Fernandez says she was misled on player’s eligibility

One match into the women’s tennis season and coach Gigi Fernandez says she is frustrated.

When Fernandez brought Neyssa Etienne to USF, she said she expected the Haitian to be eligible to play despite her participation in a Women’s Tennis Association sanctioned event. The coach claims people working for the athletic department at USF “misled” her.

Etienne’s eligibility questions surround accusations that her former coach, Greg Russell, made to the NCAA about tournaments she played in and earned money for, Fernandez said.

“I recruited a player who I was told had a pretty good chance of playing,” Fernandez said of Etienne. “I feel like I was misled”.

Fernandez said she had opportunities to recruit players with talent similar to Etienne’s, women also with possible eligibility problems, who are now qualified and playing for other schools.

Before this season, officials working for the athletic department told Fernandez that Etienne would probably be able to play, so Fernandez recruited Etienne over others, she said.

She said she does expect Etienne, her best player “by far,” to be eligible before the Bulls match against No.1 Florida on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at the USF Varsity Tennis courts.

Fernandez said the strategy against the Gators, who haven’t taken longer than two hours to beat a team this season, is to try to extend the match as long as possible.

“I don’t think we go into that match thinking we are going to win,” Fernandez said. “I think we go into that match looking to compete and keep it close. We really have no pressure so hopefully they’ll be a little bit looser than they were (against Jacksonville).”

Fernandez said she thinks her players will give their best. If they don’t, she said, “They’ll be running everyday for the next month- three times a day.”

The Bulls are coming off a 4-3 loss to Jacksonville last weekend, a match Fernandez said the Bulls should have won “handily.”

“I think everybody is going to play better,” Fernandez said. “Hopefully we can use this match to build for the next one.”

Fernandez said the defending national champion Gators have had the best program in the country for 15 years.

“They’re all good. These girls will turn pro and you’ll hear about them, like Lisa Raymond.”

Raymond is a former Gator standout who lost to Patty Schnyder in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open Wednesday.

“I was happy for Lisa (Raymond),” Fernandez said. “I’ve known Lisa for a long time. It was good to see her finally kind of get it together.”

Fernandez also talked about the benefits her team can grasp when playing such a strong program like UF.

“It gives (my players) something to measure themselves against,” she said. “As we continue to get better with recruiting and get better players in here, we’ll start getting players who can compete with them. When we get better players, you always want to measure yourself against the best.”

This match can benefit tennis fans in the Tampa Bay area too, Fernandez said.

“People that come out get a chance to see the best talent in the country and some of these players like Lisa Raymond, they’re going to see them on TV when they go pro in the years to come,” Fernandez said.