Talking Tennis with Gigi Fernandez

It’s always nice to bump into a tennis legend on the tennis circuit and recently at an ITF tournament in Tampa, Florida I had the pleasure to chat tennis with Gigi Fernandez, who won 17 Grand Slams (14 with Natasha Zvereva), two Olympic gold medals for USA and reached WTA no. 1 in doubles. As a coach, Gigi coached Sam Stosur to her first US Open title with Lisa Raymond. She coached no. 1 doubles players Renee Stubbs, Raymond and Stosur. She currently coaches in Tampa. Fernandez was inducted into the International Hall of Fame in Newport in 2010.

Question: Monica Seles was more difficult for you to play than Steffi Graf?

Gigi Fernandez: “Yeah because she hits hard on both sides. Like with Steffi, she had the slice backhand so I could serve and volley to her backhand. And I was a serve and volleyer. So, with Monica, not only did she hit hard on both sides, but she stood one or two or sometimes three feet inside the baseline. So when you’re serve and volleying and someone is standing three feet inside the baseline to return, you don’t have enough time to get anywhere for your first volley. They were just going by so fast. So quickly. With Steffi I could just hit it to her backhand – I knew slices were coming back and I could get the volley in and then it was like Okay, who’s gonna win the point? But with Monica I couldn’t even get a racquet on it.

Question: Which of the young players today most impress you?

Gigi: “I think Andreescu. She is pretty impressive. I love her all court game. We’re starting to get away from… we had ten or fifteen years of just pounding the baseline. And now girls are more looking to come forward and looking to finish at the net. She drop shots. Hits high balls. Hits angles. It’s not just pounding from the baseline. So I think it’s the future of tennis.”

Question: What do you think sparked this new change, evolution in the women’s game?

Gigi: “I think it’s been coming. I think because it’s been so one-dimensional. And if you want to stand out, if you’re coming up and you see the pros and you want to be different, then that’s the logical thing to add. And also now girls are more fitter, so they can handle the power. And obviously Bianca has really good hands so she can handle the volleys when she comes in. She’s blessed with good hands and she’s taking advantage of it.”

Question: Do you see Bianca Andreescu having the qualities to become the dominant WTA player?

Gigi: “She’s very mentally prescient. She comes back from a lot of adversity in her matches. She didn’t retire in Indian Wells. I was really impressed by Osaka’s third set win at Australian Open after blowing the second set. I think she was mentally very down. Then she fired her coach which was not the smartest thing in the world to do. To become no. 1 in the world and won two Grand Slams.”

Question: Which players impress you in the ATP?

Gigi: “I think when Zverev figures out what’s going on up there in his head. He has a complete game, he moves well for his height. He has a big serve, good return, good groundies. If Rafa and Roger ever quit [smiles] he could be the heir apparent.”

Question: How about Felix Auger-Aliassime?

Gigi: “Yeah, that’s the next step, Felix and Shapovalov. But they’re a little bit younger, Zverev is 22-23. So he has four or five years of experience on them. So I don’t think Felix or Shapovalov are ready to win a Grand Slam or even Tier 1 events. I don’t think they’re mature enough to withstand a whole tournament like that. But they will be in a couple of years. They’re getting there.”

Question: What is the best you ever felt on court? Your finest matches?

Gigi: “It’s funny. If you look at my whole career, it’s probably three matches that I walked off the court and I felt I played like perfect tennis. Three times in 500, 800, I don’t know how many matches I played. 800 matches singles and doubles. So tennis is not a game of perfection. It’s not about playing great or feeling great. It’s about playing your best when you’re not playing well. And figuring out how to win when nothing’s working. That’s what makes the difference between a champion and the average players. A champion figures out a way to win when they’re playing their worst. Where as some players sort of give in.”

Question: What were those three matches?

Gigi: “I don’t remember [laughs]. I really don’t. But I remember one was a singles match but I can’t tell you exactly the match. But I kind of had a general feeling when I walked off the court, I felt I played great. But there’s always something about it that I could have done better. I did play a lot of doubles matches where I played the whole match and I never missed a volley. And that was sort of like my standard, if I played a match and I missed volleys, then that was a bad day. I just could not miss volleys. I mean, makeable volleys. Anything that I could get my racquet on, I had to get it in the court.”

Question: How about the best matches of near perfect tennis that opponents played against you?

