GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- His resume included training up-and-coming professionals Kathy Rinaldi and Carling Bassett, but Andy Brandi was a stranger to the collegiate scene when hired to coach the University of Florida women in 1984.
“I had no background in college tennis,” Brandi recalled Friday. “And not being known in junior tennis or being involved in junior tennis in any way it took a while to get the word out about the University of Florida.”
It helped that Shaun Stafford, the Class 4A state singles champion, played across town at Gainesville Buchholz.
When Stafford signed with UF it “opened the floodgates,” according to Brandi.
And those courts by the law school have never been the same.
Brandi built the Gators into the one of the elite programs in all of college sports, winning more than 91 percent of his duel matches and a trio of national championships in 17 seasons, a foundation current UF coach Roland Thornqvist -- three NCAA championships since succeeding Brandi in 2002, including the last two -- has maintained in equally dominant fashion.
Come Saturday night, Brandi’s legacy in the game will be further entrenched when he’s inducted into the Women’s Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport News, Va.
“I look at this as an achievement not only for myself, but for all the players that represented the University of Florida,” Brandi said of the honor presented in conjunction with the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA). “Without them and all their success, none of this would have happened.”
“Them” would be the conga line of UF All-Americans too long to mention, but led the likes of Stafford, Nicole Arendt, Andrea Farley, Jill Craybas, Dawn Buth and, of course, Lisa Raymond, the two-time NCAA singles champion who won the last 44 matches of her phenomenal career.
Raymond, as it turns out, will join Brandi in the 2012 Hall of Fame Class.
It’s beyond fitting that Brandi, who was a staggering 460-43 (.915) as coach of the Gators, will be there alongside Raymond, who went 69-4, including 34-0 her sophomore year, before turning pro and swinging into a career now 19 years old and worth $9 million in tournament earnings, mostly on the doubles circuit.
“It’s a wowing experience,” Brandi, now 60 and a junior boys coach in Boca Raton, said of the double-dip of Gators being immortalized this weekend. “I think you’re looking at the greatest college player ever in play tennis and probably the most successful college player in professional tennis.”
Raymond, now 38, is still competing on the professional doubles circuit and only six months was ago was half of a doubles team (along with partner Liezel Huber) ranked No. 1 in the world by the WTA.
This weekend, Brandi and Raymond can toast being on top -- together.
“I think I’ll have a glass a wine,” Brandi said. “Maybe even two.”