Sudden Impact

August 29, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Six weeks ago at Wimbledon, Todd Martin used his big serve and improved volley to pound his way to the semifinals, where he lost to Pete Sampras, the world's No. 1 player.

Along the way, Martin ousted any doubts about his stamina.

His staying power had been called into question the year before, when he made five singles finals and won just once. At Wimbledon, he set a tournament record by winning four five-setters to get to the semifinals, where he took Sampras to four sets for the first time in the tournament.

So there is little doubt Martin belongs among the elite at the U.S. Open, which begins today. The No. 9 seed, he plays Frenchman Guillaume Raoux in the first round. But while Martin is one of the world's best, he is not like most of them.

"When players get the ranking he has, most of them get very selfish," said U.S. Tennis Association national coach Rodney Harmon. "He's not like that."

Martin, who moved into the top five after Wimbledon, talks about how he hopes to be named to the Davis Cup team that will play the semifinals against Sweden the week of Sept. 19. And he genuinely seems to be looking forward to playing in two charity events.

On Sept. 27 in Lansing, Mich., he will play in a tournament he has organized to raise money for local tennis programs.

And on Sept. 29 he will be in Baltimore to play Jim Courier in the 1994 Signet Bank Tennis Challenge put together by Pam Shriver to benefit children's charities throughout the area.

"I'm in a position now, or I realized I'm in a position, to have an impact on the game of tennis, on its future," said Martin, 24. "In one respect, it is intimidating, or maybe humbling, to me. In another, it's pretty exciting. To give back to something you've gained from is one of the nicest things you can do."

Even after he had just won the Australian Open semifinals to make his first Grand Slam final last January, his first question to his agent after the match had nothing to do with himself.

"There he was still sweaty from his match and he wanted to know how the American juniors -- Paul Goldstein and Scott Humphries -- did," said Tom Ross, who represents Martin at Advantage International. "He is clearly the USTA's poster boy. He didn't turn pro as a teen-ager. He came up through the USTA program and now he's an unselfish and balanced person with a real perspective on the importance of family, friends and community."

His growth on the tennis court has been obvious; he has made four finals this season, winning two of them.

"I think a lot of what people thought was a stamina problem last year was anxiety," he said. "I was just burning up so much energy. I provided myself with a lot of chances to do well and because I was so anxious, I lost four of five. It's like any new job. The first few days are tough, then it's not a new job any more, it's your job. Now, I'm much more comfortable."

But his down-to-earth nature doesn't always come through in the brief post-match interviews. After losing to Sampras at Wimbledon, he was almost surly. At other times, he has seemed aloof.

"I think it's pretty difficult to get to know a player from 10 minutes of listening to them right after hours of having blood and guts on the line," he said. "I think most of us who are making it in tennis today have worked awfully hard to get what we've achieved.

"I don't think any of us are really country club brats. But I admit I'm certainly more spoiled now than I ever was just because of the tour benefits. Most of the guys, I can't really think of one who an ugly, ugly person."

Still, he would like to extend the sport beyond its traditional country club boundaries. "That's why I've started my charity event in Lansing to give those less fortunate kids a chance to play.

"I'm not promising anyone that they're going to be a pro player, but I want to give them the chance to enjoy the game and maybe find out how good they can be."

And Martin believes kids can find that out without sacrificing their childhoods to the sport. After all, he wasn't focusing single-mindedly on tennis as an 8-year-old. Martin was busy being a plain, old-fashioned kid.

He was yo-yoing.

"We lived in Hudson, this small town in Ohio, and I think it was Duncan Yo-Yos that had this competition," Martin said. "They were going to find the best yo-yoers around the state and the local winners would advance to the state competition in Cleveland."

Martin had a yo-yo. He signed up for the tournament and was given a sheet of paper explaining a number of tricks.

"I thought it was pretty neat," he said. "I took the sheet and learned the tricks and I won my tiny town's championship and then was duly returned to earth at the big event."

He still has his yo-yo and he can still do a few of the tricks, though he lost the magic paper that explained how to do so many more.

"I rock the cradle pretty good," he said. "But I only do it these days when I'm extremely bored -- I really wish I could find that paper."

U.S. OPEN

When: Today through Sept. 11.

Where: National Tennis Center, New York.

Today's TV: USA, 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Ch. 9, 12:35 a.m., highlights.

Defending champions: Men, Pete Sampras. Women, Steffi Graf.

Prize money: $550,000 each to men's, women's champion.

Men's top seeds: 1. Sampras, Tampa, Fla.; 2. Goran Ivanisevic, Croatia; 3. Sergi Bruguera, Spain; 4. Michael Stich, Germany; 5. Stefan Edberg, Sweden.

Women's top seeds: 1. Graf, Germany; 2. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Spain; 3. Conchita Martinez, Spain; 4. Mary Pierce, France; 5. Kimiko Date, Japan.

Surface: Decoturf (hard courts).

SIGNET TENNIS CHALLENGE

When: Sept. 29.

Where: Baltimore Arena.

What: Todd Martin plays Jim Courier in a match to benefit the Baltimore Community Foundation, a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization.

Tickets: Range from $9 for reserved seats to $75 for a courtside box seat. Can be purchased at the arena box office and all TicketMaster outlets, including Hecht's. To charge by phone, call (410) 481-SEAT.

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