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Davis Cup Loss Was Learning Experience for Martin

Australian Open: American moves into quarterfinals with 14th consecutive victory.

January 26, 1999|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MELBOURNE, Australia — Todd Martin knew there was a major possibility of becoming, well, the goat, should the United States fail in its Davis Cup semifinal match against Italy last September.

Disaster hit, and the United States lost, 4-1. Months later, Martin was the first one to call himself "the big goat" when he appeared at his opening news conference at the Australian Open.

"I might be a masochist--I love winning, but I also love losing in Davis Cup," Martin said. "It's a humbling experience, but I think it also builds character and helps us all learn a lot when it happens."

How much has he learned? Let us count the ways.

Martin has won 14 consecutive matches, starting at a tournament late last year in Stockholm and continuing right into the quarterfinals of this year's first Grand Slam event. Seeded 15th, Martin hit 26 aces Monday in defeating Wayne Black of Zimbabwe, 7-6 (7-3), 6-4, 6-4.

On Tuesday, in another fourth-round match, Thomas Enqvist of Sweden defeated Marc Rosset of Switzerland, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, and will next face either seventh-seeded Karol Kucera of Slovakia or Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador.

Martin has spent so much time on the court the last few weeks, he is not even picking up a racket on days between matches. In the quarterfinals, he will play 10th-seeded Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia, making it his best Grand Slam performance since he reached the semifinals at Wimbledon in 1996. Two years earlier, he got to the final here against Pete Sampras.

Martin, 28, noted the differences in his game since his Wimbledon march in '96.

"I'm not playing as well as I did [then]," he said. "I am probably competing and focusing and getting the most of what I've got right now, better than I ever have. And that's more important than how well I'm hitting the ball."

Behind the scenes, he has received some crucial help from coach Jose Higueras. Higueras is not his main coach, but Martin worked with Higueras in Rancho Mirage during the holidays before making the trip to Australia.

"In the past 12 months, I've increased my communication with him," Martin said. "I've always gone out there to train."

They spoke on the phone before Martin won a clay-court event at Barcelona and Martin joked that Higueras gave him a "Spanish pep talk."

"My conversations with him every time are some of the most intriguing phone conversations I ever have," Martin said. "I learn from him every time I talk to him. Sometimes, it's pretty enlightening things and sometimes it's things that probably should have been pretty obvious.

"He also makes you think about it. He's a great teacher. He always asks questions, forces you to think for yourself. That's good because once we get on the court, that's what we're doing, thinking for [ourselves]."

*

There will be one unseeded player in the semifinals. Amelie Mauresmo of France, who survived two match points in the opening round, defeated Dominique Van Roost of Belgium, 6-3, 7-6 (7-3), in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, she will play top-seeded Lindsay Davenport or fifth-seeded Venus Williams, who met in a later quarterfinal Tuesday.

"They both play about the same game," Mauresmo said. "They hit the ball really, really hard and they are tough on the baseline. If I have to play one of them, I just have to play like today, mix it up a little bit. Against both, it is going to be the same.'

Mauresmo, 19, had her first major result last year when she reached the final of the German Open in Berlin as a qualifier, beating Davenport in straight sets in the third round.

That result helped her morale, and more recently, she has given credit to her new companion, Sylvie Boudon, for giving her increased psychological confidence.

Once, she was intimidated by facing top-flight players.

"Not anymore, I used to be, but not anymore," she said. "What has changed? I beat a few of them [top players]. That gives me confidence. I trust in myself a bit more."

*

The great coaching experiment of 1998 will remain just that, an experiment.

At several events last year, including Los Angeles, the ATP allowed players as many as two two-minute consultations with their coaches.

Anti-coaching opponents charged that it created an uneven playing field if a player was unable to afford a traveling coach.

The measure was not approved at the players' council level here.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Martin at Australian Open

Todd Martin is 16-5 in the Grand Slam tournament at Melbourne. Here's how he has fared year by year:

1999: Into the quarterfinals

1998: Lost in second round

1997: Did not play

1996: Lost in third round

1995: Lost in fourth round

1994: Lost to Pete Sampras in final

1993: Lost in first round

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