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Has time finally come for Pierce dominance?

By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2000


Mary Pierce won an Australian Open, but should we expect more? Shouldn't she? Mary's power can pulverize.

This 5-foot-11 woman of the world, a Franco-American, has the ammo to create a captivating Big Three of women's tennis, uplinking with Martina Hingis and Lindsay Davenport as constant Grand Slam threats.

Or is happiness enough?

Last week, in the Family Circle Cup at Hilton Head, a strong tournament but hardly the U.S. Open or Wimbledon or French Open, unadorned by either Davenport or Hingis, there was a mighty-as-always but more-mobile-than-ever Pierce, blessed with new levels of personal tranquility and unprecedented domination.

She lost just 12 games in five matches, breaking a 15-year-old Chris Evert record, applying a 6-1, 6-1 crush to Monica Seles in the semis, then 6-1, 6-0 devastation to Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario.

Pierce's serves were clocked at 110. Throwing fastballs that Seles and S-V found all but unhittable.

Roberto would understand.

She played with uncharacteristically consistent confidence. Her career rap sheet is soiled by too many matches bussed by both sizzling highs and deadly lows. Golf has its John Daly, tennis has had Mary Pierce.

Davenport, with devout courage and a remarkable weight loss, dispensed her sky-scraping tennis demons. Lindsay rose from moderate excellence, gaining mobility while maintaining her natural 6-foot-2 power, becoming the artistic equal of Hingis. Those two are now notably superior to all the rest.

Pierce has the goods to crash the Martina/Lindsay party. Mary is extremely fit but must keep straining for foot speed that can allow strong head-to-head chances with Davenport and Hingis. Her competitive attitude and tranquil mind are most vital.

Peace, now a Mary ally.

Maybe we're seeing a 2000-style Pierce, with a more consistently focused mind, a happier heart and prospects that seem more heavenly than ever. Even if, in a California challenge with Hingis early this year, she took a huge early lead and then disintegrated like a balsa shack in a tornado.

This is clearly a work in progress. Pierce, like Jennifer Capriati, was a Florida tennis wonder child who would suffer from overload, mainly the result of a pushy coach/father. Jenny is at last rebounding, having personally scraped bottom. Hurrah for Ms. Capriati.

Pierce has progressed even more, having recently made peace with Daddy Jim, from whom she had been estranged. Back in his daughter's warm thoughts, Papa is again providing tennis instruction, although in a wholly unofficial capacity.

You be in control, Mary.

Pierce, who has made millions, has a rich and famous fiancee in Cleveland Indians second baseman Roberto Alomar. One of baseball's best players, his own character by now seems far more solid than what was widely concluded after he spat on an umpire.

Roberto and Mary get together when two demanding sports schedules allow. They talk often by phone. Mutually supportive, their friends say. Working at keeping the relationship private, which is both a good idea and a major challenge in a media-overloaded society.

Pierce, who won the Australian Open in 1995, has shown bits of blitzes before. Like in 1997 at Melbourne, where she became that major championship's first to reach the final by winning two 6-0, 6-0 matches.

Still, she has made little impact at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open or the French. You see the extreme talent, so plenty is expected. Maybe now Mary will fully flourish, with new mental ease and accompanying physical dedication.

Years ago, after the splintering relationship with Jim, she moved to Paris. Mary, whose mother was born in France, took on dual citizenship. A native Yank, she now plays for another red, white and blue flag. Much of the year, though, Pierce's residence is Bradenton.

A younger brother, David, now travels with Mary. He has been identified as her coach. Another segment of escalating Pierce stability. If her game ever works in Paris or London or New York the way it did at Hilton Head, a Big Three can be doable.

Tennis, a year-round global sport, is approaching its hot season. Public attention will multiply in May as network television delivers the competition, a romantic locale and the tradition of splendid players at work on the red-clay courts of Paris.

With some momentum, the renowned men and women of tennis move to England for the most magnetic tournament of all, Wimbledon, beginning in late June. Seven weeks later, it's the U.S. Open in New York, always a big bang.

Time for Mary Pierce to show she belongs in the same major sentence with Davenport and Hingis. Belongs on the same big-time court. Always, her power has been obvious. Now, just maybe, the consistency and mental could be evolving.

Intrigued, we watch.

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