- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Todd Martin had not played competitive tennis in two months, and that ultimately may have caused his first-round exit from the Legg Mason Tennis Classic last night.

Martin last played at Wimbledon seven weeks ago because of a knee injury. In his comeback to the ATP Tour last night and at a place he plays well, Martin’s rustiness caught up to him in a 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (7-5) loss to Holland’s Raemon Sluiter. The match, which seemed like it would go to the last man standing, lasted nearly three hours on William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center’s center court.

Meanwhile, second-seeded Lleyton Hewitt cruised past Kenneth Carlsen 6-2, 6-1 in another first-round match. Hewitt jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first set, then broke Carlsen’s serve to take a 3-2 lead in the second set and won the next three games.

“Obviously, I was happy to get the break in the second set because it felt like he really raised his level of his game,” Hewitt said. “I sort of jumped him at the start of the first set. He came back and was serving a lot better. He’s the kind of guy that can get into a lot of tiebreaks and make life difficult for you out there.”

The two-time No. 1 player will meet Colombian Alejandro Falla, who beat American Justin Gimelstob 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the round of 16 tomorrow.

With the third-set tiebreaker even at 5-5, Martin had a chance to win the match when he rushed the net but instead sent an easy forehand volley into the net to give Sluiter a 6-5 advantage. Sluiter then cranked a 130-mph serve that blew by Martin and ended the match.

“I’m not sure if I got a late start getting to the net or if I was too anxious to try to get to the net, but I stumbled, probably not noticeably, but just sort of missed my foot a bit, and you lose sight of the ball for a moment. When you’re relaxed and fresh and with a plan, you pick it back up pretty easily in hitting these volleys,” said Martin, at 34 the second-oldest player on the ATP Tour after Andre Agassi. “But when you haven’t been on the court, it says more anxiety than it does calm.”

In the first set, Martin was the epitome of cool. The tall right-hander saved seven set points before winning in a tiebreaker. He had 10 of his 17 aces last night in the set.

“Todd Martin is a great player and knows his way around the court,” said Sluiter, who will play the winner of tonight’s match between No. 6 seed Alberto Martin of Spain and Wayne Ferreira of South Africa tomorrow. “He’s one of the guys that knows best how to play on hardcourts. So he’s dangerous even if he’s had a year off.”

Washington has been kind to Todd Martin over the years. Martin reached the Legg Mason finals in 1993, losing to Israel’s Amos Mansdorf, and made the semifinals in 1995 and 1999, losing both times to Agassi. With the loss last night, Martin has a 11-7 record all time at the Legg Mason.

Despite the loss, Martin was pretty happy with his play in this tuneup to the U.S. Open, which begins in two weeks.

“I’ve been back on the court for a week and a half now after injuring myself at Wimbledon,” Martin said. “I felt plenty rusty, but I also felt that I played OK — better than I thought I could have expected in general — but about as I could have expected in more critical points of the match.”

However, Martin was quick to point out his rustiness should have improved as the epic battle with Sluiter wore on.

“Rustiness, it should actually get better over the course of a longer match,” Martin said. “The length of the match — had I won — probably wouldn’t have been my best friend. I’m sure I will be a bit sore tomorrow, especially in my knee, which has been giving me problems. As far as the rust, you would expect the score to go the opposite way as it did — lose the first set and win the second two. The more pressure that builds in a match, the tougher it is to play to the standard that you would want to if you have been off the court for a bit.”

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