Men’s Tennis: Martin: I matured as a Cat

Franklin Kao

Todd Martin is Northwestern’s most accomplished men’s tennis player ever. He played for the Wildcats for two years before he decided to pursue his professional career in 1990. He competed in two Grand Slam finals – the 1994 Australian Open and the 1999 U.S. Open – but lost both. Martin’s greatest victories came at the 1994 Queen’s Club championship, where he beat Pete Sampras in the final match, and in the 1995 Davis Cup championship, where he was a member of the U.S. team that defeated Russia.

The Daily’s Franklin Kao caught up with Martin to talk about his memories of NU.

Daily Sports: What was one of your most memorable moments playing at Northwestern?

Martin: It’s hard to overlook our 1990 season where we won the Big Ten. It was the first time we won the Big Ten in a long time. It was such a joy to celebrate the culmination of a successful season together.

Daily Sports: How did your experience at Northwestern help your professional career?

Martin: It provided a period of time for me of growth. Physical growth, emotional growth, intellectual growth and an opportunity to adjust to independence. Me turning pro at 18 when I finished high school would have been like putting an 8-year-old in high school.

Daily Sports: So you were only at Northwestern for two years. Why did you decide to leave for the pros?

Martin: One of the main reasons I chose Northwestern was I felt like it would be the best balance for me between academics and athletics. I really felt like (leaving) was a two-pronged decision. One, as a competitor I was very confident that I was on the track to being prepared to compete on the world level. And regardless, splitting my focus wasn’t really accomplishing everything that I wanted to. At the time, I really took the leap of faith that said, “I’ll give tennis a hundred percent and after two or three years or four years or five years if it doesn’t work, well then I’ll come back and give school a hundred percent.”

Daily Sports: What was one of the more memorable moments in your professional career?

Martin: One of the most memorable moments was when we won the Davis Cup in 1995. It’s a much different team atmosphere in that it’s four or five competitors that are usually at each other’s throats taking a week off here and there to join together. It was an exciting challenge because you had to figure out how to work with people that you usually wanted to beat. I think at the end of the year we looked around and realized what we were able to accomplish by stepping away from our individual absorption of selves and did a job together.

Daily Sports: What did you enjoy the most about competing in a Grand Slam?

Martin: I would like to say that I was a pure enough competitor that whether I went out on the hard courts down the street where I grew up or Arthur Ashe Stadium at U.S. Open it was the same. So I’d like to con people into thinking every time I walk onto the court it’s the same. But it does get, incrementally more exciting … there was nothing better. I was disappointed when the match was over; whether I won or lost, I wanted to keep playing. It was never, a “Ah, a relief, it’s done.” It was always, “Let’s play best to seven, I’m up three-one, but let’s play best to seven,” because I like the way it feels. It was a dream, it was truly a dream come true.

Daily Sports: You were awarded the ATP Sportsmanship Award in 1993 and 1994. What did that mean to you?

Martin: It was important to me. I was brought up to be respectful of the game, respectful of my family, respectful of my peers. And the fact that others thought that I did that well while still competing with my whole heart was important to me.

Daily Sports: Growing up as a young tennis player, whom did you look up to as a role model?

Martin: I didn’t look at anyone player and say, “I want to play like him.” I would say Stefan Edberg was probably the closest that I had to a role model just from a competitive standpoint. Game wise, I liked a little bit of (Ivan) Lendl, I liked a little bit of (John) McEnroe, I liked a little bit of (Jimmy) Connors and I liked a little bit of (Bjorn) Borg.

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