Gigi Fernandez created the Gigi Method, a way of playing the game of doubles.

The toughest task for any athlete is to no longer be out there, fighting for prestigious prizes. They have been shielded in many ways from the outside world, becoming prisoners of their private universes, living their own version of reality.

Enter Gigi Fernandez, one of the great doubles players of all time. To be sure, it took her some time to figure out exactly what made sense for her professionally after retiring in 1997, but this perspicacious woman eventually sorted it out.

“When I retired from tennis at 33, I was just searching for something to be passionate about," she says. "I started some businesses, got my real estate license, finished my undergraduate degree and got my MBA. I fought it for 15 years. I was just hellbent on doing something different.

"I finally realized: you know what, tennis is my passion, and tennis is what I love.”

Fernandez coached the University of South Florida women’s team from 2002-05, and worked with Lisa Raymond and Sam Stosur when they were one the best women’s doubles teams in the world in 2005 and 2006. She also coached Rennae Stubbs, another outstanding doubles player.

“Lisa and Sam won a Grand Slam title when I was coaching them, and coaching my college team was fun," Fernandez says. "I also taught juniors, but I realized how much I enjoy coaching adults. They are my peers and they don’t talk back.”

But Fernandez was reluctant to travel during that stretch, for personal reasons.

“I was trying to become a mom and going through infertility treatments," she says. "You can’t be traveling much because it is very intense. You have to go to the doctor like every third day and you have to go through months and months of injections and checkups. It just wasn’t viable for me to continue to travel.

"Frankly, the life of a professional tennis player is not real. You live in a bubble, but at some point you have to come back to the real world and have a normal job working Monday to Friday.”

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The turning point for Fernandez in that quest came in 2012.

“I had this wonderful opportunity to become director of tennis at a facility in Stamford, Connecticut called Chelsea Piers," she says. "I had never held any type of administrative position and had never managed anything. They took a chance on me, which I really appreciated. I learned that tennis is a social game. Tennis was not social when I was playing the tour at all. I made a lot of friends when I was teaching in Connecticut.”

And yet, she was appalled at the way her beloved game of doubles was being predominantly taught.

“It was just not how you play doubles," she says. "I thought, ‘Oh my God. What is going on?’ I was shocked.”

Fernandez started attending USPTA and USPTR conventions in 2013 and 2014. At one lasting forty hours across three days, with five speakers slated every hour, Fernandez was amazed that doubles was hardly discussed.

“Around that time,” she recalls, “I created the ‘Gigi Method’. I just wrote down everything I know about doubles for nine months. I thought, I can either write a book, or shoot videos. Reading very technical stuff is hard to understand. I felt like videos was a better way to present my doubles program. So when people go on my web site (gigifernandeztennis.com) the written stuff is there for people who buy the Gigi Method, but the videos show me explaining the five steps clearly, which include positioning, serve strategy, and shot selection.”

Through the years, Fernandez has widened her base of teaching activities. She stayed in Connecticut until 2017 before moving to Florida. She started doing three-day camps and clinics in cooperation with the Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, about 50 minutes away from her home. But Fernandez has done her clinics and camps in different locations—sometimes joining forces with Martina Navratilova, and recently running a camp with Tracy Austin in California.

Fernandez has had to curtail some of her clinics because of the pandemic, but these forums are ideal for her skills and vivacious personality.

“I had a pretty set schedule before the pandemic," she says. "I would start doing camps in Florida in October after the hurricane season ended, and then in February and March I would go to Indian Wells and then come back to Florida in April and May. Over the summer I like to travel with my family so we would plan events in different parts of the country where I could do clinics. I still have a goal to hit all 50 states. I am over half way there.”

Meanwhile, Fernandez has been looking for land to build a tennis facility in Tampa, hoping to teach the game in her home city as she has been fighting in vain to find an existing facility to showcase her considerable skills as a tutor on a tennis court.

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It can be upsetting. If I am Gigi Fernandez and I am a Hall of Famer and I have this problem of not being able to find courts to teach in Tampa, what is the rest of the industry doing when they can’t find a job? I feel badly for the tennis industry in general.—Gigi Fernandez

But Fernandez is not feeling sorry for herself, remaining upbeat and unwavering. Over the summer, she will be teaching at a couple of clubs in Aspen, Colorado and pursuing more clinics and camps. She also looks forward to resuming other pursuits that were becoming a staple for her in recent years, like joining clients for trips to Laver Cup and Wimbledon—watching the matches together, getting out on the court with them whenever possible, and sharing her vast knowledge of the game with appreciative people.

Meanwhile, Fernandez has found herself immersed in another sport these days.

“I am hooked on pickleball”, she says. “It is easier on the body and there is not as much running. It is a very fast game with a lot of quick hands, which I like. Because it is a whiffle ball, you have to swing really hard, so I burn more calories playing pickleball then doing any other activity.”

Recently, she even won a tournament.

“We played like 15 matches from 8:30 in the morning to 6 p.m. At the start there were like 60 teams and hundreds of people at the facility. Everybody has got a tent and their chairs and beverages. It was all so social. I thought, ‘Oh my God, what are we missing in tennis?’”

Never one to miss an opportunity, Fernandez played the US Open Pickleball Championships this month in Naples, Florida, in the Pro Senior Division with Sarah Ansboury—the Navratilova of pickleball. They lost the match, but Fernandez still enjoyed it.

“We gave them a run for their money,” she says.

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Fernandez looks back with pride on her prime years as a player when she regaled everyone with her prolific skills at the net, extraordinary versatility and the fierce competitiveness that was her ticket to stardom. She always wore her heart on her sleeve, connecting with audiences everywhere she went because of her expressiveness and humanity.

She won all but three of her 17 majors alongside Natasha Zvereva, but also garnered Grand Slam titles with Navratilova, Jana Novotna and Robin White. Altogether, she amassed 66 career doubles titles.

“The most memorable thing to me was winning 14 Grand Slam titles in six years [1992-97] with Natasha Zvereva," she says. "We were winning sometimes three Slams a year. It we didn’t win two Slams it was a horrible year. We were playing at a time when top singles players were playing doubles, including Lindsay Davenport, Jana Novotna, and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.

"Natasha and I really understood doubles and knew the right shot to hit, what angle to go for and what the percentages were. We both had really good hands and knew where to be on the court. And once you get this aura of invincibility, it is like a self-fulfilling prophecy. People would walk on the court against us and they knew they were going to lose.”

Her heritage as a Puerto Rican is something Fernandez never took for granted, which is why she had mixed emotions about winning two gold medals at the Olympic Games (in 1992 and 1996) alongside Mary Joe Fernandez, representing the United States. Fernandez and Fernandez—no relation—blended beautifully on the court, with Mary Joe excelling on the return of serve and Gigi taking command at the net.

“That was huge winning those medals,” says Gigi. “I pulled out Puerto Rican flags at the podium. I grew up in Puerto Rico and developed my tennis there. I had my first coaches in Puerto Rico. I left when I was 18. Until my dad passed away three years ago I would go back three to five times every year. It is weird being Puerto Rican because you are also American and a U.S. citizen. You have a dual nationality in a way.

"So as conflicted as I was not doing it for Puerto Rico, it was still the highlight of my career winning those gold medals. But back then you had to play Fed Cup to play the Olympics, and Puerto Rico did not have a Fed Cup team because they were part of the U.S. Tennis Association. 1992 was the first time we were allowed to have a Fed Cup team, but I was already representing the U.S. in Wightman Cup since 1989.”

Gigi Fernandez won two gold medals at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, alongside Mary Joe Fernandez. (AP)

Gigi Fernandez won two gold medals at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, alongside Mary Joe Fernandez. (AP)

And yet, while she is immensely proud of where she was groomed, Fernandez thoroughly enjoys living in the United States with her family. She has boy-girl twins who are 12 years old, and a longtime partner in Jane Geddes. They have been together since the 1990s.

“My kids love sports,” says Fernandez. “My daughter is a very good soccer player and my son loves every sport including lacrosse, baseball, football, tennis and golf. He plays a little bit of tennis but not a lot. She plays a little bit of tennis but a lot of soccer.

"Jane was a professional golfer who won two majors and 14 tournaments in all. She is more even [keeled] than I am. I have my ups and downs. I can be kind of moody. I have a little temper, but I am not anything like I was when I played tennis. I am not an entitled spoiled brat like I was when I played—and like every tennis player can be. Parenting does that to you.”

Busy as she is on all fronts, Fernandez still finds time to help the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Inducted along with Zvereva in 2010, she is now playing the leading role in the Hall of Fame Council.

“I was a member of the Board of Governors,” says Fernandez, “and then the Executive Committee. Todd Martin started the Council to create more of a community for the Hall of Famers. It is the most exclusive club in tennis and we all share something very unique. We are trying to bring about more camaraderie with the Hall of Famers.”

At 57, Fernandez is moving through a fascinating stage of her life with a wide range of remaining aspirations, a deep well of determination—and much of her best work surely yet to come.