What's wrong with water? Marathon man serves a warning to the nandrolone set

The Interview - Todd Martin: American in the twilight of his career is urging players to keep it safe and clean. Ronald Atkin in Barcelona meets a principled pioneer

Todd Martin's T-shirt bears a simple message: Life Is Good. Being Todd, of course, the words are of modest size. Despite standing 6ft 6in in his socks, Martin is arguably the most unassuming athlete produced by the United States. The nicest, too. "El Americano Diferente", Todd was called by the daily sports paper in Barcelona, where he was competing last week, his 14th season on the professional tennis tour.

Todd Martin's T-shirt bears a simple message: Life Is Good. Being Todd, of course, the words are of modest size. Despite standing 6ft 6in in his socks, Martin is arguably the most unassuming athlete produced by the United States. The nicest, too. "El Americano Diferente", Todd was called by the daily sports paper in Barcelona, where he was competing last week, his 14th season on the professional tennis tour.

Though closing in on the end of his time as a player, Martin will certainly not be lost to the game. His mild protests and long, meritorious service as president of the ATP Player Council notwithstanding, he is certain to be involved in working for the good, and the future, of the game. Good guys, nice guys, like him are too precious to be waved goodbye, especially when you look down the rocky road tennis has had to travel in the past 12 months.

Martin will be 34 in July and around the same time, during Wimbledon fortnight, he will hand over the role of president of his union, a post he has filled for nine of the past 11 years. Of those years, the last one has been the most arduous, summed up in one word: nandrolone.

The ATP did not so much shoot itself in the foot as lop off a limb with a blunt axe with the revelation that nandrolone had been supplied by its own training staff in supplements. Now, however, Martin believes control has been regained. "We have a strong anti-doping programme and it's time to let some of the dust settle from what has happened in the last 12 months."

That said, he does not hesitate to point the presidential finger, laying blame on what he calls "criminal" behaviour by the supplement manufacturers, whose products were unregulated and ingredients unlisted. He also condemns those players who continued to take the products of companies responsible for the banned substances. "They knew they were not supposed to take anything else [after the supplements ban] but they just said, 'We are taking these'. The fact that we have been dealing with so many traces of nandrolone that are below the positive test level is hopefully not as damaging to our sport as it should be to the producers of those supplemental beverages and powders.

"We all need certain nutrients in order to succeed physically. That's why I say it would be nice if the manufacturers were held accountable for some of the situations that their products have created. But also the players need to understand they are competing on a level playing field.

"There are guys out there who probably don't take much more than water and the food that they eat, but compete on a daily basis just as hard as everybody else but do a better job of preparing themselves. Or are possibly just genetically more capable of enduring the stress we put on our bodies. Genetically, Roger Federer is a much better athlete than I am, or ever was. But I just can't complain about it and say, 'Give me something so that I am on a par with him'."

Martin's supplements, he says, have been reduced to water and Gatorade. "That's it. At times I have taken a multi-vitamin which is more or less the most popular one in the States, but in the light of all that has gone on in the last six months I've stopped taking it as well. There are times when I look in the mirror and think I should probably be taking vitamin C or something, but instead I go to the refrigerator and drink some orange juice.

"After so many years I am well aware that I have won tournaments where all I drank was water. I have played well where all I drank was Gatorade. I have played well when I took multi-vitamins. But I have played well when I didn't, and also played badly in the same scenarios.

"It is just a matter of coming to terms with what truly is legal and what truly is safest, whatever will preserve the reputation that you want to have. For me, if I lose one, two, three or 10 matches because of it, I accept that. I know personally it would keep me awake a lot more than losing tennis matches keeps me awake."

Although he cut back on his schedule, playing just 14 tournaments last year, Martin was still required to take 10 drug tests, including one at his home. "That's not as much as it used to be when I was ranked higher," he says. "I think Federer was tested 25 times in 2003. Out of competition is something I have qualms about, allowing somebody to come to my house, but I understand it is necessary for every-body to have to comply with the rules we have. You can't question the strength of our testing programme.

"There have been mistakes made and [a direct reference to the Greg Rusedski case] some decisions by tribunals that weren't exactly congruent with previous decisions, but it's all done the right way."

