After a career in the Hall of Fame, Gigi Fernandez discovered a new love for tennis

Palm Harbor – Fierce wasn’t an option. was a condition.

Maybe he was single minded too. Athletic, loyal and definitely talented.

But it sure is fierce.

You don’t win Grand Slam titles or Olympic gold without a killer instinct. They certainly don’t elect you to the International Tennis Hall of Fame just because you had a million dollar smile.

So, for the better part of her early life, Gigi Fernandez treated tennis courts as the battlefield they were meant to be. Losses may be inevitable, but that does not mean that they were acceptable. Why would you play if you weren’t going to win?

Now, after all these years, Fernandez understands why.

The newly hired itinerant professional at the Innisbrook Resort has discovered a kinder, gentler, and more social world that exists within the baselines. Years of coaching children and adults in clinics around the world have shown Fernandez the joy of the game in different ways than it has always been to win.

“I had the misconception that adults couldn’t get better at tennis, but when I got on the court with them and watched them get better, it became so much fun for me,” said Fernandez. “That’s when I started learning the social side of tennis. Tennis is supposed to be social, right? I never knew that.

“For me, tennis was a killer, competitive, eat dog. That was my only experience. I’ve made great friends through tennis—all my closest friends have been through tennis—after they retire. Not while I’m playing. So that, for me, is great. It’s I was very fortunate and blessed to have this second career.”

This second career takes on new roots this month. Fernandez, 58, has been doing camps and clinics for years — and spent a few seasons as a tennis coach at the University of South Florida — as well as coaching doubles players on the WTA Tour.

Fernandez had family living in Tampa Bay in the ’90s, and she often trained here during her playing days at Bardmoor or Saddlebrook. Although she had been working out of a tennis club in Connecticut in recent years, she was familiar with Innisbrook from the clinics she had previously worked at.

With an eye to returning to the area with her wife, former LPGA title winner Jane Geddes, and their two children, Fernandez struck a deal to expand Innisbrook’s tennis program.

“The aim is to get more people here, to get more people to play tennis. We have a beautiful resort and facility that is underutilized,” she said. “So we hope to attract players in the area, adults who want to improve or junior players who hopefully To play college tennis one day, or even beyond that.”

Fernandez is particularly interested in expanding interest in playing doubles, where she’s clearly excelled as a professional. Fernandez won 17 Grand Slam singles titles, most of them with Natasha Zeffirira as well as with Jana Novotna and Martina Navratilova.

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“I’ve felt this discomfort with tennis education in this country for many years. We don’t teach people how to play doubles, we just teach you to play singles as kids,” said Fernandez. “But when we become adults, we all play doubles. And the doubles instruction is not up to standard in this country. And when you look at the clubs, that’s what a lot of people play.”

Innisbrook will make her first big push into the tennis community with a Junior Trial and Adult Festival on December 10 at the resort.

Meanwhile, Fernandez doesn’t limit her time on the court to lessons and clinics. I recently got into pickleball and have played internationally. She recently moved into the top 10 global rankings of multiples for older women.

So, that competitive streak that catapulted her into the Hall of Fame? Yes, there is still.

She said “I’m competitive to a fault”. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to get rid of it.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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