For the first time, an Intercollegiate Tennis Association event is being conducted on grass courts. Thanks to the efforts of International Tennis Hall of Fame CEO Todd Martin and his dedicated staff, eight of the top Division I teams (four men’s teams, four women’s teams) are in Newport, Rhode Island, to compete in the inaugural Hall of Fame ITA Grass Court Invitational.
The Hall of Fame ITA Grass Court Invitational will be live streamed all three days (September 16-18) on FloTennis.com. This is the first of 15 ITA events on the 2016-17 ITA events calendar that will be broadcast by the direct-to-consumer, subscription-based sports media company.
Martin played college tennis at Northwestern before going on to enjoy a very successful career on the ATP Tour. Prior to Friday’s opening day of competition, ITA Director of Communications, Dan Johnson, sat down with Martin to discuss the Hall of Fame ITA Grass Court Invitational.
Question: As we look at the Hall of Fame ITA Grass Court Invitational, when did the idea to hold a college tennis event on the Hall of Fame grounds come about?
Answer: I’ve been (at the International Tennis Hall of Fame) for two-and-a-half years now, and I’ve always looked at what we do here as being nine parts tennis and one-part preservation. We have to represent the sport in what we do as far as preservation is concerned. When I arrived, I felt like we were not very tennis-y in our approach, so one of my first initiatives that I imposed on the team was that we were going to showcase the sport of tennis, and we’re going to do it in a way that’s not inappropriate for where we are and what our mission is, but we have to showcase the sport and be proud of our representation of our sport and make sure that everyone knows what we really are.
College tennis is a very important part of the tennis community and it made a lot of sense and made us unique, which I liked. At the end of the day, this is about bringing college athletes who have so much to be appreciative of for the opportunities they have to be educated thanks to their tennis, to know a lot more about where tennis was, where it has been and where it is currently.
Q: You played college tennis at Northwestern. Did your college tennis experience factor at all in your decision to have an event here at the Hall of Fame?
A: My experience in college tennis was wonderful and I couldn’t have asked for more. The motivation for me are these student-athletes. They are literally on their way into the working force or the professional tennis world, and if, either way, we can prepare them and be a bit part in their preparation for life after college tennis, that’s important.
Q: Were you heavily involved in the team selection process for this event?
A: I owned that process. There’s few things I can own around here, but that one I owned (laughs). I started with a program that I’m very close to, and that’s the University of Michigan. Their associate head coach used to be a co-worker of mine at my business down in Florida, and that’s Sean Maymi. I told them I was committed to doing this event and we batted around some ideas, and then I started reaching out to other coaches. I wanted an Ivy League team on both men’s and women’s sides, and wanted really good teams. I was really pleased that it didn’t take me 50 phone calls to find eight teams. It helps that I know some of the coaches as well.
Q: College tennis players typically don’t have a lot of experience when it comes to playing on grass courts. How do you see the action on the court going and do you think it will make for some unique strategies of being on a newer surface?
A: It will be really interesting. You’ve got some players who will be pretty well-suited to play on the grass. Our grass is more traditional than what players play on over in London. There will be more improvisation than they’ll ever had to use before, which means you’re going to have some that may be the fourth-best player on the team, but they’ll play like the best player on the team because the grass is such a great fit for them.
I think the theme of it all will be how do you adapt and cope with let’s say strange conditions for them, and without a lot of preparation specifically for this.
Q: All teams that are in attendance will be given a tour of the International Tennis Hall of Fame museum. What are some of the exhibits you are hoping the players see what would you like them to take away from the experience as a whole?
A: I think they all will be grabbed by different elements. Some may have a greater appreciation for history; they’ll love seeing the art from the 1700’s that we have. Others might’ve had a parent that is in the teaching industry and grew up watching their parents string racquets and heard stories about wooden racquets, and they’ll look through and see all the old-time racquets from the 1800’s. Others may notice all of the crazy get-ups that the women had to wear over the course of time. I think all of them will be grabbed by the hologram featuring Roger Federer.
Q: Not only is this the inaugural collegiate event here at the International Tennis Hall of Fame, it’s the inaugural FloTennis broadcast. Are you excited about being a part of that first broadcast they are putting on?
A: Yes, it’s very exciting. College athletics, we see especially in the streaming world, is becoming more popular. The notion of 1) to showcase college tennis and 2) make sure that we have the Hall of Fame on display, can be really impactful. Every avenue we can go to get to people who are really interested in tennis, the better it is for everyone.
Q: Tennis Channel will also be here to film several pieces that will air at a later date.
A: Tennis Channel is such an important partner of ours. They are constantly seeking ways to promote the Hall of Fame authentically. You look at what we represent and it’s a lot of what they represent. The more content we can produce, the better it is for them.