- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 11, 2002

Growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., Martin Blackman always knew tennis would be a part of his life. However, he expected to be playing the game, not coaching it.

For Blackman, tennis coaches came in two categories loud-mouthed know-it-alls and loud-mouthed know-nothings and he figured he didn't fall into either group. So it's ironic that Blackman, a stellar junior player who played on the ATP Tour for six years 4½ of which were without a formal coach has made a name for himself coaching the American University men's team.

And, as it turns out, he's pretty good at it. Who knew?

Blackman, 35, took over the American tennis coaching duties from Tom Maynor in August 1998 and has turned the Eagles into a local power 33-25 in three seasons. American (19-1) travels to Durham, N.C., today to face 15th-ranked Duke (15-11) in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the first tournament appearance for both teams.

And thanks to Blackman and a team that mirrors its coach's competitive drive, it's been memorable year for American.

The 19 wins, including a 4-0 victory over Colgate in the Patriot League Tournament title match, are a school record. Senior Bence Hamori, of Hungary, became the program's first-ever conference Player of the Year. Senior Josh Procacci, as well as Hamori, were named to the All-Patriot League team. And sophomore Guillaume Tarralle, of France, set a school record for consecutive wins with 16 and tied the school mark for the most wins in a season with 23. In addition, sophomore Tushar Garg, of India, was named Patriot League Tournament MVP.

Blackman also was named league Coach of the Year. Last year he earned the same award when American was in the Colonial Athletic Association. Admittedly, Blackman believes the move from the CAA, traditionally a stronger tennis conference, helped his team.

As a result, the coach is not surprised by his team's success.

"We had three goals coming into this season. Our first goal was to beat the teams we lost to last year. Second, was to win the conference and our third was to win our first-round game in the NCAA tournament," Blackman said.

Duke stands in the way of the Eagles as they try to reach that final goal.

"On paper, we match up with them. It is their first time in the tournament as well. We just need to compete," Blackman said. "We have character and that gives us a very good chance."

Blackman knows about character, or rather the building of it.

The Barbados native won five titles on the National Junior tour and was selected to three consecutive U.S. Junior and College Davis Cup teams. He defeated Michael Chang in a 16-and-under tournament final in 1983 and later helped his high school, St. Stephen's Epicopal (Bradenton, Fla.), to the 1985 Florida state title.

He attended the Nick Bollettieri Academy in Bradenton from 1983 through 1987 and competed against Andre Agassi and Jim Courier.

"I was lucky to build those relationships in the pros," said Blackman. "It was 100 percent tennis at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy. It wasn't healthy but it helped my game."

He attended Stanford University for two years (1987-88). He led the Cardinal to back-to-back NCAA titles and was named the team's MVP.

He turned pro and in six years on tour ranked as high as 150th in the ATP entry system rankings and earned nearly $200,000. Blackman won three career titles, the biggest in a Challenger event in Brazil, and qualified for the main draw at the French Open and U.S. Open.

Some people would call his career a success, but don't tell him that.

"I don't really look at my accomplishments, especially my professional career," said Blackman. "I don't feel my pro career was a success."

After giving up the tour, Blackman came to the District, where his parents lived, and in 1998 completed a bachelor's degree in economics at George Washington. He also gave tennis seminars and clinics, motivational speeches and became an assistant coach at American. That led to succeeding Maynor.

Blackman, who is black, hopes to recruit more black players to his program, but he has more goals.

"I would like to maximize all my resources here at the university [and] convince the university that we can be a national powerhouse. I have control over at least one [of those]," Blackman said.

Blackman pushes his players hard and he has convinced his team that his methods work. He believes they are starting to understand his system.

"With every investment you make you will get a return," said Blackman. "I want to be a coach that I never had while I was playing."

It's working so far.

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