Tennis Tuesday: Gigi Fernandez on Doubles Skills and Her Illustrious Career
Tennis Tuesday is a weekly content series curated by the New York Empire that will feature some of the game’s greats and New York’s finest tennis coaches, administrators, and fans. This week, we chat with our coach, 17-time Grand Slam Champion Gigi Fernandez.
Gigi Fernandez, who was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, became the country’s first female professional athlete when she turned pro in 1983. During her outstanding professional career, she won an incredible 71 titles on the WTA tour, including two singles, 52 doubles and 17 Grand Slam doubles titles, as well as two Olympic Gold Medals. Recently, Fernandez was named Puerto Rican Athlete of the Century and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2010. She is widely recognized as one of the greatest doubles players of all-time
Check out some doubles advice from Gigi, below.
A good doubles partnership is like a longstanding marriage. There are ups and downs, good days and bad days, smooth sailing and turbulent seas. I’m dazzled by the great Leander Paes, who over the course of his career has played with 100 different partners. The guy is either crazy or has amazing interpersonal skills. But most of all, a good team should be able to communicate with each other.
If you can’t talk to your partner on and off the court, about what is going on during the match or what is bothering you in tennis or even away from it, then no amount of good strategy will get you through a difficult match. You might luck out once in a while, but by and large, if you don’t like your partner, find a new person to play with.
A good doubles partner should think like a point guard in basketball. Point guards usually lead their teams in assist and steals. They are constantly looking for a pass, an alley-oop or a set up shot. They take the shots when they have to, but by and large point guards are looking to make the play happen and set up their team.
Life is too short and tennis too much fun to play with people who are not supportive and easy to talk to!
Who has the better backhand volley? At the rec level, most people have better forehand volleys and are better able to poach with a forehand volley. They usually put the stronger forehand volley on the ad side so they can poach with a forehand volley. However, it is important to consider the backhand volleys as well.
Who has the stronger backhand? They should play the ad side. Generally speaking, the deuce players will hit a lot of FH and the ad player will hit a lot of backhands. If you have someone with a weak groundstroke you want to put that weakness in the middle, where the partner at the net, or in the baseline can take those shots.
The age-old question, how to play as well as you practice? Wouldn’t we ALL just love to be able to do that consistently! Preparation for a match starts well before the match itself with: (1) purposely hitting, (2) intensity at practice, and (3) a lot of mental work.
Controlling your expectations is another very important component of match play. Don’t expect to play better in a match than you do in practice. In fact, you should expect to play 80% of your best game in a match. The goal is to improve your game in practice. As your practice game improves so will your matches.
Winning my first Gold Medal in Barcelona in 1992 with my good friend Mary Joe Fernandez.