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The Exciting Future for Florida Tennis

The Exciting Future for Florida Tennis

One day early in my career as a sportswriter at the Miami Herald, the amazing breadth of the job became clear. In the morning I attended a press conference for legendary comedian Bob Hope, who was the honorary chairman of the upcoming PGA Championships in Palm Beach Gardens. That night I covered a high school district track meet. 

Above: An artist's rendering presented to Jim Martz upon his retirement from the Miami Herald

I've been blessed. Over the years I wrote about football, basketball, baseball, soccer, hockey, tennis, golf, boxing, swimming and diving, stock car racing, drag racing, horse racing, dog racing, and jai-alai.

I interviewed two Presidents of the United States (Ford and the first Bush), Muhammad Ali, Pele, Don Shula, Jack Nicklaus, Ted Williams, George Steinbrenner, O.J. Simpson, Elton John, Tony Bennett, and the BeeGees at their home on Star Island.

Above: With George H.W. Bush at the White House when he was vice president

I played tennis with Governor/Senator Bob Graham at his private court and at posh Fisher Island, and hit briefly with Billie Jean King and Gabriella Sabatini on Flagler Street in front of the Miami-Dade County Courthouse, where a judge came out with racquet and wearing his robe and joined us.

And when I wanted to write about what it's like for an average public park player to play against a pro trying to play his best, the former number one and mercurial Ilie Nastase obliged as a way to promote his upcoming invitational in North Miami Beach.

I quickly learned that in one rally he could reach more shots and do more things with the ball than we mortals could do if we combined all the best shots in our lives into one point.

I covered more than a dozen college football national championship games, including the five won by the Miami Hurricanes; as well as Florida and Florida State football, two Super Bowls, several College World Series and all four Hurricanes teams that won national titles, MLB Spring Training, Miami Toros and Fort Lauderdale Strikers soccer, and countless high school and small college sports events.

And one Florida State High School Basketball Championships. That was in Jacksonville and I was covering West Palm Beach Twin Lakes, which won its semifinal against Winter Haven in a national record seven overtimes.

This was long before cell phones and laptops. Around the third overtime I was on deadline and knew editors in Miami would be saying "has anyone heard from Martz?" I dashed to a hallway, found the lone pay phone, begged to go to the front of the line and alerted the copy desk to what was unfolding.

They said call back as soon as the game ends and dictate a story off the top of my head. Twin Lakes won and I had the lead story in the Palm Beach edition the next morning.

A year later when I became the Herald's Broward County (Fort Lauderdale) sports editor, it dawned on me that I better learn about tennis. Quickly.

Holiday Park, where head pro Jimmy Evert was teaching his daughter Chris and four siblings, was just a few blocks away. I realized there would be a day when the tennis beat writer, based in Miami, would be off and I'd have to interview Jimmy or Chris about a breaking story.

Above: Interviewing Chris Evert at Amelia Island

Growing up in the Midwest, I barely knew a baseball from a tennis ball. I had played hit an giggle tennis with my dad a few times.

The first time I watched anyone play was at Alma College in Michigan, two weekend hackers. I thought the guy running all around the court was winning, but he was losing because his opponent was forcing him to chase shots.

First time I saw a professional match, ironically, involved the top two players in the world, Stan Smith and Arthur Ashe. They played an exhibition in Des Moines, where I was a rookie copy editor at the Register, and I went only because there's little to do in Iowa in the winter and this was a big deal.

Above: With Arthur Ashe when he was tennis director at Doral Resort near Miami

The first time I covered a tennis match was with the Herald at the West Palm Beach Open. I had no clue about the convoluted tennis scoring system, so I figured I'd report the final score and use a lot of quotes. Frank Froehling III won, and midway through the match a woman who was cheering for his opponent clapped occasionally when Froehling double faulted or hit into the net.

In those days her clapping after an error was against tennis etiquette. Horrors.

She was sitting near me and at one changeover Froehling came by and chastised/embarrassed her in front of the crowd. I thought, what a snooty sport.

My first tennis lesson occurred in West Palm Beach at Howard Park, where Oscar Wegner was the new pro and was seeking publicity for his programs.

That was my one and done experience on a court until I figured I need to become immersed in this sport that was on the verge of a world wide boom. So I signed up for three lessons from Jimmy Evert. He charged his regular rate, $5.00 per lesson.

"Racquet back ... eyes on the ball .... that's it," he said over and over. No wonder all five of his children became pro tour players who never missed a groundstroke.

I did, often, as I began playing with fellow Herald writers and read about the sport in magazines - World Tennis, Tennis, and Tennis Week.

I enjoyed hitting the fuzzy yellow balls but still preferred golf, and I hoped some day to get the golf beat. A year later the executive sports editor, Ed Storin, said he wanted me to take over the beats that Bill Sheldon had - Florida State football (they were 0-11 that year), soccer and tennis. Sheldon was leaving the paper to be the Toros' media director.

Colleagues had told me that when you're offered a promotion, don't turn it down or you won't be asked again. So that's how I fell into the tennis beat.

I was blessed. Not only was I working at the Taj Mahal of newspaper offices, the Herald building overlooking Biscayne Bay in downtown Miami, but I was covering a sport that was exploding at the amateur and pro level.

