It comes as no surprise that Argentina’s Gustavo Fernandez followed a family penchant to play sports. What might be of surprise is that Fernandez chose wheelchair tennis instead of wheelchair basketball.
You see, in the Fernandez family basketball tends to rule.
Fernandez’s father — also Gustavo — had an impressive 17 years as a professional point guard and played on five National Championship, South American Championship and Pan American Championship teams.
Fernandez’s brother — Juan — also a guard, played college basketball in the USA for the Temple Owls in Philadelphia and then signed a multi-year contract with Italy’s Olimpia Milano team upon graduation in 2012.
But Fernandez found that tennis had elements he preferred more than basketball.
“I always like sport and I have a sport family,” said the 20-year-old. “My father played basketball professionally. I started playing at around seven and at 12 I started competing and I kind of liked it. It’s more easy to play wheelchair tennis when it’s one-on-one and it doesn’t have to be against a wheelchair player. You can also play with an able-bodied player.”
Fernandez became disabled when at just a little past his first birthday he fell out of a chair and sustained a spinal-cord injury.
Good athletic genes, however, helped Fernandez become a top junior wheelchair champion. He was a Junior Masters champion in 2010 and 2011 and achieved the No. 1 junior ranking which he held through 2012 when his junior eligibility came to a close.
In 2012, Fernandez became the first wheelchair junior star to win a Super Series title. He accomplished the feat at the Japan Open in May where he beat three of the wold’s top four ranked players. In the final, he outclassed Stephane Houdet of France in straight sets. Later in 2012, Fernandez reached the quarterfinals at the London Paralympic Games. And he finished the 2012 season having become the first South American to qualify for the year-end NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters.
He commenced the 2013 season by becoming the first South American wheelchair player to compete at a Grand Slam, which he did at the Australian Open, Roland Garros and U.S. Open. At the U.S. Open he reached the doubles final.
This year started well for Fernandez when he secured his first Grand Slam final slot in Australian, losing out to top-ranked Shingo Kunieda of Japan. On a predominantly rainy Wednesday, Fernandez opened his 2014 Roland Garros campaign with an impressive 64 61 win over Joachim Gerard of Belgium.
“Last year, unfortunately I couldn’t win any matches in singles at any of the Grand Slams so it was something I really wanted to do,” Fernandez said. “Finally, this year in Australia, I did it and it was something really good for me. It’s given me a lot of confidence to get through the rest of the year and I think that step that I took helped me today in the match.”
Nevertheless, It’s not totally all about tennis for Fernandez. He has other pursuits he’s involved in as well.
“I’m studying in law school, but tennis is my job so I put more time to this,” he said.
In Thursday’s semifinals, Fernandez will play top seed Shingo Kunieda of Japan, who defeated French wildcard recipient Nicolas Peifer 64 60.
The 30-year-old Kunieda, who was named the 2013 ITF Men’s Wheelchair Champion, has been the Roland Garros runner-up to Frenchman Stephan Houdet the past two years. Along with Houdet, Kuneida won the Roland Garros and Wimbledon doubles title last season.
Houdet is also into the semifinal after scoring a 64 61 win over Maikel Scheffers of Netherlands. The Frenchman will face Gordon Reid of Great Britain in the semifinals after he took a tough 61 67 (7) 64 first round victory over Takuya Miki of Japan.
There are many comparisons that can be found between Fernandez and Roland Garros women’s top seed Yui Kamiji of Japan.
They’re both 20-years-old. They both were former Junior Masters champions - Kamiji held that distinction in 2010. They both were No. 1 junior players — Kamiji attained that goal in singles and doubles in January 2011 and kept the honor until she left the junior arena in 2012. At the 2012 London Paralympics she also reached the quarterfinals. And she became a Grand Slam finalist for the first time at the 2014 Australian Open.
Another comparison is that on the opening day of the 2014 Roland Garros wheelchair competition both were first round winners. Kamiji scored an impressive 62 62 win over Jordanne Whiley of Great Britain.
It’s worth noting that by June 2011, while still a junior, the then 17-year-old Kamiji established herself as a top 10 player in the senior game as well.
By March 2013, Kamiji had scored her first upset over world No. 1 Aniek Van Koot of the Netherlands. That victory came in March 2013, just a month before she graduated high school and began a full-time career playing tennis. She went on to win her first Super Series title at the Japan Open in May. In November 2013, Kamiji became the first non-Dutch player in the 20-year history of the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters, held in California, to capture that prestigious trophy.
The first player from Japan to rank No. 1 in women’s wheelchair competition, Kamiji was born with spina bifida. But that didn’t prevent her from wanting to do amazing things. And tennis, which her older sister played, was something she was very attracted to doing for a very simple reason.
“I have to do it by myself,” said Kamiji, who clearly enjoys her independence.
In Thursday’s semifinals, Kamiji will play Jiske Griffioen of the Netherlands, who outlasted Dutch countrywoman Marjolein Buis 63 76 (2).
The 28-year-old Griffioen was a women’s singles finalist here at Roland Garros last year. She also teamed with fellow Dutchwoman Aniek van Koot to win the doubles title at all four of the 2013 Grand Slams.
Also into the semifinals are second seed Sabine Ellerbrock of Germany, who will face 2013 ITF Women’s Wheelchair Champion on the Year Aniek Van Koot of the Netherlands.
In men’s doubles action on Wednesday, Joachim Gerard of Beligum and Houdet captured a 75 36 1-0 (8) win over Kuneida and Miki. Fernandez and Peifer also moved into the semifinals with a 64 76 (7) win over Reid and Scheffers.
The women’s doubles first round is being played on Thursday.
Roland Garros Men's Singles Draw
Roland Garros Women's Singles Draw
Roland Garos Men's Doubles Draw
Roland Garros Women's Doubles Draw
Order of Play - Thursday, 5 June 2014