Catching Up With... Conchita Martínez
Published February 14, 2009 12:00
BARCELONA, Spain - She was one of the most unique, multi-dimensional and driven players ever to grace the world of women's tennis, so it should come as no surprise Conchita Martínez has been keeping very busy since retiring from the sport three years ago. And to the delight of her many, many fans around the world, recently the Spaniard was announced as tournament director for the $220,000 Andalucía Tennis Experience, a brand new Sony Ericsson WTA Tour event to be held on the red clay courts of Marbella, Spain, this coming April.
On April 15, 2006, Martínez - one of Spain's most recognized female athletes ever - announced her retirement, one day shy of her 34th birthday. Her career was highlighted by winning Wimbledon in 1994, one of an impressive haul of 33 titles; she also finished five years ranked in the world's Top 5, reaching a career-high No.2 (and staying there for 37 weeks).
"I have many, many great memories," Martínez reflected. "Winning titles and lifting trophies gave me the best feeling in the world. If I had to pick one it would be Wimbledon, but my career was very long and I was so proud of all of them. Playing for my country in Fed Cup and the Olympic medals I won were amazing. Winning Rome four years in a row was a great accomplishment, even making the final the fifth year - it was a special tournament for me. So was San Diego - I've had a home there for 12 years now and it was like playing at my second home. I'm just thankful for all of those wonderful memories tennis gave me."
Having completed another strong season in 2005, highlighted by that 33rd title at Pattaya City, Martínez began struggling with a left heel injury, keeping her out in early 2006. It would persist until she was forced to make a difficult decision.
"I think I picked the right moment to retire," she said. "I played for so many years. I was injured in the end and couldn't practice properly, so I just couldn't be at my best. Of course sometimes there are things I miss about being a tennis player but overall I'm not sure if I miss it. I'm still involved in tennis, so I'm doing well. It was probably the right moment to stop."
"I wanted to be involved in tennis again... it's what I love the most."
While Martínez showed competitive fire and determination during her matches, she has always been friendly and compassionate off of the court. Initially, she enjoyed the freedom and relaxation retirement brought forth, while splitting her year between her homes in Barcelona and San Diego. But it didn't take long for her to begin asserting herself in the tennis world once again.
"I've had more time to do other things. I still exercise: I go for long walks and bike rides along the ocean in San Diego, which is like my retreat, and there's so much to do in Barcelona. As a player I travelled a lot, but I never really had the chance to see the places I went to; now I can do that. I've also been taking care of my two dogs here in Barcelona - they're Cocker Spaniels, they'll be 14 years old soon. Travelling is too hard for them now, but they're taken care of well.
"Stopping playing was a difficult process, and I knew I wanted to be involved in tennis again. It's what I do best, and it's what I love the most. I didn't want my experience to just go away. So I've been commentating for Eurosport Spain, Canal+ and DirecTV in the States, in Spanish. I was also coaching for a while; it was nice, I missed being on the court. I was still open to other things."
To complement her commentary, Martínez has kept a close eye on the Tour since retiring, impressed with the growth of the women's game and touting Serena Williams as the one to beat these days.
"The women's game is doing well. Since Justine retired the No.1 ranking has been going back and forth, and some players are getting it then struggling, as I think it's tough to keep your confidence up all the time. Jelena finished at No.1 last year and fully deserved it, but right now Serena is playing too well. If she stays injury-free and plays enough tournaments, she's the No.1 for me. She's very powerful and is still improving, which is great to see."
Last fall, negotiations with the Tour were underway to bring women's tennis to Marbella, and Martínez was approached to be Tournament Director.
"When they asked me to be involved with the Andalucía Tennis Experience, I had no hesitation. It's a great opportunity for me to do something a little bit different but still related to tennis. To help women's tennis - women's tennis in Spain, too - is perfect for me. Being a player for so many years on the Tour, I have an idea of what the players need and how the tournaments need to be organized."
Last week the official announcement was made, with the Club de Tenis Puente Romano in Marbella as the tournament site. Martínez expressed excitement about the site, as well as an impressive inaugural line-up that includes the reigning US Open and Australian Open champion and world No.1, Serena Williams.
"Everyone's really excited. The site is really wonderful - the courts and the beach are just a short walk away from the hotel, it's just beautiful. Tennis can be very stressful so it's the perfect setting to take your mind off of it. We're very excited about the players who are coming, too. Of course it's my first year, so I'm still learning a lot, but I'm very happy to be doing this."
Martínez hopes the new tournament will promote women's tennis in Spain. This past week, for the first time since Martínez herself, a Spaniard - Anabel Medina Garrigues - is ranked in the Top 20, with Carla Suárez Navarro not too far behind at No.29; but it is nowhere near the 1990s, when Martínez and Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario were a fixture in the Top 3, Top 4, Top 5, almost always a factor at the majors and winning titles every year in the non-Slam season.
"We have some good players now, and with two tournaments in Spain now I hope we'll see even more Spanish players coming up soon. There are definitely some more coming in the future - there's a young one right now, she's just 12, and she was practicing with me out in San Diego for a few weeks, and she's extremely talented. Her name is Virginia Peña. If she keeps working hard and playing like she does, I think she's going to be great."
"The players who are coming are going to love it."
Martínez, whose career took her to just about every tournament on the map, couldn't be more convinced that the stars of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour will enjoy their week at the Andalucía Tennis Experience.
"All I can say is that the players who are coming are going to love it. It's just beautiful there. The conditions are perfect to practice and get used to the clay in, so I'd love for even more players to enter! I'm looking forward to this a lot. I hope it can grow too - maybe one day it'll be even bigger. That's our main goal - to make the Andalucía Tennis Experience even bigger."