Tuesday, January 15, 2002 Updated: January 30, 10:35 AM ET
Special to Page 2
Some people like to think of Todd Martin as the best tennis player never to win a Grand Slam. We prefer to think of him as the best tennis player ever to sit down for 10 Burning Questions.
Twice a Grand Slam runner up, the former Northwestern Wildcat -- routinely among the world's top 20 players when injuries haven't kept him on the sideline -- is again in the hunt for his first major title Down Under. A staunch supporter of the Davis Cup, having played on the last eight American teams, Martin is heavily involved with the Tim and Tom Gullikson Foundation and a grassroots tennis program he recently launched in his hometown of Lansing, Mich.
He'll take on 29th-seeded Xavier Malisse of Belgium in the second round later tonight, but not before Page 2's Ray Holloman got the first serves in.
1.Page 2: Being on the ATP Tour means that, from time to time, you compete at events and do publicity with members of the WTA tour. Have any of your buddies ever tried to get you to set them up with Anna Kournikova?
Todd Martin: Fortunately, I have not had that challenge and don't plan on having it anytime soon. That's a lot to ask to ask of a guy.
2.To the best of your knowledge, has Gustavo Kuerten ever lost a tennis ball in his hair?Martin: At times, you would think that it would happen. Sometimes he looks a little more like Sideshow Bob (of "The Simpsons") than a tennis player. I've volunteered my services in the past. He's always turned me down ... he seems pretty pleased with his hair though, we're not sure why.
I was hoping he'd get a haircut before he got down here, but it's not the birds he needs to be concerned with ... it's the flies. There are flies down here that are bigger than you've ever seen and, believe me, they are not bashful. You have 10 of them flying around your head at any time, so if they had gotten around him, some of them might have died in his hair, and that would not have been pleasant. Lucky for everyone, he was eliminated in the first round.
3.All right, honesty time. Do any of the guys in the locker room rub Andre Agassi's head for good luck prior to a match?Martin: I haven't seen that happen, but I really wouldn't put it past a couple of the guys on the tour.
Do they rub it for anything else?Martin: Let's really, really, really hope not.
4.Who's going bald first -- and we mean legitimately bald, not the Andre-shaved-the-'do bald -- Agassi or Pete Sampras?Martin: I guess you guys haven't been looking at my recent pictures. I think I might beat them both. I'd put it at about a 50-50 shot for any of us.
Bridgette Wilson and Adam Sandler in "Billy Madison."
Pete Sampras recently married Bridgette Wilson, co-star of Adam Sandler's "Billy Madison." Do you ever have the urge to do a Billy Madison routine when you're around her. Remind her it could be your milk?Martin: I'm not planning on doing the milk bit, but then again I'm not planning on wetting my pants, either. I liked "Billy Madison," I've just never told Bridgette that, and so far I've been able to contain myself.
5.You've had some really classic matches with Pete and Andre over the past 10 years. As they've been the top two players during your career, which one has been the tougher match for you?
Martin: I've played Andre 15 times now and Pete 21, so I've definitely seen them a lot. Early in my career, I would say Pete was more difficult, but recently I've had better success against him. But Pete in my first eight years was the best player on the tour and the toughest player to match up with. I don't feel that way with Andre. His style of play is not that tough of a matchup for me, but over the past couple of years he has been the toughest guy to play against.
And if you settled it like men, via thumb wrestling, you versus El Andrus, who wins?Martin: That is a tough one. I've got sorta an old basketball injury on my right hand, so the right thumb isn't quite up to speed. If I can take him on lefty, I can take him, but righty ... that would be a struggle.
6.We know you're a big hoops guy and that you list leading your fraternity team at Northwestern to the frat title as one of your life's highlights. Ever hoop it up with any of the pros? Who's good at what on the ATP tour?Martin: We play a tournament in Indianapolis, and we have a tournament with some of the NBA coaches coming out, so sometimes the players come out. I once made a layup over (former NBA center) Greg Dreiling.
Who's your game?Martin: Oh, I'm Steve Kerr.
You realize you're half a foot taller than Steve Kerr?
Martin: Um ... I'm a poor man's Steve Kerr ... without the Charlie Hustle in me.
7.Speaking of sports other than tennis, you threw out the first pitch at a Yankees game during The Open in 1999. Be honest, the arm -- are we talking Roger Clemens or Rudy Stein from "Bad News Bears"?Martin: Ha. I think I'm actually gonna go with Tatum O'Neal's arm in "The Bad News Bears." I was nervous. Roger Clemens was starting, and I had to walk out with him. He looked ready to go and like he didn't care too much for some yahoo coming out to the mound. He told me to throw a strike, and I think I did, though it's tough to tell with the AL strike zone.
Since we're talking about career sports highlights, where does the 1995 Davis Cup finals win over the Russians rank in the Todd Martin career-highlight package?
Martin: It's toward the top. But if you look at it just at that weekend, you really don't get it. The best part about it is going through the four rounds to get there. We played France, Sweden, Italy. The year as a whole was great, the final weekend was the culmination of a year's hard work, and that was exciting. If you look at it just as a trophy to hold up, that's not what it's about. We came together as a team. It's great to be able to be united and enjoy the company of teammates and friends and walk away successful.
And in your opinion, where does that victory rank with another great American winter miracle over the Rooskies -- of course meaning "Rocky IV," Rocky Balboa over Ivan Drago?Martin: Well, we didn't get the Russians to start yelling, "USA! USA!" at the end, so I think that Rocky outdid us, but we were pretty damn close. We're right on Rocky's heels, and that's an honor.
8.We've always thought of major tennis events as the place where the world comes to curse at a tennis ball. What's the best language to curse at a tennis ball in?Martin: From what I hear, Spanish is the easiest to pick up, but the umps might get on to you. I like Russian; it seems like it's the most discreet language.
Is it just us, or have all the Spanish players raided Jimmy Connors' wardrobe? What's up with that country? Are the '80s-style tight shorts becoming the trend?Martin: Well, we're really, really hopeful that the trend is in the opposite direction, but it's definitely noticed in the locker room when one of the players is maybe a little bit less than covered up.
9.Being a college football guy and an ATP player we'd like to ask: Worst crime ever perpetrated by computers -- BCS, ATP rankings or the film "Antz"?Martin: It's a tossup between the BCS and ATP ... Go, Oregon! As for the ATP though, I will admit that for the public it's better now than it was before. I still can't imagine someone from the general public grasping it too quickly. Guys on the tour understand it. We understand when you win, your standing goes up. That's something that didn't necessarily used to happen.
OK, smart guy, you're a 2-handicap golfer. Explain the Modified Stableford Scoring System.Martin: Now there's something I'll never understand.
10.If you could invite any three people living or dead, who would it be and what would you serve?Martin: Tough question ... I would invite Jesus Christ, Gandhi and my dad. I'd serve chicken.
Big-time crowd ... who gets the big piece of chicken in that group?Martin: Oh, no doubt, I do.