JACK 11, MARY JOE TURN PRO FERNANDEZ, 14, CHANGES TIMETABLE
The Miami Herald
Wednesday, February 5, 1986
Tennis prodigy Mary Joe Fernandez repeatedly had said she would wait until age 18 to turn professional, just as her favorite player Chris Evert Lloyd did.
But the timetable flipped to fast forward in December when Fernandez, a 14-year-old from Miami, won the 18-and-under division of the world's top junior tournament, the Orange Bowl International Championships. She trounced the world's top-ranked junior, Laura Garrone of Italy, in the semifinals.
Seeing no more goals in the junior ranks, Fernandez has decided to turn pro. She said Tuesday night she signed a contract Monday with International Management Group of Cleveland, a marketing and promotions firm that represents Evert, Martina Navratilova and other athletes in several sports.
Fernandez's agent? Chris' younger brother John.
Fernandez is one of the youngest girls to become a tennis pro. She is less than six months past her 14th birthday. Kathy Rinaldi was four months past her 14th birthday when she turned pro in 1981. Gabriela Sabatini was 14 years eight months when she became a pro last year.
"I thought about turning pro for a long time," said Fernandez, a ninth grader at Carrollton School. "I'm turning pro to improve my game. And I'm staying at Carrollton all the way through high school. That's a big priority.
Fernandez has played in about a dozen pro tournaments in the past year and a half and has earned a world ranking of No. 81 on the Women's Tennis Association computer.
Last year at age 13 she became the youngest player to reach the fourth round of a two-week pro event, the Lipton International Players Championships, defeating 10th-ranked Bonnie Gadusek in the process. At age 14 last August she became the youngest to win a match at the U.S. Open.
In December she became the first player to win the Orange Bowl 12s, 14s, 16s and 18s in consecutive years.
"She's not presumptuous or cocky," said Bob Kain, IMG's senior corporate vice president in charge of tennis marketing. "She thought turning pro was one or two years ahead. After she won the Orange Bowl, what more goals were there?
"She wants to go after the bigger fish. Taking the money is not the issue, rather having a normal lifestyle is. And she'll probably have more fun with no junior tennis pressure."
Terms of the contract were not disclosed. Fernandez said it's for "two or three years," and Kain said it would include endorsements for shoes, clothing and a racket.
"We're not going to put her in a bunch of commercials," Kain said. "We'll go slowly. We're considering our responsibility with these girls. If they're to become Chris Evert-type clients, we've got to do a better job of helping them through their teen years."
John Evert, director of junior management for IMG, said he had been following Fernandez's career closely for more than 18 months. He also has been talking to 16-year-old Miamian Niurka Sodupe, who has indicated she hopes to turn pro this spring.
"We think they'll do a good job for Mary Joe as a person, not just as a marketable commodity," said Fernandez's mother Sylvia. "She'll lead a normal life and either Jose (her father) or I will travel with her."
Shortly before the Orange Bowl, Fernandez withdrew from a match in the U.S. Indoor 18-and-under championships in a disagreement over line calls. Then she withdrew from representing the United States in the Continental Cup, saying it was a protest against the USTA for the handling of the indoor event.
But Fernandez and her mother said that was not a factor in deciding to turn pro. "The USTA has been very nice to her," said Sylvia Fernandez.
The WTA last year passed guidelines limiting the number of pro tourneys players under 16 could enter. But John Evert said, "The WTA schedule is consistent with our philosophy. They have a limit of 10 big tournaments and five smaller ones over 12 months, and she's tentatively scheduled for 10 big ones and one or two smaller ones. Five are in Florida, so she won't have to travel as much."