“I know how hard it is and how humiliating it is to lose the first two sets 6-0, 6-1,” Teacher said. “You are in such a deep hole that it's almost unimaginable. You can't even think of the hole you're in. You just have to slowly, point by point, claw your way out.”
The national title completed Martin’s tour de force through college tennis, as he turned pro after just one college season. He would never appear higher in the world rankings, however, than he did that March, when he was No. 32. By the end of the year, he was out of the top 60.
“School didn't come easy to me...whereas with tennis, it was something that gave me a little confidence and I felt like I maybe had a chance in the world to do something well.”
“I think it was probably a big mistake not to stay (at UCLA) at least another year," Martin said. “It was what I had dreamed about but at that time, there were so few young kids out on the pro tour, I really wasn't very happy out there quite honestly."
Leaving college had been the logical progression for Martin, though. His dyslexia had always made school difficult so, from the time he was around 10 years old, he had committed himself fully to tennis.
“School didn't come easy to me,” Martin said. “I would hide in the back and try not to get called on. So I felt very inefficient in the classroom, whereas with tennis, it was something that gave me a little confidence and I felt like I maybe had a chance in the world to do something well.”
He did that thing very well, outworking everybody around him as he rose to the top of the junior circuit.
“You have to have a drive to want to be No. 1,” Teacher said. “His personality was all predicated on getting that spot and being the best he could. ... He knew what he wanted at a very early age and he was very driven and goal-oriented to get that.”
By the time Martin arrived at UCLA, Teacher said, his intense desire to improve permeated his entire life. He was all business, his life consumed 100 percent by tennis.
“I think he had a hard time joking around and having fun,” Teacher said. “He had fun on the court winning and stuff. But to me, it seemed like he didn't have any fun off the court.”
So it's no surprise that when his hip problem ended his playing career, Martin hung on to the sport he loved, returning to UCLA as an assistant under his beloved old coach.
Bassett, who still talks to Martin almost every day, rubbed off on his pupil, whose competitive brashness mellowed as he aged.
“One thing (Bassett) always seemed to do a really good job of – and I didn't, probably, as a younger coach – was staying calm and composed a little bit during matches,” Martin said. “I think I probably got a little bit more excited and my players could see, sort of, my anxiety or disappointment or all that. He was always so level-headed whether we were winning, losing or anything.”
Nowadays, people say the same of Martin, who took over the head coaching job from Bassett in 1994.
John Whitlinger, the Stanford coach from 2005-2014, admired the poise Martin showed in the 2013 NCAA final, when his Bruins appeared to defeat Virginia before the umpire ruled that then-junior Adrien Puget’s foot touched the net on the pennant-winning point. Puget went on to lose his match, and the Bruins fell in an excruciating 4-3 loss.
“The way Billy handled that was with class. I mean I would have been a wreck,” Whitlinger said. “The guy wins with class and loses with class.”
HALFWAY THROUGH HIS 500th win on Wednesday, Martin was frustrated with the scoreboard. Not with the results – the Bruins pummeled their way to a 7-0 win over the Dons – but with the actual scoreboard.
“He is very meticulous. He was like that as a player. He didn’t want to leave anything to chance.” Grant Chen, Associate Head Coach
Normally, the screen projects all of the singles scores at the same time, allowing Martin to track the progress on the back courts as he watches on the front courts. But on Wednesday, the names and numbers scrolled across the screen in a messy fashion, drawing Martin’s ire as he found himself unable to follow all the action.
No, he wasn’t worried about a loss, but, for Martin, it’s all in the details.
Martin is almost always armed with a legal pad or a wad of Post-its, ready to record his every thought, said associate head coach Grant Chen. Whether it is notes about a recruit or a scouting report, Martin's handwriting, often only legible to him, can be seen all around his office.
“He is very meticulous,” Chen said. “He was like that as a player. He didn’t want to leave anything to chance.”