February 5, 1985: The day Mary Joe Fernandez, aged 13, became the youngest player to win a WTA Tour match

Every day Tennis Majors takes you back in time to celebrate a great moment in tennis history. Today, we go back to 1985 to witness how a 13-year-old girl from Miami destroyed the experienced Candy Reynolds, 6-0, 6-0, in the first round of the Lipton Championships

Mary Joe Fernandez OTD 060285 THOMAS JEAN-PAUL/SIPA

What happened exactly on that day

On this day, February 5, 1985, Mary Joe Fernandez set the record of the youngest player to ever score a win on the WTA Tour, at the age of 13 years and six months. She even achieved that feat with style, blanking world No 107, Candy Reynolds, 6-0, 6-0, and she would go on with two other wins to reach the round of 16.

The players: Mary Joe Fernandez and experienced American Candy Reynolds

  • Mary Joe Fernandez, American prodigy, junior star

Mary Joe Fernandez was born in Santo Domingo, in 1971, but her parents moved to America when she was only six months old. She became well known in juniors, winning the Orange Bowl four times, in the U12, U14, and U16 categories before the age of 14.

However, unlike many other tennis prodigies, her parents didn’t sacrifice her education and in 1985, despite her promising results, she was still going to school. “If Mary Joe doesn’t want to study, we make her study. If she doesn’t want to play tennis, we don’t make Mary Joe play,” once explained her father, Jose.

Mary Joe Fernandez
Mary Joe Fernandez
  • Candy Reynolds, American winner of doubles title at Roland-Garros

Candy Reynolds, born in 1955, had been on the Tour since 1975. She obtained her best ranking in singles in 1983 as world No 50, but she never claimed a singles title. She had more success in doubles, where, by 1985, she had already accumulated 20 titles, including Roland-Garros in 1983.

The place: Laver’s International Tennis Resort, Delray Beach

The 1985 Lipton International Players Championships, was a tennis tournament played on outdoor hard courts, and it was the first edition of what would later become the Miami Masters 1000. The event was held in Delray Beach, at the Laver’s International Tennis Resort,  a club founded by Rod Laver’s cousin, Ian, and included 40 tennis courts. 

The facts: Fernandez double-bagels Reynolds

In 1985, tennis fans were used to teenage prodigies taking on the WTA Tour. In previous years, several players under the age of 16 had made themselves famous – although not all of them enjoyed enduring glory. The most famous of them had all claimed their maiden title before turning 15: Andrea Jaeger (in 1979), Kathy Rinaldi (in 1981) and Tracy Austin (in 1978). More recently, Steffi Graf, from Germany, had entered the top 100 at the age of 14. 

However, when, in the first round of the Lipton Championships, 13-year-old Mary Joe Fernandez faced Candy Reynolds, world No 107 and 16 years older, she still drew a lot of attention. Curiosity turned into amazement when the young girl turned her opponent into another spectator, destroying her 6-0, 6-0. “She has a mind like a steel trap,” said Don Petrine Jr., a teaching professional who had worked with her quoted by Sports Illustrated. “People talk about how great her strokes are. It’s true, but it’s her head that makes her great, and it’s Silvia and Jose who did that for her.”

What next: Fernandez enters top 10, reaches three slam finals

Young Mary Joe Fernandez would amaze the crowd again in the following rounds, defeating two top 50 players, Yvonne Vermaak (6-3, 6-3) and Bonnie Gadusek, the 11th seed (7-6, 7-6). It would take Hana Mandlikova, seed No 7 and two-time Grand Slam champion, to put an end to her run (6-3, 6-0).

A few weeks later, Fernandez would become the youngest player to ever win a match at the US Open, defeating Sara Gomer in the first round (6-1, 6-4).

Overall, she would reach three major finals throughout her career, defeated by Steffi Graf at the 1990 Australian Open and at Roland-Garros in 1993, and by Monica Seles at the 1992 Australian Open. Claiming 7 titles in total, she would climb as high as world No 4, in 1990. At doubles, Fernandez would claim two Grand Slam titles and she would obtain the Olympic gold twice. 

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