

The announcement followed a meeting between Pierce, her mother Yannick, Georgina Clark of the Tour Players' Association, and Chris Gorringe, the chief executive of the All England club. Pierce issued a statement which said: 'For reasons far beyond my control, I have decided not to participate in the most prestigious and traditional tournament in the world. Please accept the facts - both my mother and I have reviewed all these circumstances.

'Without a doubt they clearly indicate that my absence and withdrawal would serve the best interest to the Wimbledon Championships, the dedicated and non-partial fans, and lastly to my mother, brother and myself. I truly hope and pray for the continued success of the Wimbledon Championships and I am sorry that I can't be a part of it this year, but I'm looking forward in the future to be part of the playing tradition.'

The oblique nature of Pierce's announcement, and the stress it places on the welfare of her family, has led inevitably to speculation that her withdrawal is connected to her father and former coach Jim Pierce, whose involvement with his daughter ended last year when he was banned from the French Open.

Mr Pierce, an American who has served a gaol sentence for attempted armed robbery, has admitted that so fanatical was he when his daughter was growing up that she should succeed at tennis that he resorted to physical violence against her. Matters came to a head in Paris in 1993 when he had an altercation with a spectator during one of his daughter's matches, and after she had drawn attention to it, was banned from the tournament.

Since then, a court order has prevented him from seeing Pierce, whose French mother has been her constant companion. She acquired a new coach in Nick Bollettieri - a former coach of Andre Agassi and Monica Seles - and her tennis improved markedly. She was the star of last month's French Open, beating Steffi Graf in the semi-finals before losing to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the final.

Whenever she has been asked about the events of last year, Pierce's line has remained consistent, saying that she had had some hard decisions to make, but that she did not regret them and now wanted to get on with her life. Her father, meanwhile, has been living in Florida, and in recent weeks has said that he has his own regrets about the past. But it is clear that he still feels very involved with his daughter and her tennis. This would have been Pierce's first Wimbledon.

With Pierce's withdrawal, Lindsay Davenport moves up to No 7 seed, the previously unseeded Helena Sukova replaces Davenport as No 9 seed, and Andrea Strnadova of the Czech Republic takes Sukova's place.

Wimbledon preview, page 6