“I have always loved sports and I tried every sport. My father was a professional basketball player in Argentina and won five National Basketball League championships. I played basketball and golf. [My] mother played tennis socially.
“During the first years, I didn’t know about wheelchair tennis. I started to play as I can, with the wheelchair, but with able-bodied people. The first five years I was playing even in tournaments. Then they showed me the wheelchair tennis pro tour, [and I] decided I wanted to be a professional wheelchair champion.
“I have always loved to compete. I have … worked hard and put many years of my life into the sport. It might sound crazy, but I enjoy the bad times as well because they make you stronger. They make you grow and improve every day. If you combine these things and work hard enough, you will probably be successful in anything you do.
“This belief put me in a good spot to go through the good and bad moments in my career. I have always looked at my life and felt confident about myself, maybe not in a rational way. But if you think too much, you might not achieve your dream. My confidence [is] a good skill.
“Wheelchair sports are often not looked at as professional sports [and some] people do not appreciate wheelchair sports because they are not used to seeing athletes in wheelchairs. It feels unfair but it is part of disability sports. All of us go through this. I hope one day wheelchair sports will evolve and people will see us as equal because we are. We … do not have the legs to move so a few things change when we play in wheelchairs but the tennis, talent, competition, and physical skills are the same.”
“We are elite athletes too.”
In 2017, then aged 23, Fernandez became the first Argentinian world singles No.1 in either able-bodied or wheelchair tennis. In an interview with La Nación´s, he revealed that his success also came at a huge financial cost, due to the lack of support from private sponsors. “I feel that if a company supported me it would be like a pampering for so many years of effort that have been made. It would be an assessment in that sense. Anyway, I’m tired of feeling that I beg for things. Because lately with the private sponsors I’ve had it seemed as if I was begging, and I don’t want to feel that way. I want them to respect me and value me as the athlete I am. So, the decision we make now is not to accept anything anymore until they respect me for who I am, as Enard did, as Yonex did (racket sponsor), as Invacare (the sports wheelchair) did, which are my three sponsors. The sponsor issue doesn’t take my sleep away from me, not at all, but it would be a good recognition. I think I’ve earned it.”
This conversation with Fernandez includes excerpts from his Behind the Racquet interview, a 2020 International Tennis Federation mini bio-documentary film, as well as the 2017 interview with La Nación. Fernandez can be found on Instagram @gustifernandez4.
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