Martin enjoying his ride to the stars

Semifinalist shares day's spotlight with astronaut Barry

Notebook

September 11, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- Todd Martin was standing beside astronaut Dan Barry, talking about the space shuttle, when the questions started.

"Are you going to the moon?" he was asked.

"I'm on my way," said the U.S. Open semifinalist, who plays Cedric Pioline today.

"Does this prove tennis is rocket science?" came another inquiry.

"No, but sometimes I feel like I'm in outer space," he said, bringing to mind his fourth-round, five-set match and the two bags of fluids he needed to alleviate the delirium he was feeling from dehydration and illness.

It was a rainy day in New York. The U.S. Open women's semifinals were on hold, stories at a minimum, when "good guy" Martin moseyed into the interview room with Barry to save the day.

It is No. 2 Andre Agassi who is the big star at this open, playing in today's premier men's semifinal against No. 3 Yevgeny Kafelnikov. The No. 1 world ranking is on the line in that match, and most experts expect the eventual Open champion to come from their meeting.

But there is no doubt that Martin, who has played two electrifying matches, also has turned into a star.

Last May, Barry made his second space shuttle flight and worked as a technician putting together the space structure that is to be a building block toward a flight to Mars. He spends time talking to children about the benefits of not giving up on dreams.

"My wife and I were jumping up and down in our basement rooting for this guy [Martin]," said Barry, of the match in which Martin had rallied from two sets and a match-point down to win in those five emotional, gut-stirring sets against Greg Rusedski.

"This guy showed grit, determination. He's someone I can use as an example to the young people I talk to. I came here today to ask Todd if I can use his story that way."

Martin, whose performance here has already raised his ranking from No. 7 to No. 4, smiled shyly.

"It goes straight to my head," he said, joking about all the accolades he has been receiving for his emotional performance. "Actually, I'm very embarrassed, flattered and honored. But really, it's a strange feeling to be receiving the accolades I am and still focus on playing tennis [today]."

Martin added that he believes when a player is feeling badly, he often plays better.

"I think that's definitely the case," he said. "Being ill helps your focus more than anything else. It creates a sense of urgency. It just seems to be something channeling all your energy in one direction."

Asked if he was going to go looking for bad food last night in preparation for feeling bad today, he shook his head.

"I've developed a head cold," he said. "So I'm in good shape [for the semifinal]."

Double happiness

When the men's doubles championship finally finished yesterday evening, Alex O'Brien and Sebastien Lareau had emerged as the champions.

The No. 11 seeds upset No. 1 seeds Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes, 7-6, 6-4, and earned $330,000. Bhupathi and Paes get $165,000.

"It's just a great feeling," said Lareau, who with O'Brien won their first major championship.

"He's the first Canadian to ever win a Grand Slam," said O'Brien. "It's his 13th try. I'm happy for him. Gave me a big hug. He's never been that close to me before."

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