Gigi: “You know, (Gabriela) Sabatini used to beat the crap out of me. Because she always seemed to play well against me. I could never beat her. Especially her second serve was so attackable. But I could never beat her. That’s the one who could always get to me [smiles].”

Question: Why? What did she do that was so effective?

Gigi: “Nothing [laughs]. I just beat myself half the time. I don’t know. She had a really nice backhand, good groundies. But she didn’t have a big serve. It just seemed like I should have a chance to beat her but I never did.”

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  • Scoop Malinowski · August 11, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    Catherine I am 99.9% sure Raonic and Serena will be 100% ready and healthy in Cincy. Some injuries are used to protect the players ego, as Wally Masur revealed.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 11, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    Boy did Johnson need to win Aptos Challengers. Sock will need a WC into Winston Salem, if loses there and US Open he’s in trouble and will have to go to Challengers. The heat is on Sock now.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 11, 2019 at 7:10 pm

    Andreescu has been maybe the most consistent player all year, despite the long hiatus for injury. She is a proven winner and a winning machine. She will be no. 1 soon.

  • Hartt · August 11, 2019 at 7:48 pm

    Scoop, Milos has withdrawn from Cincy. Serena said she has had this back problem many times before. the first day it will be so bad that she can’t get out of bed. And then it does get better, but she never knows how long that will take. It could be 24 hours, it could be 48.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 11, 2019 at 7:56 pm

    Sorry to hear that about Raonic, hope he is ready for US Open. Like jg said, how bad could her back have been if she was serving so well? My guess is it’s her legs, being very sore, not having the bounce and zip in the step to want to run, more like only moving when forced to which is not a good way to play. She had a tough week, it has to be the legs, ankles, knees which just don’t recover over night.

  • Hartt · August 11, 2019 at 7:58 pm

    There is a report that Bianca has withdrawn from Cincy, although I haven’t found confirmation of that. It would make sense, she had several long, grueling matches in a row. After IW she did not even have a chance to enjoy the title. Hopefully this time she can have a break at home and celebrate with family and friends.

    I have just started to read the press reports about her win. As you can imagine, there are a lot.

  • Jeff · August 11, 2019 at 8:24 pm

    Rafa pulls out of Cincinnati so it gives one of the Young Guns a chance to move one round further.

    Yeah all these injuries are a bunch of bunk and done to protect egos. Serena wanted no part of the kid in a raucous atmosphere. I don’t blame her and she has earned the right as a mom for sure.

    Murray match tomorrow will be big story. I wonder why people thought he would be done playing. I know he was hurt a bunch of times but modern medicine is a wonder and he has no other skills or interests and is still young. So he was always going to be back on the court. No one expects him to contend but he can hang around for 5 more years for sure since the younger generation outside of Felix continues to flounder in the big events.

  • Hartt · August 11, 2019 at 8:37 pm

    How did I forget? Bianca is a treats-eligible player. I think a nice berry pie would be just right. 🙂

  • Andrew Miller · August 11, 2019 at 11:32 pm

    #1…kiss of death on WTA tour. Any player not named Serena or Sharpie at that spot is a sitting duck. Players should donate points so they don’t get it!

  • Andrew Miller · August 11, 2019 at 11:34 pm

    Did anyone see the Serena v Bouzkova highlights? Do oneself a favor and was them. Bouzkova is amazing and Serena sent her packing.

  • Andrew Miller · August 11, 2019 at 11:35 pm

    No, I don’t see Andreescu winning US Open. But she enters on a high note, and that matters for players to have the sense they can plow through the field.

  • Andrew Miller · August 11, 2019 at 11:37 pm

    Nadal destroyed Medvedev, 6-3 6-0. And…Andy Murray said he doesn’t see any generation outside the big three winning slams for the next 18 months!

    I don’t think Murray is right. But he may be right! Again my advice to non big three players: don’t trust the big three.

    Don’t take their free candy.

    Take their candy.

  • Andrew Miller · August 11, 2019 at 11:43 pm

    And Medvedev even played pretty well! Nadal kept his foot on Medvedev the whole time. Medvedev, the crafty player with the deadly placement. Showed every opponent the door this week.

    I watched Nadal play Agassi on TV fourteen years ago at same tournament, where Agassi suddenly figured Nadal out only to lose focus on a so so call in the third set, then lost the match with the 18 year old Nadal putting him away for his first hard court title I think. That’s when I saw wait a second, Nadal has a pretty good volley and knows his way around the net.

