Saluki tennis freshman comes prepared

By Thomas Donley

The son of an Air Force pilot, freshman Daniel Martinez spent his childhood living all over the Western Hemisphere.

Martinez was born in Quito, Ecuador. When he was four, he moved to San Antonio, where his tennis career began.

“I first picked up a racket when I came here for the first time,” Martinez said. “And when I went back, I just kept practicing.”


He and his family moved back to Ecuador after two years, this time to the coastal city of Manta.

Although he was too young to be ranked in tournaments while in Manta, Martinez said he just kept practicing. He said he eventually played in some tournaments toward the end of his time in Ecuador.

Martinez moved to Enid, Okla., when he was 9 years old after his father left the Air Force and became a flight simulation instructor.

“It was a big adjustment,” Martinez said. “I knew English, but I didn’t know how to communicate or take the subjects.”

At Enid High School, Martinez finished fifth in the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association’s State Championships as a freshman and third as a sophomore.

As a four-star recruit entering his junior year, Martinez suffered a setback when he slipped while practicing on a clay court. He tore labra in both hips, which required two hip surgeries. Martinez said his injury caused several colleges to lose interest in him.

One coach who did not lose interest was Saluki head coach Dann Nelson. Nelson’s doubles partner at Oklahoma Christian College, Christian Pensavalle, was one of Martinez’s high school coaches.

“Christian has coached a lot of guys who’ve played [Division I] tennis,” Nelson said. “And he told me, “Hey, you need to look at this guy,’ and that’s what sparked the interest.”

Martinez said he chose SIU in part because of Nelson’s interest after his surgeries. Martinez said living in Ecuador and the United States helped him prepare for college.

“Being part of a military family for so much of my life, you always have schedules,” Martinez said. “And here, you need to manage your schedule well, or else you’ll be in deep trouble.”

Six of the nine Salukis list foreign cities as their hometowns. Martinez said growing up in two different countries helps him identify with his foreign teammates. Martinez is one of six Saluki freshmen this season.

He said his fellow freshmen have been helpful in making the transition to college tennis easier. “Us six are kind of together all the time,” Martinez said.

“We’re going through the same things, so we try to be together as much as possible. Ice baths, dinner, whenever possible.”

Junior captain Jonny Rigby was impressed with the work Martinez and his fellow freshmen have done so far this season.

“All the freshmen have pretty much done equally well,” Rigby said. “Everyone’s working hard, so that’s good.”

Nelson said Martinez, like many freshmen, started the season by trying to do too much in practice, he has since settled in and can be a productive member of the Saluki tennis team, Nelson said. “We’re taking it a day at a time, a tournament at a time,” he said. “But I think Daniel, as well as all of the freshmen, can contribute at some point this season.”

Thomas Donley can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @tdonleyDE or 536-3311 ext. 256