Fernandez went from student to coach

Since she became coach of the USF women’s tennis team in 2002, Gigi Fernandez has had her work cut out for her.

Her attempt to revamp the team has consisted of instructing the players she already has and recruiting new players using her own high profile, boasting a resume that includes 17 Grand Slam championships on the pro tennis circuit.

But with the conclusion of the fall semester, Fernandez can add a college degree to that resume.

“It’s such a relief,” Fernandez said of finishing the degree. She said to get that degree “is why I am really here.”

What remains to be seen is whether her degree in psychology will better enable her to give instruction during matches because of an ability to get inside the head of her players’ opponents.

Fernandez originally came to USF to finish her degree, not to coach the women’s tennis team. Before becoming the coach, Fernandez said she was “retired and playing golf and just hanging out.”

After the Bulls previous coach Sherry Bedingfield retired after 23 years, she asked Fernandez to fill the position.

“The previous coach knew that, and when she went to retire she called me and asked me if I would do it,” Fernandez said. “I was trying to complete my degree and then this became available.”

And after she accepted, Fernandez went to work, snagging a number of players including newcomer Neyssa Etienne, who has been ranked as high as No. 398 in the world.

But Fernandez isn’t satisfied with what she’s done so far, turning around a team that prior to her taking over had undergone two straight losing seasons.

“I think we need to be a lot better for me to be happy but it’s coming around.”

The spring season starts today when the Bulls take on in-state foe Jacksonville.

Fernandez doesn’t seem too intimidated by the Dolphins though. “Our first couple of matches are kind of warm-up matches,” Fernandez said. “They are matches that we should win pretty handily.”

USF will find out today whether its No. 1 player Etienne will be eligible for the match.

In question is whether her NCAA eligibility was affected after she competed in a WTA sanctioned tournament prior to attending USF.