Mary Joe Fernandez keeps grip on game
Mary Joe Fernandez starred in a golden era of women's tennis and continues to shine around the courts today.
Competing at a time when the WTA was dominated by players like Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Monica Seles, Lindsay Davenport, Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, Jennifer Capriati and Gabriela Sabatini -- all of whom have been inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame -- Fernandez won seven WTA singles titles, two Grand Slam doubles titles and three Olympic medals.
Since retiring as a player in 2000 with a 437-203 singles record, she has continued her involvement in tennis with work as a coach, commentator and advocate for the growth of the sport. Fernandez has been voted the second-most influential Hispanic female athlete of all time by a panel of blue-ribbon voters assembled by espnW and ESPN Deportes.
Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in 1971 to mother Silvia, who is from Cuba, and father Jose from Spain, Maria Jose Fernandez was 6 months old when she moved to Miami with her parents. She started playing tennis at age 3, when she would tag along to the courts with her father and older sister.
Fernandez began to gain recognition as one of the best young American players after winning a succession of youth tournaments. She then became the only player to win all four age divisions of the acclaimed Orange Bowl tournament. She won the 12s when she was 11, the 14s when she was 12, the 16s when she was 13, then the 18s when she was 14.
Fernandez made more history in 1985, when she defeated Sara Gomer in the first round of the US Open at 14, becoming the youngest player ever to win a match at a Grand Slam.
A year later, Fernandez turned pro and went on to reach No. 4 in the world in 1990 at the height of her singles career -- albeit never winning a coveted singles Grand Slam.
Fernandez was twice a finalist in the Australian Open, in 1990 and '92, losing to Graf and Seles. She also reached the French Open final in 1993, only to fall to Graf again. Fernandez also won a bronze medal in singles at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, where Capriati struck gold and Graf took silver.
But some of Fernandez's greatest triumphs were in doubles and team competitions. Partnering with Patty Fendick at the French Open in 1991 and Davenport at the 1996 French Open, Fernandez won two Grand Slam titles in doubles.
With partner Gigi Fernandez, Fernandez claimed Olympic gold medals for the United States at Barcelona in '92 and Atlanta in '96.
Fernandez captured her last titles in 1997, in singles at the German Open, and in doubles in Madrid, playing with Sanchez Vicario. Fernandez was also a member of the U.S. team that won the Fed Cup in 1997, and has served as both a coach and captain of the team for the past seven seasons.
"I really enjoy and thrive under team competition," she said after being named Fed Cup captain. "We don't get to do it very often [in tennis], so it means that much more when you do."
At times it was considered a denial of her Hispanic roots, but Fernandez always wore the U.S. colors in international competitions, despite several requests to represent her native Dominican Republic, or Spain, where her father was born.
At the time, Fernandez argued that because she had lived her entire life in the United States, "it would be very difficult to play for any other country."
As a tennis commentator for ESPN, Fernandez has said she hopes interest in the sport continues to grow among children, especially after the progress that has been made in promoting tennis in low-income communities and the creation of public facilities and programs.
Today Fernandez splits her time between Miami and a suburb of Cleveland, with her two children and husband, Tony Godsick, a sports agent known for representing Roger Federer. In 2012 she was the fourth woman to be inducted into the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame.