To those of you who said “who?” when you read today’s Purple Mafia Profile, I want to give you some context. Todd Martin was Northwestern’s 1990s version of what Luke Donald is today. Same concept, different sport. Martin was a tennis star at Northwestern and actually left school early to go pro. He went pro right as I entered school and I knew many that knew him and he was universally loved as a “great guy”. Martin came oh-so-close to reaching Donald’s top-ranked status in his sport, but never quite got to number one (he was ranked as high as #4). He played in an era that featured Andre Agassi and transitioned to Pete Sampras as the American tennis headliner. Todd’s career was pretty amazing. Fifteen straight US Open appearances, two Grand Slam final appearances (US Open, Australian Open), eight singles titles, Davis Cup member (’94-’02), and, as a testament to his character he was back-to-back winner of the ATP’s sportsmanship award.
However, the thing that always intrigued me about Todd was his humble approach. While at school his fraternity brothers (he was a Delt) told stories of how he was making big time coin on the ATP tour, yet he was riding around in a beater of a car he’d had since high school. He was living with his parents. He was the anti-glitz guy who made it big. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that today Todd is involved in a handful of charities and he’s never forgotten his roots. Born in East Lansing, Martin’s foundation – Todd Martin Development Fund – continues to serve underprivileged youth in East Lansing (as it has since 1994) and he’s very active there despite living in Hunter Bates (and Tim Tebow’s) hometown of Ponte Vedra, Florida. Oh yeah, and as we’ll find out his day job has him connected to some of the biggest name in the sport. Yet, he’s also still very actively involved with Northwestern. Let’s catch-up with Todd Martin.
LTP: Welcome to LTP Todd! I see you’re on the board of NU men’s tennis. What does that involve?
TM: Coach Arvid Swan has enlisted a group of trusted alumni to help advise him certain areas of his business, with a focus on networking within our teams from way back when. Still being in the coaching/teaching business gives me the added opportunity to discuss player development and the such with Arvid. It’s great to be able to stay connected to the program.
LTP: In addition to tennis, how much do you follow Northwestern athletics?
TM: Living in UF Gator-land now, it is hard to get as much Big Ten (or is it 12 now?) sports coverage. Still, I am a dedicated Wildcat hoops and football fan and love to hear good news about our other sports teams.
LTP: Tough one – you can only pick one. Tell us your single favorite moment from your tennis career. Describe in detail why it is #1.
TM: Uggh…winning my 4th round match of the 2000 US Open against Carlos Moya, I think. I was down 2 sets to love and ate away at the lead slowly but surely. I think I saved match point in the fourth set, got some cramping twinges, and won in an emotional 5th set. We finished at about 1:30am and were the last match for the day in the huge Arthur Ashe Stadium. Funny, but 25,000 seats looks pretty funny when there are only 2,000 or so people left. Fortunately, the organizers allowed everyone left to come down into the front rows and those seemingly few people made lots of noise and made the moment very memorable for me.
LTP: You’ve mentored some of the current best. Tell us about your day job now and who (if you can tell us) you’re working with.
TM: I have been fortunate to coach two of the world’s current best in Mardy Fish and Novak Djokovic. In September, I will start operation of a junior tennis development program here in Jacksonville, FL. It will provide after-school tennis for players of all levels and will offer partnerships with programs from around the country to have me visit their programs and for them to send their players to me for training camps. The younger clientele will provide me opportunity to focus on what I enjoy most, teaching. Setting up the business, however, has been a good reminder that I should have paid better attention in school :)
LTP: Uhh…yeah, I’ve heard of them. Impressive clientele! You grew up in Sparty country and are actively involved there with your foundation. First, did you grow up a Sparty fan and how has that changed (or not)? Second, how often are you back in Big Ten country and what are you doing in Lansing these days?
TM: We moved from Ohio to East Lansing when I was 10. So, I have been a Buckeye fan, a Spartan fan, and a Wildcat athlete. Fortunately, I was able to shed the red from my wardrobe and stay committed to both the Wildcats and Spartans. I’m back in the Lansing area several times a year helping the Todd Martin Development Fund. The TMDF provides tennis, life skills, leadership, and academic education services to mid-Michigan children.
LTP: How closely do you follow Northwestern football?
TM: I met Coach Fitzgerald when he was playing for the ‘Cats and was extremely impressed with him as a person. I would follow NU football regardless, but having Coach Fitz lead the charge keeps my interest even higher.
LTP: That is quite a consistent answer from our Purple Mafia Profilees. Favorite alltime player?
TM: Rod Laver. Only have ever seen a few clips of him playing, but I hit with him when I was 21 and he was in his mid-50s. He hit every ball purely and probably could have taken me had we played. On top of that, he is one of the nicest gentlemen I have ever met. Incredibly and genuinely modest.
LTP: How about favorite football player?
TM: If NU, I’ll go with Otto Graham in honor of my late father, who grew up a Browns fan and loved Mr. Graham. Otherwise, I would have to go with Chris Snee, lineman for the NY Giants.
LTP: How often does NU come in to your life?
TM: Some of my greatest friends are from NU days. My teammates and I stay close as well. Of course, in my travels I end up seeing old classmates or other who know that I went to NU. When I was still competing, I got lots of “Let’s go ‘Cats!” during my matches. I liked that.
LTP: Any future Martins heading to Evanston?
TM: What’s tuition now?? Honestly, I would be thrilled with that, but I’ve raised Floridians and they might be a little “soft” for the character-building winters of Evanston.
LTP: We’ll work on them! Todd, thanks for playing! We look forward to connecting with you again soon, hopefully at either a sunny destination in January for a bowl gamel or the Wildcats largest basketball party somewhere in March!