The tennis world has lost one of its larger-than-life figures as Jim Pierce, father of two-time major champion Mary Pierce, passed away at age 81.
In a sport infamous for its over-involved tennis parents, Jim Pierce (née Bobby Glenn Pearce) stood out. He was not the first, nor was he the worst. But he undoubtedly was the most high-profile. Pierce’s behavior toward his daughter and her opponents earned him a ban from the WTA Tour in 1993. Mary Pierce sought a restraining order and subsequent protection from a bodyguard to maintain a safe zone from her volatile father.
Unfortunately, the Pierce family dynamics played out in full view of the world. Some years later, the two would reconcile. Mary, struggling to win, asked her father to coach her again in 2000 on an occasional, ad-hoc basis. In later years, after she retired and began living a more faith-based life, the two spent more time together.
The tall, barrel-chested Pierce cut an intimidating figure with his thick grey hair and dark sunglasses. But when he spoke, what emerged was a gentle, disarming Southern drawl that endeared to him to all of those who got to know him personally.
Whether Mary Pierce became one of the best players in women’s tennis because of Jim Pierce or despite him will remain a subject for debate. My guess is whenever a guidebook to raising a child to become a world-class tennis player is written, Jim Pierce will be the subject of a couple of quite a few conflicting chapters.