After competing in the Gator Classic this past weekend, the Bulls have won just 13 of 60 matches in two fall tournaments, and new head coach Gigi Fernandez may have an indication of what lies ahead on her way to turning USF women’s tennis into an elite program.
“That’s pretty pathetic,” Fernandez said. “The team is just not where I would like it to be, but we’ve only had three weeks of practice. The team is very inexperienced. Everything needs work.
“The skill level on this team is not that of players that will be top-20,” Fernandez said. “It’s just not there. My goal is to turn this program into a top-20 program, but that will take a while, at least five years.”
Fernandez said the biggest obstacle in the way of obtaining that goal is recruiting.
“It’s all about recruiting. You’re only as good as your players,” Fernandez said. “I took over what coach (Sherry) Bedingfield left when she retired, and I haven’t had much time to recruit or anything.”
Talia Romero and Gina Graig were the Bulls’ best finishers as each advanced to the semifinals of the consolation round after losing their opening matches. Romero defeated Emma Heffernan of Troy State 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 and Amira Samara of UCF 6-3, 6-1 before falling to Kim Packer of Jacksonville 7-6, 6-2. Graig advanced past Mariana Melo when Melo retired leading 6-4, 2-3, beat Courtney Jonson of FIU 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 and lost to Nisrene Hajbane of Jacksonville 6-2, 6-2.
“Talia Romero and Gina Graig put in excellent efforts,” Fernandez said. “I was very pleased with them.”
Romero and Graig also played doubles together and advanced to the semifinals as did the team of Jamie Larson and Belen Pandre.
According to Fernandez, the problems are both mental and physical. At the event, several matches were played simultaneously, and Fernandez walked from court to court to watch her players.
“I walked in on one of the matches and asked how it was going, and she told me that she lost the first set after leading 5-3,” Fernandez said. “But they were playing in the middle of the second set. You need to think about the ball you’re playing, not about the last one. You can’t play tennis like that.
“A lot of players get down on themselves,” Fernandez said. “I want my players to give 100 percent on every ball.”
The next test for Fernandez’ Bulls will be the ITA South Regionals Oct. 25-28 in Mobile, Ala.