Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : May 2005

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Breakfast for Champions
By Patrick Tandy

Growing up, “breakfast” was often the most important meal of the day for former tennis pro Stacey Martin.

[Playing at
Wimbledon]
was an
unforgettable
experience.
Everyone there
definitely
let’s you know
that you have
arrived as a
professional
tennis player.

Stacy Martin

“When I was [about] five, six years old, Arthur Ashe was in his prime, and we would gather around the TV and watch him play his matches – you know, [the television program] Breakfast at Wimbledon,” Martin recalls with a small chuckle that belies a fondness for family as much as anything happening on the screen.

Still, seeing the legendary tennis star’s performances fueled aspirations that took the young Martin well beyond her nuclear family unit.

“That unforgettable final match against Jimmy Connors – it was just incredibly inspiring to see a black man on that level competing and winning,” she adds, fanning a spark strong enough to ignite the passions of a child determined to one day make it big. “It just made you want to go out and play tennis, and it definitely gave you the sense that you could do it, too.”

So that is precisely what Stacey Martin did.

♦♦♦

“I started playing when I was about five or six years old,” recalls Martin, now a litigator with the Baltimore office of Saul Ewing LLP. “My father taught me how to play – my whole family plays, it wasn’t just me. And I turned pro when I was 18 and played professional tennis.”

“I knew I wanted to turn pro from a pretty young age,” she continues. “I had some great role models: Althea Gibson, Arthur Ashe – people I definitely looked up to. Zina Garrison, who was playing professional tennis in the mid-’80s. Lori McNeil. Back in the ’80s, they were definitely comparable to the Williams sisters (Venus and Serena) today.”

Martin forged her inspiration and determination to play tennis professionally into a career that ultimately landed her a spot for several years on the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Tour.

“You really just have to come up through the ranks,” Martin explains. “You have to play the junior tournaments – not necessarily collegiate tennis, but . . . as long as you were basically in the top two or three of your region you would play nationally, and you had to maintain a certain ranking nationally to be noticed by the United States Tennis Association. They had a team back then, and if you were recognized by them you’d receive offers to go train at their academy, places like that. That’s basically how it happened for me.”

Upon turning professional, Martin signed up with a management agency and, with help from her father, obtained financial sponsorship. “At that point, after you have all of your ducks in a row – your sponsorship, your agent – you’ve got to perform,” she admits. “Basically the way it worked was that you had to play three professional tournaments as a professional, meaning [that] you accepted prize money in order to get a ranking. I believe they had about maybe two- to three-thousand people who were ranked worldwide, so it was really important strategically for you to basically have good results in those three tournaments so [that] you’d have enough points so you’d have a decent ranking so you could progress to the major Grand Slam events.”

Martin finished out the ’80s maintaining her rank, playing some of the sport’s most hallowed institutions – from the French Open to Wimbledon – along the way.

“Looking back on it, it certainly gave me a certain type of work ethic, a sense of discipline and what it means to focus and concentrate on another level,” notes Martin, who admits that the experience of playing before several thousand spectators may indeed have helped her prepare for her present career. “I think it helps you handle the pressure a little better, just going in and focusing on what it is that you have to do – to tune everything else out and get the job done.”

♦♦♦

Martin herself left the professional tennis world behind in the early-’90s to pursue further education (though she still plays recreationally every once in a while). After working a two-year stint as a news reporter/producer for WDBJ-TV in Roanoke, Virginia, Martin returned to school to obtain her J.D.

And just as with changes in her own life, Martin is well aware of the dynamic nature of the sport to which she was once so fully devoted.

“One of the obvious changes is the dominance of the Williams sisters,” she says. “It’s just so encouraging, so inspiring to see more black women’s professional tennis players competing at that level. What they’ve done for the sport is just phenomenal, and I don’t think we’re really seeing the full impact of that right now. In the years to come, [the] 8-, 9-, 10-year-olds who are watching them now will come of age – [then] I think we’ll really feel the full effect of that.”

As with life in general, so goes the cycle.

“[Playing at Wimbledon] was an unforgettable experience,” she says, gazing westward through the plate-glass conference room window. “I don’t think it really kind of sinks in until later because you’re so caught up in your match, what you need to do, that kind of thing . . . but the volunteers, the staff, everyone there definitely let’s you know that you have arrived as a professional tennis player.”

“The first time I played Wimbledon, my mom was there,” she recalls, that wistful fondness creeping into her voice once more. “[She] was just a tremendous source of support. When I was younger, we [would] watch Arthur Ashe play [and] my mother would point to the screen and just make me feel like I belonged there. And it was just nice all those years later, to have her there and show her that she was right.”

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: May, 2005

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