(February 5, 2013) -- Despite reaching two Grand Slam finals, Todd Martin never got his hands on a major title. He also fell just short of the world No. 1 ranking. But thanks to a career's worth of experience, he's been more involved in growing the game than some of the biggest names in the tennis.
Six months ago he launched Todd Martin Tennis in Jacksonville, an academy geared toward player development at all levels of the game. This comes two decades after he started a National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) chapter in his hometown of Lansing, Michigan. In fact, it was just before his participation in an NJTL charity benefit when Tennis Now caught up with the former world No. 4.
While many players have distanced themselves from the game after retirement, Martin has been involved in just about every aspect. So why does he do it?
“Staying involved with the USTA and the ATP, forming my own business, and coaching and teaching, they are all done first because I enjoy them,” he said, “but also because they are incredible opportunities for me to share what I learned; what I experienced throughout my life in tennis.”
After spending eight years as head of the ATP Players Council, Martin is now a member of the USTA Board of Directors, giving him a dual perspective on the most pressing issues in tennis today. As players continue to lobby for a larger slice of the Grand Slam revenue pie, the respective tennis federations responsible for running the show are feeling the squeeze. This year the Australian Open ponied up an additional $4 million in total prize money, allowing first round losers in Melbourne to earn a whopping $27,600. While that may seem unreasonably high to casual fans, Martin explained the issue from both sides.
“The players side focuses on revenue sharing and the fact that 52 weeks a year, they are competing for the big prizes of getting into the four Grand Slams. So really, the first round prize money is a reward for those 52 weeks out of the year.”
The USTA, who is also planning a $4 million prize money increase at the 2013 U.S. Open, sees things a little differently.
“But for Wimbledon, these are federation run events that are charged with much bigger tasks than simply running their Grand Slam event,” Martin said. “The USTA, French Federation of Tennis and Tennis Australia are all charged with building the sport…with that comes a significant budget.”
This, of course, creates a disconnect. As Martin says, the players’ desire for revenue sharing “blows a hole” in the tennis federations’ mission to grow the sport. In the end, he hopes players will be reasonable and tournaments will attempt to find a middle ground.
In addition to his work with youth, Martin has also coached at the tour level, working most notably with Novak Djokovic in 2009 and 2010. After watching the Serb’s historic three-peat in Australia, he sees a few things that have clearly changed.
“Watching him play, he plays way more aggressively than he ever did…obviously he’s 100 percent confident in himself, and I think he walks out on the court feeling superior to those guys.”
Given that Martin played nearly 40 five-set matches in his career, he’s knows just what Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka were feeling after their fourth-round marathon in Melbourne. So what does a match like that do to a players’ body?
“I look at it two different ways,” Martin said. “One, go walk around the mall for five hours and see how you feel. It’s horrible. Then have that much time on your feet and have it be pounding; have it be stressful.”
And if that doesn't sound painful enough, he gives another, equally vivid illustration.
“You can also look at it like training for a marathon. You run 26 miles…and then two days later you have to do it again. It’s not apples to apples, but it’s that intensity. It’s that duration. The entire match is a sprint and the entire match is a marathon.”
As enjoyable as those “marathon” matches are to watch, questions have been raised regarding whether or not players can withstand the physical abuse without the aid of performance enhancing substances. Though he laments the fact that doping casts a shadow of doubt over some of the game’s great performances, Martin believes it’s “naïve” to think that any sport is clean.
“It’s just like Wall Street. Someone is breaking the rules to make sure they make an extra buck, and there are a lot of bucks on the table in pro sports. You’re going to find the unethical performer looking for a leg up.”
Though thoughtful and business-minded, Martin doesn’t spend all of his time developing his various off-court ventures. A fixture on the senior “champions” tour for many years, the 6’6” family man still loves to compete. But some things have changed since his playing days.
“I never hated to lose that much [on the ATP Tour] because I knew how much I learned from losing. Now I don’t really learn an ounce from losing,” he said with a laugh. “I still don’t mind it because we’re old and gray and bald, but I do really just enjoy the process of competing.”
He uses his playing experience daily as he coaches new talent, but in addition to a killer serve and a picture-perfect volley, Todd Martin wants to pass along what tennis has taught him off the court: perseverance and decency.
“If I can get through each day with a small dose of both of those, I feel like it’s a great value.”
(Photo Credit: Getty/Clive Brunskill)