Courts couldn't be built fast enough to accommodate the players. Men's and women's pro tournaments were popping up all over Florida.

Above: Interviewing Martina Navratilova at North Miami Beach

Connors, Borg, McEnroe, Evert and Navratilova were emerging as superstars.

And the world's leading international junior tournament, the Orange Bowl, was attracting the future stars every December at Miami Beach's Flamingo Park. I got to know the founder, Eddie Herr, well. He'd also created the national team events, the Sunshine Cup for boys and Continental Players Cup for girls, held right after the Orange Bowl at Flamingo Park.

Above: With Eddie Herr, founder of the Orange Bowl International Tennis Championships

Thus I was able to see the future of tennis emerge into stardom - McEnroe, Lendl, Courier, Sabatini,, Fernandez, the Spadeas (Vince and Luanne), Kournikova, Federer, Roddick, Edberg, Wilander, Mandlikova, Noah, Becker, Graf, Seles, Capriati, etc.

My 18 years as the Herald's tennis writer coincided with the 18 years Ashe was the director of tennis at Doral Resort near Miami. What an honor to know and write about one of the most admirable figures in the history of sports.

In 1990 at the U.S. Open, he was writing columns for the Washington Post and was seated right behind me in the press box at Armstrong Stadium. I mentioned to him privately I was considering leaving the Herald and starting a tennis magazine that would focus on Florida.

Arthur encouraged me to take a leap of faith, I did and started Florida Tennis from scratch in 1992.

Above: The first issue of Florida Tennis, featuring Mary Joe Fernandez on the cover, was published in March 1992

After 21 years of seeing a paycheck in my office mail box every Thursday, suddenly there were no paychecks.

My income would materialize when I sold an ad and the advertiser paid for it. And I'd never sold an ad in my life.

There already was a tennis publication in the state, printed on newsprint because the cost of glossy paper in those days was prohibitive. It was the official publication of the USTA in Florida and was mailed four times a year to members.

When their one-year contract was up for renewal, I put in a bid and suggested six issues annually. But I hadn't published my first issue, and a USTA official said they wanted to see what I'd produce and urged me to bid the next year, and I did.

I had 15 consecutive one-year contracts and Florida Tennis went on to win the USTA's National Media Excellence Award.

Above: With former USTA presidents Howard "Bumpy" Fraser and Alan Schwartz

Over the years some of the leading teaching pros in the world wrote columns for us - Vic Braden, Nick Bollettieri, Rick Macci.

And we were fortunate to use images from some of the premier tennis photographers in the world - Art Seitz, Alese and Morton Pechter, Al Messerschmidt, Susan and Fred Mullane, Caryn Levy, Michael Baz,.

We were there when Butch Buchholz's dream of a fifth Grand Slam became reality as the Lipton Championships at the site of a former garbage dump on Key Biscayne.

We were there while Florida emerged as America's Most Important Tennis State, headquarters for the ATP, WTA, USPTA and most recently the USTA's amazing 100-court National Campus.

And we were there when Rick Macci brought Venus, Serena and the entire Williams family from Compton, California, to Grenelefe Resort near Orlando and coached the girls during their formative years.

Toward the end of the film "King Richard" you see Richard driving a golf cart at Grenelefe and a reporter with notepad is next to him. That's me, or more accurately that's an actor portraying me. (No, I was not invited to the red carpet as Macci was).

As technology evolved, so did Florida Tennis from newsprint to glossy. Then when some of the major national advertisers started to cut back on print ads and opt for the internet, I could see there wouldn't be enough income to cover expenses. A new publication in the state made a bid that was higher than mine, and I didn't make a counter offer.

That magazine became the USTA's official publication in Florida. I no longer had access to their mailing list to individual members, but I continued to send Florida Tennis complimentary to more than 500 clubs, parks, resorts, shops, and academies throughout the state, plus subscribers nationwide.

Above: With Andre Agassi and Gardnar Mulloy at Agassi book signing in Coral Gables

The other publication went under and subsequently so did two others in the state, and the USTA stopped mailing to members due to the expense.

Meanwhile, Florida Tennis has maintained an excellent relationship with USTA Florida and is delighted to publish six pages of its feature stories and news in each issue.

When I founded Florida Tennis there were more than a dozen regional tennis publications such as ours in the U.S. Now, to the best of my knowledge, there are five.

We're still here, and I'm taking another leap of faith. I have sold Florida Tennis to Matt Pressman, who has a strong background in tennis and advertising and is passionate about bringing the publication to higher levels in print and online.

Florida Tennis will remain in print. It's not going solely online as Tennis magazine did a year ago.

And I'm not going anywhere. In addition to pursuing some book projects, will be the Florida Tennis editor, I will continue to write columns and will serve as an advisor/mentor. Matt will handle advertising, the new website, and social media.

I'm excited about the future of Florida Tennis.


Written by Florida Tennis Founder/Editor: Jim Martz; Photos courtesy of Jim Martz; Lead Photo: Josh Sorenson / UnsplashThis article also appears in the July-August 2023 issue of Florida Tennis Magazine. Be sure to subscribe for expanded coverage, exclusive interviews, and in-depth tennis news. 

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