Doing things the right way has been Martin's credo through a career that has landed him the disappointingly low number of eight singles titles, the last one in 1999. The British, who have lauded heroic failures ever since Balaclava, took Todd to their hearts at the 1996 Wimbledon, when he led MaliVai Washington 5-1 in the fifth set of their semi-final, only to fall apart, lose and miss the opportunity of winning the world's biggest event in the only year out of eight that Pete Sampras did not become champion. Runner-up is the nearest he has come to Grand Slam fame, at the US Open in 1999, where he lost to fellow American Andre Agassi, and the 1994 Australian Open, defeated by Sampras.

Clearly a big title, perhaps any title, is beyond him now but, within the limits of his insistence about spending more time at home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, with his wife, Amy, and their 15-month-old son, Jack, Martin is keen to play a fuller season which will, of course, take in the French Open and Wimbledon. Retirement, he says, is something he has tried "real hard" to avoid thinking about.

"After the Sydney Olympics I was dissatisfied with the way I had played, so I made a commitment to myself to play through Athens 2004. Now it doesn't look as though I'll be on the team, but I intend to play through the US Open in September. There is a good chance this will be my last year, but it's not decided yet because I still love competing. At this point I am not ready to turn my back, but I am confident that when the time comes I will be more than willing to say, 'OK, I have had my fill'."

Having suffered an elbow operation, a career-threatening knee condition and an ailing back, it is perhaps not surprising that Martin considers himself fitter and stronger these days. "In some ways I am playing better because I can understand more, though I'm not sure I can execute quite as well. But maybe it's not a fair comparison, because everybody around me is so much better than they were when I was 25. That's a big change. The young guys hit the ball so well it's tough to dictate to them. And everybody moves so much better, including me."

Todd used to be rated one of the big boomers, but says his serve never clocked more than 135mph - "and that was probably a faulty radar gun". That Andy Roddick has upped the record to 152 doesn't surprise him. "Conventional logic says if 10 years ago they were hitting 135 and now it's 150, why not more? But I hope not, I hope there is a max, because I feel it is more where you hit 'em rather than how hard. I should have beaten Andy in Memphis this year on an indoor court with fast balls. He hit a couple over 140 and I handled them, so the pace is not an issue for me.

"Jim Courier did a great job of showing the rest what is possible. He could only hit forehands, but almost every one could have been a winner. But Jim struggled when others learned to hit the ball just as hard. Many look at Andy as being a similar animal, and it could well be in a few years everybody hits the ball as hard as him."

In pursuit of that goal, says Martin, many of today's pros are playing too much. "A lot of guys now choose to enter a lot of tournaments and for a stretch they do real well until they have to withdraw from an event in order to recover."

The tournament going on around us in Barcelona was a case in point. Three of the top attractions, Spain's No 1, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Guillermo Coria and Marat Safin, had all pulled out. "If I could write the rules, that's something I would like to see changed," he said. "A player would honour his commitments but would also make fewer commitments. I know the guys wouldn't need quite so many supplements if they were a little more forward-thinking with their schedules."

Tennis would do well to heed comments like that from the sport's Mr Nice Guy.

BIOGRAPHY: Todd Christopher Martin

Born: 8 July 1970 in Hinsdale, Illinois.

Family: Married to Amy, son Jack.

Turned pro: 1990.

Career prize money: $8m.

Singles titles: 8 - Coral Springs (1993); Memphis (1994, '95); Queen's (1994); Sydney (1996, '99); Barcelona and Stockholm (1998).

Best Grand Slams: Australian Open - runner-up ('94). French Open - fourth round ('91). Wimbledon - semi-finals ('94, '96). US Open - runner-up ('99).

Year-end singles rankings (1990-2003): 269, 133, 87, 13, 10, 18, 12, 81, 16, 7, 55, 57, 47, 69.

Highest ranking: 4 (13 Sept '99).

Also: member of US Davis Cup-winning team in 1995. Two-handicap golfer.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
ESPN footage showed a split-screen Murray’s partner Kim Sears and Berdych’s partner Ester Satorova 'sporting' their jewellery
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee