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Mary Joe Fernández: 1971—: Tennis Player, Television Sports Analyst

Balanced School And Tennis

In 1985, at age 14, Fernández decided to play tennis professionally. "Turning pro was always a dream of mine when I was little," Fernández told Erica Groton of Total Health magazine in April of 1992. "I watched everyone else on TV and dreamed of playing Wimbledon or one of those tournaments one day." In her first Grand Slam appearance, Fernández lost in the first round of the French Open. A few months later she won her first round match against Sara Gomer at the United States Open. She became the youngest ever player to win a match at that event. She also became the youngest ever player to reach the fourth round of a tournament, which she accomplished at the Lipton International.

Fernández was encouraged to drop out of school to play tennis full time because of her early successes in the game. Fernández, however, resisted this temptation and attended Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart in Miami full time. "I just decided that if I was going to go to school, I was going to do it right," Fernández told Austin Murphy of Sports Illustrated in February of 1991. "And I wasn't ready to sacrifice being with my friends." Fernández graduated from high school in 1989, although she missed her graduation ceremony because she had reached the semifinals of the French Open, which was her best finish at a Grand Slam event at that time.

Fernández has received much praise from tennis professionals and the media for her decision to stay in school and to have a normal teenage life outside of tennis. Her contemporaries, such as Tracy Austin and Andrea Jaeger, and later tennis champion Jennifer Capriati, were examples of how easy it was for very young players to burn out on the professional tour. "People talk about how great her strokes are," teaching professional Don Petrine, Jr. told Sports Illustrated in January of 1986. "It's true, but it's her head that makes her great, and it's Sylvia and José who did that for her." While Fernández is proud that she put school before her career, she has been careful not to criticize her peers who also turned professional at a young age. "Everybody matures at a different time—mentally and physically. So it's hard to say at what age it's right or wrong for a person to turn pro," Fernández told Interview magazine in June of 1994. "What I would say, though, is that you should finish school first, because there's always time to play tennis afterward, and an education balances out your life."

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Trevor Edwards Biography - Accepted Wisdom from His Mother to Francisco Franco (1892–1975) BiographyMary Joe Fernández: 1971—: Tennis Player, Television Sports Analyst Biography - Displayed An Early Interest In Tennis, Balanced School And Tennis, Became Full-time Tennis Professional