Losing a leader

Es una lástima.

For those the former USF women’s tennis coach Gigi Fernandez brought to the University — the foreign players she recruited, who share Fernandez’s native tongue — they know what that means. Those who speak Spanish will be in on my racket.

For those who don’t, well, it’s a shame. It’s a shame to see the other Fernandez coach at USF step down, especially since she just got the job.

It’s only been three years for the Olympic gold medal winner, who’s played more tennis than Andy Roddick and Rafael Nadal combined. Now, she is getting out of the way for the team she set up like a volley to an opponent’s backhand.

A real long shot.

Her sueños (dreams) and metas (goals) were outlandish and quite possibly unimaginable at the time she arrived from Puerto Rico.

A top-10 team?

Olvídeselo! (Forget it!)

A freshman going undefeated for most of her spring season?


It wasn’t easy, just as it wasn’t easy for Fernandez to pull a tennis team deep in its own backcourt up to respectability. Just two years before her llegada (arrival), the team’s record was a horroroso (ghastly) 15-30.

She left with a 27-34 record.

“The decision to resign my position as head coach of the women’s tennis program at USF was a difficult one,” Fernandez said in a press release. “(The) decision was based on personal choices. I look forward to helping my successor continue the successful path that I initiated, and I will remain committed, in my new role as a voluntary assistant, to the growth of the tennis program and my alma mater.”

She received her degree in psychology at USF. She was a student, just like her players, who wouldn’t be recognized at Panera.

These players respected her, followed her, came to USF because of her and now can’t stand to see her go. Fernandez realizes the team will miss her, but she also knows her place. She knew this wasn’t a long-term or full-time gig. She’s been around tennis too long to know that without having to second-guess the line judge.

¿Qué sucederá ahora? (So what now?)

Fernandez plans to watch from the sidelines, observe from the shadows — if there are any at the USF Tennis Complex — as the players she trained, mentored and polished continue without their fearless leader.

¿Será eso fácil? (Will it be that easy?)

Probablemente no. (Probably not.)

But she hasn’t been wrong about — or doubted for that matter — the talent and prospects that inhabit a rising team, one that ranked 49th nationally this season, the highest since 2001.

And as the rank continues to subida (climb), Gigi will watch from lejos (afar).

Her players and team will grow alongside their coach.

Vaya con Dios, Gigi.