There are countless factors and shortcuts that professional tennis players go through until they reach success. There are so many stages that it is normal for some to stay halfway. It always depends on the degree of difficulties that appear and the level of resistance that each one has. In the case of Gigi Fernández, one of the best doubles players in history, both cases met: many obstacles and a bulletproof mentality. Although the American national tennis player also knew when to change boats and set her path on, as she explains in this interview with the WTA.
The first, as always, its beginnings. “I was three years old when I started playing tennis. All my older brothers played tennis and I wanted to be like them. Every day he went to the club after school, even though he was still too young, so all he could do was grab a racket and hit the ball against a wall. I kept practicing until I was seven years old, where I received my first tennis class. At eight I played my first game and lost 6-0, 6-0. It was not the best start, so I convinced myself that the end would be better, ”he recalls with a smile about that little disaster.
“Then I played some years of youth tennis in Puerto Rico and, because the Puerto Rican Tennis Association was part of the Tennis Association of the United States, I was lucky enough to be able to travel to the USA and play the youth circuit there in the summer. It was there that a couple of university coaches discovered me and offered me a scholarship, when my game really started to take off, ”reveals the woman who is 56 years old today.
The biggest problem for Gigi was not his punches, which too, but the lack of mirrors to look at in his closest circle. “There was no one I could look at and say, ‘I want to be like them.’ There was no other Hispanic, female and Puerto Rican athlete that I could say: “This woman is a professional athlete, I can do the same as her.” So I had to make my own way. In the 60s, Puerto Rico was a little behind in terms of tennis, the coaches were not willing to teach the topspin to the players, so I learned to play with a forehand and a backhand cut. I went to college with those two shots, the same ones I had when I became a professional. It was a total challenge ”, stresses the former world number 1 in doubles.
That deficit in terms of play haunted him for a few more years, even when he was already among the elite. “He did not have the basis of the baseline shots, the solid shots that someone needs to stay in the exchanges and thus endure the time necessary to reach the net. Serving and volleying, however, came naturally to me.He was good at doing that, the problem came when he was playing against someone who was very good from the baseline, so he was unable to hit more than five shots. I only started hitting with effect once I became a professional, something unthinkable today. If you come to the tour with any weakness, sooner or later you will end up apart ”, assumes from the experience.
The tennis player from San Juan kept trying, and trying, and trying, like this until she was 24 years old. But at that moment, his mind said enough. “The situation was twice as hard, since I lost twice a week, once in singles and once in doubles, I really didn’t know what to do. I had a difficult time, I was not mature enough to understand that all those defeats would serve me after experience and learning. In fact, much more is learned from failure than from success. The question is that I was going to retire in the 1988 US OpenBut I ended up winning that tournament in doubles, so I decided to continue. Two years later I won again there, this time partnering with Martina Navratilova ”, recalls the owner of 69 trophies in the category.
After so many adrift seasons, Fernández finally understood that the key was to bet on the circuit that suited him best and that could not be other than that of couples. “I knew it was no accident, it couldn’t be after winning two majors, so from there I joined Natasha Zvereva, we started playing together in 1992 and ended up signing an incredible career, “says the champion of 17 Grand Slams. “Every time we won it ended up being something normal, something habitual, but the passage of time shows you that it was anything but common. It was a unique association that we had, a very special relationship ”.