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Court Tennis loses one of its 'Greats'

Jan 13, 2010
Alastair 'AB' Martin dies aged 94; announcement from the USCTA

A.B. Martin

By James Zug

Alastair Bradley Martin, one of the greatest amateur court tennis players of the twentieth century and a leader in both court tennis and lawn tennis, died on 12 January 2010. He was ninety-four.

Blond-haired, shy and energetic, A.B. Martin (he preferred A.B. to Alastair) was raised on the North Shore of Long Island. He first learned court tennis in the late 1930s from the legendary Punch Fairs, the English pro and former world champion. Fairs taught Martin the game at the Clarence Mackay court in Roslyn.

Punch Fairs' influence could be seen in Martin's classic style. He cut the ball heavily, hit with brilliant length and was said to have the best volley of any player since Jay Gould. He won the U.S. Open in 1951, the first year it was revived after a thirty-year hiatus and he won three U.S. Open doubles titles (in three decades, still the only player to have done that). He won the national amateur singles championship eight times and the doubles thirteen times (with eight different partners-including both a father and a son-in four different decades). He also won the British amateur title in 1950. He won the Gold Racquets twelve times. His last was in 1962 when at the age of forty-six he overcame Jimmy Bostwick 5-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-5.

Martin's most remarkable records that perhaps will never be equaled came at the Racquet & Tennis Club, where he was a member since 1938. He won the tennis singles club championship four times in four different decades and he won the doubles title twenty consecutive times-with ten different partners.

Twice Martin challenged Pierre Etchebaster for the world championship. In 1950 he lost 7-0 and in 1952 he lost 7-2.

Along with his wife Edith, Martin famously collected artwork from around the world. They called it the "Guennol Collection" after the Welsh word for "Martin." They were serious art historians and lovers, buying everything from Pre-Columbian Olmec jades and duck decoys to antique furniture and Egyptian art. Martin served on the board of the Brooklyn Museum of Art for more than fifty years and wrote a wonderful book about collecting in 1998.

A leading administrator, Martin was a founder and board member of the USCTA. He financed the 1985 history of U.S. tennis, The Winning Gallery, by Allison Danzig and he, along with Bill Clothier, raised the funds for the restoration of the Newport court in 1980 and the seed money for the U.S. Court Tennis Preservation Foundation. He was the first court tennis player elected to the U.S. Jesters, in 1958, and the only one ever to receive the club's highest award, the Jester Cup, in 1994.

He was a founder and president of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. As vice president of the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association, he pushed to open the national championship to professionals; as president in 1970 he adopted the tiebreaker system.

A throwback to an earlier era- he was perhaps the last living person to have played regularly on the Mackay court-and a progressive, forward-thinking leader-we owe the Open era in lawn tennis to him as much as anyone else-Martin will be greatly missed. Our condolences to his many family and friends, especially his son Robin at the Prince's Court in Washington.

ab martin
A.B. Martin (left) hitting "the first ball" at the reopening of the Newport Court in 1979. Also pictured are (L to R): Clarry Pell, Philip Stockton and Lord Aberdare.
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