Mary Joe Fernandez was only 14 when she became the youngest player ever to win a main draw match in the U.S. Open.
Now her children are making tennis names for themselves in Northeast Ohio. Isabella, 15, won the Ohio high school division II doubles state tournament, playing for Hathaway Brown School with her partner Megan Qiang. And Nicholas, 13, was ranked in the top 15 in the nation for his age and is participating in junior tournaments across the country.
After reaching a career high of world No. 4 in 1990 and winning gold medals in doubles in both the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, Fernandez retired from tennis in 2000. She married Tony Godsick, then a sports agent with IMG, that same year and moved to Cleveland in 2002 after Godsick was transferred here.
Fernandez delivers an unusual message in the hyper-competitive world of youth sports. “My mom used to always say to me, ‘If my little girl’s happy that‘s all that matters,’ ” she says. “I say that to my kids now every time they go to a sporting event.”
In fact, when Fernandez and Godsick moved into their Chagrin Falls home a decade ago, they removed the rundown tennis court on the property, thinking it was a long shot they’d have kids who were into the game.
“Now my son says every day that he wishes we had a court,” she laughs.
Fernandez, who was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Florida, spends about 60 days a year on the road as an ESPN commentator for the Australian Open, Wimbledon and other major tournaments. The rest of the time, she’s with her children.
“I’m a full-time mom,” she says. “I don’t even car pool. I take them everywhere.”
While Isabella plans on playing lacrosse in college, Nicholas wants to see how far he can go with tennis. “You can dream big,” Fernandez says. “Why not go after it?”