(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Im
Why not stay on the tennis theme to start?
Todd Martin was an American tennis player who made a name for himself in the 1990s. He assisted the United States in winning the Davis Cup final against Russia in 1995.
However, his career stalled from bad knee syndromes before ever getting the opportunity to win a Grand Slam.
During his 14-year career, Martin made countless finals and is still one of only a few male players to win over 400 matches. To boot, he only lost 234 times, while maintaining a ranking in the top 30 in the doubles seeds.
Martin was known for his wide-swinging, one-handed backhand as well as his volley abilities.
His best chance to win a major came in 1994, when a 23-year old Martin combated still up-and-coming fellow American, Pete Sampras, in the final of the Australian Open.
Sampras was known for skipping the hard and indoor circuits held in January and February so he would be better rested for the later stages of the year. This was relatively early for Sampras to play a match of this caliber.
Unfortunately, Martin, who would eventually rise to 4th in the ATP rankings amidst some of the greatest talent ever to play professional tennis simultaneously, did succumb to arguably the greatest ever in Sampras.
Pistol Pete won in straight sets on that hot Australian day.
Todd Martin would continue on to be a mainstay in the second week of majors for the duration of the ‘90s. He occurred in numerous quarter and semifinal matches, including a pair of semis appearances at Wimbledon.
His most frustrating loss at the All-England Club came after blowing a 5-1 fifth set lead to upstart MaliVai Washington in a ’96 semifinal. Washington lost to Richard Krajicek in the final.
Eventually, in the last Slam event of the decade, Martin made another final, this time at the U.S. Open. Unfortunately, another iconic countryman in Andre Agassi stood in his way.
Despite being outslugged at the baseline, Martin served with phenomenal precision, often pinning Andre in the corner and opening the court up for easy volleys.
Martin led two sets to one before Agassi’s return game slowly wore him down. The fifth and final set was won by Andre, 6-2.
Martin would gradually struggle the next couple years as age and chronic knee injuries caught up to him.
2004 would prove to be his swan song for the ATP Tour as he stepped away from the game with 13 career titles, including wins he accumulated playing doubles.
Looking back at the scene today, it really seemed like every superstar of that era had their one major tournament they made their own.
For Richard Krajicek, it was that ’96 Wimbledon.
For Goran Ivanisevic, the ’01 Wimbledon.
Michael Chang, of course, had the ’89 win at Roland Garros.
But Todd Martin was always blocked out of the spotlight, and, for that, he’s at the top of this list.
Though he often sat behind Sampras, Ivanisevic and Agassi in the rankings, Martin was often regarded as the most consistent player from season’s start. He just didn’t have a killer weapon to take him through an entire fortnight.
What’s not mentioned in the stats is Martin’s reputation for being one of the genuinely nice guys on tour, and a nobleman the player’s association confided in for relief activism.
Martin, at the very least, will be remembered as a Davis Cup champion and contributor to some of the best play during the deepest era of men’s tennis the world has ever seen.