On a cool and overcast Friday afternoon, junior Tai Martin once again found herself playing the game she loves in a home match against Davidson.
“Three dribbles before I serve and two leg slaps before I return,” Martin said about her favorite rituals. However, these gestures are more second nature than superstition for a player with her experience.
Martin has been playing the game since the youthful age of six when she begged her mom for months to take her to tennis lessons. Martin’s mother Tami was reluctant at first, for her young daughter was an inside child whose love of the game sprouted from Mario Tennis on the Nintendo 64. However, she took the chance that her daughter could swap a game controller for a racquet and turn an indoor activity to a healthy hobby. She signed Martin up for lessons and the rest is history.
Since then, her childhood passion has turned into a success story at the college level. Martin has been a consistent bright spot on the women’s team since stepping foot on campus her freshman year. She recorded seven and eight singles wins her freshman and sophomore years playing predominantly as the one seed. Martin is now building off her past success and rounding out her best season yet.
As well as being a star athlete, Martin is also an exemplary student. Named to numerous Dean’s and Chancellor’s Lists, she is finding a way to balance her academic and athletic lives.
“I have had to plan out my day better, made sure to study, and have spent many late nights working, but it has been worth it. I am a perfectionist,” Martin said.
Though It hasn’t always been easy, Martin has found a way to be a dually successful student-athlete. She is a perfectionist in the classroom and also back on the tennis courts, where she is setting lofty goals for the rest of her career.
“As a team, we definitely want to win conference, that is number one. I also would like to make it through the regional tournament in the fall and eventually into the NCAAs as an individual or playing doubles. Making it to the NCAAs is my number one goal,” Martin said.
These are high aspirations for any player, but never bet against an athlete who loves the game like Martin. While most collegiate athletes play for the perks of being a campus celebrity, Martin plays because she loves the game.
“I just love playing tennis. I am really competitive and hate to lose.” Martin said. “Even if I win and don’t play my greatest, I know I could have done better. I’m just a perfectionist in everything I do.”
Though her sole focus is playing at the top of her game, winning almost always comes as a result of her best performances. Complacency has ruined the careers of many gifted athletes, but not Martin as a team-first mentality lights a fire under her prior to every match.
“I love playing for my team. I push my hardest for my girls, and even in tough losses I feel it still brings us closer together.” Martin said.
She has the backs of her teammates and her teammates and coaches return the favor. The team does everything for each other and that is what gives each huddle a family-like atmosphere. Just like a real family, Martin says there are plenty of times where everyone cuts loose and has fun.
“All of the young players on the team have such great games. If they believe in themselves I have no fear that when I am gone they will take over and do great things.” Martin said.
She said as much when asked about her personality on the court versus out of Halton-Wagner Tennis Complex.
“On and off I am loud. I am really energetic, it’s just magnified when I am playing. My teammates will tell you I am very animated. I can usually control my mouth but my face stays very animated,” Martin said.
Her intensity was palpable if you watched her battle in her single’s match against Davidson. Hustling to every ball, Martin was able to sweep her opponent in two hard-fought sets. Her win helped propel her team to a crushing 4-2 victory that was never close. The victory snapped Davidson’s ten game win streak. When I mentioned this she couldn’t help but revel in the fact she also helped snap the Wildcat’s record 16-game home win streak the year before.
Beating a team whose riding a hot streak is no easy task and can only be done with an aggressive style of play. The 49ers came out with the win due to a blend of power and control which is a hallmark of Martin’s game.
From the fans to her teammates, coaches, and her mother who took a chance many years ago; Martin will continue to receive support from those around her. Through handwork, she has built a legacy at Charlotte. Tai Martin loves the game of tennis, and no one doubts she will continue to set new heights and reach the goals she sets out to accomplish on the tennis court and beyond.