Facility Management: Pro Actions
A tennis Hall-of-Famer brings her talents to bear on a new state-of-the-art facility in Connecticut.
By Kent Oswald
Incredible touch, thinking quickly enough to handle everything smacked her way at net or baseline, determination and belief in herself. Those assets were key to Gigi Fernandez’s Hall of Fame tennis career.
And now, not completely coincidentally, those characteristics provide the perfect foundation as Fernandez takes on the role of director of tennis at a new, 400,000-square-foot multi-sport facility in Connecticut. The new Chelsea Piers Connecticut (CPC) opened recently in the city of Stamford, a suburb of New York City, and is a brand expansion of the highly successful Chelsea Piers multi-sport facility in Manhattan.
For Fernandez, the touch comes into play as she works with kids whirling around her summer camp, to the Cardio Tennis fans and league-playing adults filling up the facility’s seven DecoTurf courts, to area hopefuls brought to her for evaluation. The flexibility of mind is tested every few minutes as challenges present themselves in getting a world-class program up and running from its July debut. The belief in herself — in the ability to have it all — comes through when she talks about how she handles the role of mom, entrepreneur and team member.
Fernandez was in Florida after retirement from tennis, having returned to school to complete first her BA and then an MBA. Inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame with the class of 2010, she had coaching in her background at the college and pro level, the former including Rollins where she had studied and the latter with Sam Stosur and Lisa Raymond when they captured the 2005 US Open doubles title. In addition to other business experience and inspired by newborn twins Karson and Madison, she had recently produced the video Baby Goes Pro to introduce toddlers to sport basics. All was settled. But plans change.
First, her partner, former LPGA golfer and then senior vice president Jane Geddess, took on a new role as director of talent for the Stamford-based WWE. Fernandez figured she would spend a few years as a suburban New York City mom — a mom who happened to have the ability to play some fairly high-level tennis, as she did in June at Roland Garros when she and longtime partner Natalie Zvereva stirred memories of their non-calendar year doubles Grand Slam while participating in the Perrier-Legends Trophy competition. “I always planned to get back to work when the kids (currently only age 3) went to kindergarten,” she said recently while overseeing the third day of the just opened tennis day camp.
Concurrently, Chelsea Piers was expanding from its NYC base and looking to establish themselves in tennis. The newcomers to affluent Fairfield County were set up and, “I liked everybody that I met with,” Fernandez remembers. “I could create a program from scratch and I wasn’t going into a situation that wasn’t already established. I am an entrepreneur at heart, started a lot of companies [and] I love the start-up mode and the excitement of start-ups. I just thought it would be a good opportunity.”
She talks admiringly about the facility’s other directors, how they are at the top of their sports as well and the mutual dedication to making CPC succeed. “We’re all very accomplished and everyone is happy to be giving back,” she says. That there is an onsite pre-school program for her kids was also a selling point. “I can just go down there and see them when I miss them.”
So, on the one hand, Fernandez is just one more mom re-entering the workforce. On the other, she has a business and coaching background, as well as being a former No. 1 and dominant tennis force during her 14-year career, with Olympic doubles gold from 1992 and 1996, 17 doubles titles at Majors, and a singles ranking that reached as high as No. 17. She seems well paired with the CPC facility and her new 65,000-square-foot tennis club.
The facility has signed sponsors Sheraton and Harrow, with a search on for sport-specific partners. Within a week of opening there were already 1,700 campers signed up for various programs through the summer and family membership goals with a fall horizon had already been met. Not only were there kids with racquets working on basics, but also the facility echoed with the sounds of peers pursuing figure skating, gymnastics, ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer, squash, swimming and volleyball.
While it is too early to seriously contemplate any of her young charges playing at the highest level, Fernandez is not shy in promising that there will be Division 1 players to emerge from the program and possibly some who can play at an even higher level. For most students, the aspirations are not as high. “I hope that we draw all the best kids in the area and I hope to introduce lots and lots of kids to tennis. It’s a great sport, a sport for a lifetime that teaches life lessons” including goal setting, perseverance, dedication, overcoming obstacles and graciousness in defeat and victory.
Focus shifts in the fall to adults (whose membership programs begin at $65 a month). Fernandez, who earned her USPTA Professional 1 certification in April, will expand the offerings of morning and evening adult clinics, build a full schedule of intra- and interclub matches and USTA League play as well as social activities featuring the rooftop patio overlooking downtown. It’s all in addition to the private and group lessons and Cardio Tennis classes available from a well-qualified staff.
“I want this to be the best program in the Northeast,” says Fernandez. “I think the facility itself is probably the best overall sports facility in the country. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
See all articles by Kent Oswald
About the Author
Kent Oswald is a contributor to TennisNow.com, producer at the JockBookReview.com and a former editor of Tennis Week magazine.