Hispanic Heritage Month: Fernando Velasco
As Executive Director of the Capital Area Tennis Association in Austin, Texas, a renowned tennis teaching pro, and longtime USTA Texas leader and volunteer, Fernando Velasco has made a lasting impact on the sport of Tennis in Texas.
Born in La Paz, Bolivia, Velasco’s journey to tennis, the sport he would dedicate his life to, was an unexpected one.
At the age of two, his family moved to Cochabamba. This city is about 8,400 ft high, and the average temperature did not drop under 40 degrees nor above 80 degrees. He found his passion in swimming and diving and did not lose a race from 9 years old to 15 years old.
But after an accident and injury at the age of 15 while practicing for the National Junior Diving Championship, Velasco was forced to leave the pool. This meant choosing new sports -- the doctors recommended soccer and tennis.
Velasco recalls going to the beautiful Club de “Tenis de Cochabamba” with his dad. And while his father was playing with friends (he was a strong 4.0 player), Fernando would go to the “fronton” (hitting wall) to practice.
One day, while his father was waiting for this friends, he was alone on his court, and Velasco says “I told him I could hit with him. To his surprise, I was able to rally back and forth with consistency and control. He asked me: “where did you learn this?” and I responded, ‘at the fronton!!.’ After that, he encouraged me to come to play with him and with some of the better players at the club. I would play with them from 6am to 7:30 and get home to get ready to go to school.”
He ended up in Miles City Montana, where 10 below zero was a good day in the winter. Even then, he continued to practice tennis inside the gym and on wood floors.
“In 1961, after 200 applicants, three of us were selected to come to the US as exchange students to go to high school,” Velasco said.
He played number one singles and doubles for the High School. After one year, he returned to Cochabamba where he continued to train and play tennis.
In 1963, due to economic and political issues, the family of 7 moved to Chicago, with only $500 left in the bank. Fernando went back to Miles City with a scholarship for gymnastics and tennis at the Custer County Junior College. After one year, he transferred to Eastern Illinois University where he lettered in soccer, gymnastics and tennis and graduated in 1968.
While in Chicago, he was encouraged to play at the Waveland Tennis Courts where the best players in Chicago played. “There I had the chance to meet many wonderful mentors who helped me with my career,” he said.
Velasco then taught four years at Niles West High School where he also coached soccer, gymnastics, and tennis. In the summer time, he would work as a tennis professional in the Country Clubs. He became member of the USPTA and has now celebrated over 50 years of being a member.
He became involved on the Midwest USPTA Board and while serving had the chance to meet incredible mentors and leaders of tennis. Among them Alan Schwartz, Frank Parker, Nick Bollettieri, Dennis VanDer Meer, Vic Braden, Tim Heckler, Bill Tym, Peter Burwash and many more. Also, he was one of the top players in Chicago in the 35 and over division.
In 1979, he joined Club Corporation of America and became Manager of Tennis and Athletic Clubs in Phoenix, Houston, and Dallas. He left CCA and worked at the Landings Club in Savannah, and two clubs in Boca Raton.
In 2000, he and his family left Boca and came to Austin where his four children live. He worked and owned the business of the Grey Rock Tennis Club (Circle C Tennis Club) from 2001 through 2016, when the City of Austin took over the management of the club.
He worked at the Polo Club for one year and half and in 2018 he was hired to be the Executive Director of the Capital Area Tennis Association.
Looking at his life Fernando says: “Tennis was a family and hobby way to meet people and have special times on and off the court. My dad, and two brothers not only became tennis players, but also received scholarships to get education. We struggled a great deal, but once on the tennis court, all the positive thoughts of being in America to have the opportunity to have fun and change people’s lives became our goal. After 50 years, I have not only able to provide for my family a decent living, but still can continue coaching and teaching, with my moto ‘first I teach them how to love the game, then I teach them how to play the game.’”
Fernando still is a competitive player Having returned to competitive tennis at the age of 50, he has been ranked state and nationally in singles and doubles. His biggest thrill now is competing in the Nationals Father/Daughter with daughter Anna, and the Nationals Grandfather/Grandson with Grandson Cole. Out of his 11 grandkids, all of them have been on the court, and still enjoy playing the game.
A good day for Fernando is “to play with my son, daughters, grandchildren, and students from 8 to 60 who still enjoy seeing the ‘old man’ on the court. Also, to play in tournaments and have his wife Frances of 52 years, still chart his game, and remind him on how to ‘clear the tennis balls’ off the court and give me advice.”
HHM 2021: Fernando VelascoSeptember 23, 2021As Executive Director of the Capital Area Tennis Association in Austin, Texas, a renowned tennis teaching pro, and longtime USTA Texas leader and volunteer, Fernando Velasco has made a lasting impact on the sport of Tennis in Texas. Read More