FERNANDEZ TO MAKE PROFESSIONAL DEBUT IN LIPTON TOURNEY
Wednesday, February 5, 1986
Mary Joe Fernandez wants to be a normal South Florida 14-year-old who goes to junior high and just happens to play professional tennis tournaments when she`s not busy doing her algebra homework or baking brownies.
She has resisted the temptation to turn pro, thinking that it would upset her life and change her priorities. Even after she won the Orange Bowl in December -the ultimate achievement for any junior - Fernandez clung to her notion that she was better off remaining an amateur.
Since then, Fernandez has studied the situation and decided that she can turn pro and remain unspoiled, even with a little walking-around money in her pocket.
Tuesday the Miami player announced that she has signed with the International Management Group. The Lipton International Players Championships, which begin Monday at Boca West, will provide her first paycheck.
"Mary Joe and her family feel that the important thing is that she keeps her lifestyle," said Bob Kain of IMG, who with John Evert will represent Fernandez.
"Over the next year, she will stay at home and attend school full time. She will play selected tournaments that are close by. She will maintain a normal lifestyle."
After winning the Orange Bowl, Fernandez decided that she had no interest in playing any more junior events. She wanted to play pro tournaments exclusively, so there was no reason to remain an amateur and pass up the money.
Last week, Fernandez reached the round of 16 at the Virginia Slims of Key Biscayne, her first tournament since the Orange Bowl. She would have collected $2,700 if she had declared herself a pro last week.
"Mary Joe`s schedule will actually be less strenuous than if she remained an amateur and combined junior and pro events," Evert said.
Under new Women`s Tennis Association guidelines governing players under 16, Fernandez is restricted to playing 15 tournaments (10 major events) a year. Fernandez will have to improve her ranking (currently 101) before she can get into the main draws of some events.
Fernandez joins Stephanie Rehe and Melissa Gurney, two of the country`s top juniors last year, in the pro ranks. Rehe, who won her first pro tournament in Tampa in November, and Gurney are 15.
Fernandez is a month and a half older than Kathy Rinaldi was when she gained the distinction of being the youngest American pro. Rinaldi turned pro in 1981 at 14 years and four months after winning the U.S. Girls 14 title.
Steffi Graf of West Germany was considered a pro at 13, but she continued to play junior events, too. Many foreign tennis federations do not differentiate between professional and junior status.
Gabriela Sabatini of Argentina turned pro at 14 last year after winning the Orange Bowl.
Many tennis experts rate Fernandez in the same class with Graf (now 16) and Sabatini (now 15).
With her Hispanic background, Fernandez was one of the most sought-after young stars in the game. IMG, which has courted Fernandez for a long time, won the battle of the agents.
Kain says that IMG will let Fernandez develop at her own pace.
"We`ve seen the good and the bad in the development of teen-age players," said Kain.
"We will help Mary Joe with her career. She is lucky that she lives in Miami and there are a lot of tournaments in the state. In Mary Joe`s eyes, even though she is now a pro, nothing has changed."
COMING OUT PARTY
Chris Evert Lloyd turned pro when she was 18 after winning a tournament in Fort Lauderdale in 1973. Since then, American girls have turned pro earlier as the sport became dominated by younger players.
Some top American players and their ages when they turned pro:
Tracy Austin, 16 (1978)
Zina Garrison, 18 (1982)
Pam Shriver, 16 (1978)
Michelle Torres, 17 (1984)
Andrea Jaeger, 14 (1980)
Stephanie Rehe, 15 (1985)
Susan Mascarin, 16 (1980)
Melissa Gurney, 15 (1985)
Kathy Rinaldi, 14 (1981)
Mary Joe Fernandez, 14 (1986)