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Tennis.com Podcast Featuring Martin Blackman: Setting The Foundation For Greatness
The General Manager of the USTA's Player Development Program chats with Kamau Murray about how his long tennis odyssey led him to find his true passion: helping young players make it to the top.
Published Feb 17, 2023
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The Bollettieri Tennis Academy produced more than a few players that became household names over time. Agassi, Courier, Arias and several other students went on the make an indelible impact on the sport. But there's another man who left that school and continues to make an impact on the stars of today.
Martin Blackman fell in love with tennis at an early age, and found himself in arguably the best breeding ground for talent that existed in his era. He willed his way to a pro career that was brief, but life-changing for a different reason. His tennis odyssey picked up steam after he stopped playing, enabling him to become a prominent figure in the USTA's Player Development Program.
Blackman joined the Tennis.com Podcast with Kamau Murray to discuss his philosophies, how he tries to help future American stars, and why he's still head over heels for his favorite sport.
Blackman's passion for the sport is understated, but the conversation really highlights his clear vision for building a successful culture. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was a successful talent pool of tennis players. It starts at the youngest level, Blackman believes, and only lasts if competition persists all the way to the professional level. And above all, coaches and players must have an understanding of how special their partnership is.
"If we're going to be successful, the relationship with those coaches has to be as strong as possible. It has to be a service mentality," Blackman said.
It's why you see USTA representatives at tournaments, offering advice and words of encouragement to American players. It could be a quick tidbit about an upcoming opponent in passing while in the cafeteria that makes all the difference. That culture of caring has helped put American tennis back on the map, or as the Three Musketeers would say, it's all for one and one for all.
Blackman and Murray are two teachers who understand how important competition is. It raises the level of all players, and lights a fire under those individuals who want the success that others in their orbit have.
"The more we create that competitive environment with our best players, the more we create that positive peer pressure," Blackman said in regards to his developmental approach. "And the thing that's ironic is that if you look at our top women and our top men, they're all friends. They all like each other. They really like each other, and they're really happy when they do well. But they're super competitive."
The growth of the game domestically hinges on relationships, something the host of this podcast knows all too well. As the story was told on this show, Blackman reached out to Murray about holding a men's challenger event at his club in Chicago. The last minute event was a success, and featured a certain American named Ben Shelton who wasn't technically a professional yet.
In the midst of a deep run at the Challenger, as Murray tells it, Shelton was considering dropping out to play the qualies at Cincinnati.
"I'm like oh now, we've gotta work together here!" We've got to upgrade this wild card," Murray recalled.
Shelton received a main draw wild card, defeated two ATP pros including then-world No. 5 Casper Ruud, and realized he was more than ready to join the big leagues. So it's safe to say the inevitable rise of Ben Shelton began with a phone call, based on a relationship, between men dedicated to American tennis.
Martin Blackman is certainly living out of his tennis dreams, just not in the way he originally thought. This conversation touches on the importance of proper development, the value of culture in a work environment, and just how special it is to witness younger individuals improve and achieve their own goals.
Tennis continues to open doors, and Martin Blackman made the most of his opportunity to walk through such a prestigious one.