    Well, now Nadal, in his 30s as Agassi was when they played in 2005, gets a young player and doesn’t let him breathe.

    Medvedev should vow to never let that happen again. All these young guys should!

  • Andrew Miller · August 11, 2019 at 11:46 pm

    It’s not nice to call a sportsman savage as a way to describe a pro tennis player

    But Nadal IS savage in these matches. He really is.

    I seriously don’t understand why other players aren’t reading all Kyrgios interviews. He’s the only one to beat all the big guys.

  • Jeff · August 12, 2019 at 12:13 am

    Andrew, perhaps all the players should be reading all Thiem interviews. He has beaten all of the Big 3 and has a better record against them than Kyrgios actually.

  • catherine · August 12, 2019 at 12:37 am

    Bianca and Nadal have both withdrawn from Cincinatti.

    Andrew – I don’t think ‘sent her packing’ quite describes how Serena won that match. Bouzkova, a qualifier, won the first set easily and then Serena won the match generally through her experience as she should have done. Serena is nowhere near the player she was and that’s a fact. She really doesn’t move that well now.

  • Andrew Miller · August 12, 2019 at 12:41 am

    Jeff, reading Thiem sounds good to me! I’d love for players to go into their matches with Nadal with a game plan other than “play my game” – Nadal pulverizes those players. Same for Djokovic. Generally same for Federer, who has the toughest time adjusting to a player he’s never faced previously.

  • Andrew Miller · August 12, 2019 at 12:46 am

    Catherine, maybe my eye sight is worse these days. I thought Bouzkova had Serena beaten and suddenly Serena used all Bouzkova’s strengths against her. Maybe it’s just standard observing of tendencies for a tougher than expected opponents and then exploiting it. And certainly there are many players that win the first set and lose the next two and vice versa, that’s common.

    Bouzkova as far as I can tell was going for the jugular here and never stopped. A good way to play. Serena somehow picked up on a few things and started punishing Bouzkova for “playing her game”. Bouzkova had only one game plan so she bet everything on unrestrained aggression.

    Maybe I’m too easily impressed. Among the semifinal opponents I think Bouzkova was far better than Sofya Kevin (nice game but…nothing new to the eye. Very standard nice game).

  • catherine · August 12, 2019 at 12:51 am

    Scoop – Serena is indeed 100% ready for Cincy. My view about Toronto is that she realised after those few games that she would probably lose to Bianca so her back spasms were conveniently available. I’m not being uncharitable. I just think Bianca is very good, an extremely sharp player, who wasn’t going to be intimidated in front of her home crowd and Serena did what was, for her, the right thing. Did the spectators get their money back ?

  • catherine · August 12, 2019 at 1:00 am

    Andrew – I agree with you about Kenin. I don’t think she’s anything special.

    About players winning the first set and then losing – ask Angie. She’s playing Cincy today and I’m not holding my breath – or maybe I am. That adidas outfit isn’t right for her. She probably hates it and has to wear it. Players should be allowed to wear whatever they like from the same brand over the year. Wimbledon whites if it’s hot eg.

  • catherine · August 12, 2019 at 1:29 am

    Some comments on the final showed more concern for the well-being of Bianca’s dog in the heat than they did for Serena with her back, lol. I’m glad Bianca is a dog lover.

    Faye Urban, Canadian who won in 1969, predicted Bianca would win this year. Bianca has never met her but wants to. Urban bt Vicki Berner, another Canadian who moved to US and was around the Virginia Slims circuit in the early days.

  • Hartt · August 12, 2019 at 6:23 am

    Thank goodness a Canadian woman player finally won the Canadian Open. As Catherine said, the last time was Faye Urban 50 years ago. Before the tourney started Bianca was asked if she knew who Faye Urban was and she replied yes, of course. I read that Faye Urban was very pleased to hear that.

    It is even worse on the men’s side – the last Canadian to win the title was Robert Bédard back in 1958. I think he was getting tired of holding that record and hoped that someone would finally win his home tourney. Bédard was born in 1931 so it would be great if a Canadian man could win the tourney during his lifetime. FAA needs to step it up!

