May 14, 2010
The Husky men's tennis team has talked all season about performing its best come NCAA tournament time. Well, that time has arrived, as UW begins NCAA play this Saturday against Rice in Waco, Texas. For junior Martin Kildahl, there is little doubt that he is in fact playing his best tennis of the season heading into the tournament. In 2009, Kildahl was second on the team in dual wins with a 15-8 record, earning All-Pac-10 honorable mention, but his upward trajectory was interrupted by a foot injury that needed surgery over the summer. Kildahl missed the fall season and though he returned in time for dual play, it took him a while to recapture the consistency that had been one of his biggest strengths. Things came together for the Oslo, Norway native down the stretch of the regular season, as he won his final four Pac-10 matches including wins at Stanford and Cal. Kildahl playing at the top of his game instantly makes the Huskies much more formidable, as they look for two big wins this weekend. "Viking", as the team knows him, talked with GoHuskies before the team set out for Regionals.
GoHuskies.com: You got a late start to this year because of a foot issue. Can you take go back over what the timeline was and what you had to go through?
Martin Kildahl: I had the surgery in August I was on crutches for 9-10 weeks and I was in a boot for another five, so I really couldn't hit balls until the beginning of December and I couldn't really move and hit balls until the third week of December. And the season starts beginning of January, so it was really tough to get ready in time. But in match play its always different, I hadn't played a match in six months but as you know we have the best coaching staff and they helped me through it. Our new sports psychologist helped me a lot and I'm finally back into the groove after this long struggle.
GH: You had some mixed results early on and probably weren't as consistent as you had been, so was that hard to overcome?
MK: I thought I was going to do better than I did, then it kind of hit me that I was struggling so I lost my confidence and when you lose confidence in tennis you start worrying about how you're hitting the ball instead of how you want to win. So you get too worried about your own strokes instead of winning the points and that can ruin everything for you, instead of trying to get better every day. So now I have back that winning mentality and I am trying to win every point.
GH: So you really closed the season well, winning your last four Pac-10 matches. Was it one specific thing or collectively did things come together?
MK: I think it was a collective thing. Pac-10 started and we knew Pac-10 was tough, but it's always fun to play Pac-10; there are a lot of really good players and you just have to fight out there. You know I got a little lucky I saved match point the first one then I played well after that, I just kind of figured how to balance my game, not going for too much but at the same time not letting the guy get ahead of me too much in the points.
GH: It seems like dictating play is what you try to do right away. When you're playing well what is working for you?
MK: I try to hit my forehand big, I've done that my whole life, that's kind of one of the things that has been working for me the past month and a half, and the serve is important to get ahead of the points. But what's helped me the most is that when I'm not ahead in the point or I have to play defense, I've gotten more patient in defense. I'm not going for shots when I'm on the run, coach has taught me how to get back on defense when on the run really well and that has helped win a lot of points on defense which I haven't done before.
GH: Heading to NCAAs now, talk about how big it was to get a win under your belts last season for now your third NCAA Championships.
MK: Our first year we struggled and did not do very well, and then last year we had that incredible comeback like you said. 0-3 and we came back to win 4-3. Even though we lost that second round it just shows that we have something more in us than other teams have and I think it was a barrier we broke so that we can go further this year. We're taking it step by step and if we can all hang in and fight like we know we should and can we can beat any team, and we know that now. We stepped up to the plate last year and now we have to keep it rolling and go even further. "
GH: The coaches have frequently mentioned you as someone who really embraces the team aspect of college tennis.
MK: Yeah I always love the team aspect of any sport. I've played soccer my whole life, and when you get positive feedback from other teammates, that's what gives me the most energy, and when I have a coach on the side who's telling me what I'm doing right and what I'm doing wrong, what I need to change and it's just when you have six people on the court plus people in the stands rooting for you it brings out something extra in me. I really play better and get more intense and into it, and the better my teammates play. In tennis you're always by yourself and now you have all this support of six to ten guys plus three coaches that are right there and fighting with you. I get extra energy and fight better; it's all a great experience.
GH: When did you first take up tennis?
MK: I started at six, right before I turned seven. They built a new facility right by where I lived and my dad took me and a few friends to see how it was and I loved it, I was doing well on my first practice, and the coach said hey you need to play with better guys and I just loved running around and hitting balls... I played soccer growing up and through high school. I love soccer too, and I missed the team aspect with soccer, here we have that team aspect so I don't need to play soccer as much. "
GH: Do you still watch a lot of soccer then? Is Norway in the World Cup?
MK: I'm a huge Man U fan, we had a few Norwegians there and I got started when I was about eight or nine and I have been following them ever since. They're a great team, and they're always fighting so hard which I love. Norway didn't even qualify (for World Cup). They didn't qualify for the past few events so I didn't expect them to make it. I'll root for England and I have to pull for South Africa too because of Derek (Drabble). It's going to be fun to follow them and I hope they can get a couple wins. And then we have a new player Marton Bots, he lived in Spain for a while and he's trying to get me to root for them, but they won the European Cup so I think that's enough.
GH: What are you studying now in school?
MK: Finance major, I have always liked the business world. My Dad is an accountant and my mom is an accountant and I just kind of think the stock market and all that is pretty exciting and I think there are a lot of opportunities there. Especially now with the recession it's an interesting time so I knew when I was coming here that's what I wanted to do.
GH: Coming from Europe as many players do it's always interesting to learn how you ended up getting in touch with the coaches and coming to Seattle so how did that happen in your case?
MK: There was a former player here who I think graduated in 2000, Marius Lunde [1998-01 to be precise], he loved this place and he's from the same little tennis club that I'm from and I know him pretty well and he told Coach Anger about me without my knowledge. I was looking at other schools and suddenly Coach called me out of thin air and I decided to check it out. He actually came to Norway to see me play and said, `We want you.' And my mom and dad also went to college at PLU in Tacoma, they have Norwegian founders at that school so they went there and they loved Seattle so when my parents found out UW was an option they said I had to go.
GH: Wow quite a coincidence that your parents lived in the area. Had they been back much since?
MK: My mom was here my sophomore year and my dad was here a year ago for the first time since his studies. He was here for two weeks and didn't want to leave.