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Atlanta / Olympics '96

Martin Is Odd Man Out on the U.S. Tennis Team

July 19, 1996|BILL DWYRE | TIMES SPORTS EDITOR

ATLANTA — Nice guy Todd Martin, the American tennis star, has pretty much finished last so far in July.

Thursday's announcement here that Richey Reneberg, rather than the higher-ranked Martin, would replace the injured Pete Sampras in the singles competition for the Olympic tournament added to a bad month for Martin.

First, he lost in the Wimbledon semifinals to fellow American MaliVai Washington. That would normally not be such a disappointment, but Martin, one of the bigger servers in the game, was leading Washington in the fifth set, 5-1 and 15-love. It was a choke for the ages, and Martin all but said so afterward.

The loss was not only a loss, but an ironic one, since a short time before that, Washington had been selected over Martin as the third singles player on the U.S. men's Olympic team. Washington got that spot by winning a fairly low-profile tournament in Bermuda that gave him enough tour points to move him to No. 16 in the rankings, a notch above Martin.

It just so happened, however, that Washington's timing was perfect, since his upward move occurred in time for the April 29 ranking list, the one used to determine the Olympic team.

Since No. 1 Sampras and No. 3 Andre Agassi were committed to play, they got the first two spots. No. 4 Michael Chang and No. 9 Jim Courier had begged off, so that left the third spot for Washington.

Even after that, the unkind irony continued for Martin. When asked to fill a doubles spot on the team, the normally willing Martin, citing some vague personal commitment, said no thanks.

That left the U.S. team set with Sampras, Agassi and Washington--the maximum number of singles players allowed from one country--and Washington playing doubles with Reneberg, the next American player in the rankings and a great doubles player as well.

Then Sampras pulled out with an injury earlier this week, and events once again turned on Martin.

Thursday, after much discussion with U.S. Tennis Assn. officials, the ITF ruled that Sampras' singles spot would have to be filled by the doubles player already on the team with the highest singles ranking. That, of course, was Reneberg.

Of course, had Martin not turned down the earlier invitation to play doubles, he would have had the singles spot.

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