The Home Advantage

One remains on the courts while the other has moved from the fairway to the ringside, but together, retired sports champs Gigi Fernandez and Jane Geddes have planted roots in the area

(page 5 of 5)

When the local schools let out at 2:30, Chelsea Piers starts ringing with hundreds of kids swinging from ropes, lapping the pools, crashing the ice. Under the ballooning ceiling of the tennis courts, future tennis players go at it like an army of Novaks, Rafas and Vikas. More than a thousand kids and adults hit these courts.

With Gigi prowling the courts like a panther, wiry little twelve-year-old players stage massive rallies, six, seven shots across, and they’re nailing the corners like wily old pros. It’s astonishing stuff. During a break, however, Gigi clears the air. “They’re using low-compression balls for training,” she says, surveying the action. “If those were regular balls, they’d be bouncing ten feet in the air.”

Gigi has always had an eye for talent. Once, at the French Open, she noticed a twelve-year-old girl in the junior division who showed some special gift. Two years later in Hamburg, Gigi’s partner was hurt, and so Gigi asked that young girl to double with her. This is how Martina Hingis, then fourteen, earned her first professional victory.

Walking through the tennis armory that towers above her, Gigi seems resolute as a top-kick sergeant. “I had to create the tennis program here from scratch. I hired every one of the instructors—we probably got a hundred resumes from teachers at the local clubs. We’ve probably got the best staff in Fairfield County.”

She looks up sharply and her eyes get a crinkly twinkle. “You know, the MBA taught me how to manage a business, but I had to learn how to manage myself. The life of an athlete that I led for seventeen years, that’s not the real world. And I tell you, it’s been an adjustment learning how to make sure that fifteen people get along well here.”

Back in the office, Karson and Madison are busily drawing when they’re not crawling all over Gigi. “We take them apple picking, camping. We’ve been skiing.” Next summer Jane will get golf clubs in their hands.

Having lived all over, Gigi and Jane have found the place they’d like to call home. They’re currently living in Darien, and looking for a house to buy. They regularly prowl the local restaurants in the area. “We’re big goer-outer eaters,” Jane proffers. “I wish there were more places with Puerto Rican food,” Gigi says. Her expression is sharp and determined, the look of someone who has a goal now and you better not get in the way.

She softens. “You know, when people use the expression ‘You’re going through a change of life,’ they make it sound like something [bad]. But [change] can make life better.”

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