Pierce wins Family Circle tournament

Top-seeded Mary Pierce, who finished off a week of dominance today by breaking one of Chris Evert's records, easily beat Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario to win the Family Circle Cup at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

Pierce, who earned $166,000 for her first win of the season, lost only 12 games during the tournament. That topped the record of 15 by 1985 champion Evert.

"This has been a great, great week for me," said Pierce, at times recognised less for her play than her sometimes-petulant attitude and well-chronicled estrangement from her father. "I've just become more and more relaxed and more at peace with everything that I do."

The former Australian Open champion easily dumped No 3 Monica Seles, 6-1, 6-1 in the semi-finals. But she figured to have more trouble with Sanchez-Vicario, sometimes called a human backboard, who won a three-hour match against Amanda Coetzer in the quarter-finals.

Instead, Pierce won the final Family Circle at Sea Pines Racquet Club 6-1, 6-0, in just 57 minutes.

The Spaniard, who won this title in 1996, proved as helpless as everyone else against Pierce's powerful serves - which often topped 110 mph - and hard forehands.

Sanchez-Vicario trailed 2-1 in the first set. But she netted a drop shot then hit her normally reliable forehand long for Pierce's second break. Sanchez-Vicario again had a chance to close ground two games later.

But she sent a forehand out, stopped playing on a ball she thought was long but was ruled good, and slammed the net cord on a backhand.

"The first set was much closer than it showed," Sanchez-Vicario said. "But once Mary was on a roll, she didn't miss much."

Pierce quickly ended Sanchez-Vicario's hopes in the second set. The Frenchwoman won 12 consecutive points during one stretch - and 14 of the final 15 - smashing forehands deep into the corners as Sanchez-Vicario stood and watched.

"The score was extreme," Pierce said. "Still, for every point, I had to work really hard."

Pierce, whose pro debut came at the 1989 Family Circle when she was 14, smiled after one more forehand zipped down the line to close the match.

"It's amazing to think how far I've come since then in my tennis, in my life," said Pierce, engaged to Cleveland Indians second baseman Roberto Alomar.

Sanchez-Vicario has lost five of her past six matches with Pierce, who collected her 14th career title.

Pierce's win also ended the Family Circle's run here, which started in 1973 when promoters offered a then-unheard-of $100,000 for a women's-only tournament.

"It was really what helped get us started," said Rosie Casals, who made $30,000 for winning that first event.

The tournament, which shared cramped quarters on the lush resort with the PGA Tour's MCI Classic each spring, will move two hours north to Charleston next year.

"We hope to see you all up in Charleston," James McEwen, the Family Circle Magazine publisher, told a sellout crowd, which booed. "Well, at least we let you voice your opinion."

Pierce scooped out some green clay at Stadium Court with a golden shovel and placed it into a crystal vase. The clay will move with the tournament to Charleston.

"We want to bring a piece of our tradition with us," said tournament spokeswoman Robin Reynolds.

Sanchez-Vicario extended her own tournament mark with her 14th straight appearance.

"It's a little bit sad," she said of the move. "I've made so many friends and memories here."

Pierce was pleased she could add her own successful memory at one of the WTA's signature events.

"It's the last time it's going to be played here and I won the tournament," she said. "So it's really special."

Singles Championship

(1) Mary Pierce (Fr) def. (4) Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (Sp) 6-1, 6-0.