Mind on Miami, but Fernandez wins Hurricane affects family, friends

September 01, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Mary Joe Fernandez calls her home in South Miami, and she hears her sister crying and her nieces screaming in the background and talks with her father about acquiring a generator.

Then, she plays a tennis match, struggling to beat Donna Faber, 3-6, 6-0, 6-4, in yesterday's opening round of the U.S. Open.

Fernandez is here to try and win her first Grand Slam. But she admits her thoughts are elsewhere, with her family and friends and all the others of Miami, who are trying to rebuild their lives and their homes in the wake of Hurricane Andrew.

"I've seen pictures," Fernandez said. "Watched the news. It's like an atomic bomb went off."

Most of the world's touring tennis pros call Florida home. But it is Fernandez who is associated closest with Miami. She was raised there. Went to school there. Decided to dig her roots a little deeper there, sinking some of her prize money into a 4,000-square foot home the family moved into after the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.

This was a glorious summer for Fernandez. She won a bronze medal in singles and a gold in doubles, and called the 16 days in Spain "the most amazing of her career."

And then came a hurricane, and suddenly, the games weren't so important anymore. Fernandez was in New York practicing for the Open, working on her game with her coach, Harold Solomon, when Andrew hit Florida.

The player and coach stayed up all Sunday night into Monday morning, watching CNN, the Weather Channel, desperate for information.

"That day we practiced, we were thinking, we were so nervous," Fernandez said. "All the damage. People dying. And it was a nice summer day here and we're playing tennis. Tough to grasp the concept."

For a day and a half after the hurricane, Fernandez was unable to contact her family. When she did, she learned the news wasn't so bad. Everyone was healthy after sitting out the storm in an evacuation shelter. The new house took some of Andrew's best shots and came away with only one skylight knocked out, a few trees knocked down. Next door, a house was washed away. Another house in the neighborhood was still standing, but its roof was off.

"We lost the electricity," Fernandez said. "My dad finally got a generator. And my mom finally flew up to New York over the weekend. But my dad, he's scared to leave the house. So much looting. He's protecting the house right now."

Fernandez is trying to come up with a plan for a charity tournament in the Miami area. Four men and four women. A couple of matches. Money donated to the hurricane victims. Solomon, the Silver Spring, Md., native who lives in Fort Lauderdale, is trying to firm up plans, get commitments from the likes of Andre Agassi and Jim Courier.

Solomon said he called home and discovered that a tornado touched down in his Fort Lauderdale neighborhood. It sent a 60-foot tree crashing through his roof, causing $15,000 worth of damage.

Solomon is busy now. Fernandez is still in the Open, still struggling for her first Grand Slam.

"We're ready to rock and roll," Solomon said. "But we're still thinking about home."

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