  • Andrew Miller · August 12, 2019 at 9:21 am

    Canada, I appreciate having seen its best female players…Mary Pierce and Carling Basset 🙂

    Why Carling? Lovely game. Technically superior to Bouchard off the ground and today’s heralded Canadian wonderkids. Only held back by…yeah, tons of ATP players wanted to make Carling their Mrs.! For many reasons.

    Andreescu is obviously best Canadian player since Bouchard. Bouchard has her in the record books because of slam performance with her semi, semi and final back a hundred years ago in 2014 😉

    Yeah, what can I say. These days give a WTA player fame and expectations and their career ends! The fame brings lots of money with few strings attached, and the expectations add pressures that players hate.

  • Andrew Miller · August 12, 2019 at 9:23 am

    Andreescu…enjoy that big X on the back now. As we speak coaches are developing strategies to flip the script on her.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 12, 2019 at 9:25 am

    Andrew, I did a Biofile with Carling Bassett-Seguso a couple of years ago and she revealed why she thinks she hit a wall in her career.

  • Andrew Miller · August 12, 2019 at 9:40 am

    Scoop, bulimia is awful and any player would prefer being healthy than being on tour and bulimic. Players like Bassett didn’t have the support today that tour players have or the knowledge etc. Some players at the top have whole teams attending to their needs and they can still be saddled by major health and mental issues.

    That said, I know many ATP pros liked Carling a lot! One used to teach us, good guy that beat Emilio Sanchez…on red clay, no less. I don’t know the results of many pros, this guy was a wonderful player. He couldn’t play after he lost his sponsor in a freak accident.

    Careers come apart for many reasons.

  • catherine · August 12, 2019 at 11:06 am

    I saw Carling Bassett play a fair bit, and apart from any personal problems, I didn’t think she had the game to dominate. A bit restricted technically. Also she was over-publicised and over-marketed as a young player which didn’t help. She escaped into marriage as soon as she could, which worked out well.

    Bianca may have an X on her back now but I believe she’s potentially a good enough player to flip back the script and find a new one.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 12, 2019 at 11:17 am

    If guess that every single ATP player was an admirer of Carling Bassett. One got lucky. She gave a great account of facing Steffi and Monica for my book. And this terrific biofile. She’s a legend.

  • Harold · August 12, 2019 at 11:31 am

    If you think coaches can design a game plan to beat Andresscu, what about all those alleged great coaches that haven’t figured out the Big 3, or SW…either they cant coach FEAR out of them, or they cant come up with a plan, that works

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 12, 2019 at 12:01 pm

    No coach can match wits with Fed Nadal or Djokovic. No mere mortal of a coach knows what it takes.

  • Andrew Miller · August 12, 2019 at 12:07 pm

    Fedalovic lost to Wawrinka. Wawrinka is mortal.

  • catherine · August 12, 2019 at 12:21 pm

    Someone figured out Serena Williams at Wimbledon 🙂

  • Andrew Miller · August 12, 2019 at 1:03 pm

    Halep did a fine job at Wimbledon, no question.

  • Harold · August 13, 2019 at 4:46 pm

    No coach can match wits with Fed Nadal or Djokovic. No mere mortal of a coach knows what it takes.

    So why do you always scream for players to dump their coach and go for the superstar coach, or Spadea, and Salzenstein..

    Thiems coach took him to 4 in the world…dumped him…you think Massu has the answer to get him past the big 3? Anyone have the answers to get past the top 3..

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 13, 2019 at 8:25 pm

    Harold, I only suggest struggling players who are stagnated or regressing to change their coach, or hire one with the experience at the highest level of the sport. Any suggestion I made was based on that, not to just dump their current coach for the sake. Thiem won his biggest title with Massu and had his best result in a major under Massu. He clearly improved and probably will continue and ultimately will win a major. Thiem has a chance to exceed or join the big Four. Yes I believe Spadea, Salzenstein, Mayotte would be excellent coaches and would help many players.

  • Harold · August 13, 2019 at 9:40 pm

    Why cant Spadea, Salzenstein, and Mayotte get good coaching gigs?

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 13, 2019 at 11:04 pm

    Spadea tried but couldn’t eork out a deal with Escobedo and Young. Salzy had some work with James McGee and Kozlov. Mayotte gave Thiem and Bresnik some free advice and tips at us open 2017. Tim has an academy in MA and cantbtravel but hes open to helping a player.

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