Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Something about Mary on Center Court

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Something about Mary on Center Court

Article excerpt

Byline: Gene Frenette, Times-Union sports writer

As she exited center court following a routine first-round victory, Mary Pierce kept getting reminders of her first major exile from tennis.

"Good to have you back, Mary," one well-wisher said.

"Nice to see you out there again, Mary," said another.

Clearly, there's something different about Mary. And it's not just her trademark long blonde hair recently being cut short or the quiet parting with her fiance, baseball star Roberto Alomar.

Pierce wants something different, all right. Not so much a new hairstyle or a new boyfriend as a fresh start, preferably with a body that won't betray her the way it has in the past 20 months.

"I'm starting to realize more how much work I need," Pierce said after yesterday's 6-2, 6-3 win over German qualifier Vanessa Henke at the Bausch & Lomb Championships. "It's been very trying on my patience."

It wasn't so bad when Pierce had to withdraw in the middle of her fourth-round match at the 2000 U.S. Open with tendinitis in her shoulder, keeping her out the rest of that year.

She tolerated being out another month early last year with tendinitis in both ankles.

Pierce even put on a brave front at the 2001 Bausch & Lomb when a back injury forced her to withdraw before a first-round match. She went out to center court, issuing a heartfelt apology to fans for having to pull out of the evening's feature match.

"I thought I was fine. It just took a long time for my back to heal," said Pierce.

Unfortunately, the diagnosis was a degenerative disc in her lower spine -- causing one disc to herniate and another to bulge -- and the 27-year-old Pierce had to confront her own tennis mortality. She played only three events after Amelia Island, missing every tournament from mid-May through December, including the chance to defend her 2000 French Open crown. …

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