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Flowery Branch's Andres Martin works toward junior Grand Slam qualification
Andres Martin hits a backhand at the 2016 USTA National Winter Championships in December of 2016. - photo by For The Times

It was early August, and Flowery Branch native Andres Martin — the top-ranked junior tennis player in the state of Georgia and one of the best in the country — found himself worried and alone in the Detroit airport. Martin, who had just turned 17 in July, was coming off a round of 32 loss at the USTA National Championships in Kalamazoo, Michigan. 

It was a match Martin said he thinks he probably should have won, but there was no time to dwell. He had a plane to catch. 

To save on cash, Martin had bought a standby ticket back home, so he would need to wait for a seat on a return flight to Atlanta to become available. After spending nearly 12 hours in the airport and rushing between six different gates, Martin finally found a plane with an opening.

“It was very tough,” he said of the experience.

Although Martin’s most recent homecoming was perhaps not as comfortable as he would have hoped, it was not the most difficult obstacle he’s had to overcome, and he has never been one to complain. 

His parents, Venezuela native Rafael and Chilean-born Andrea Del Valle, say that while his tennis career has certainly brought some financial stress to the family, they’ve always found a way to make things work out. 

“Since he was eight, we’ve been traveling and trying to figure out how to get the money for him to travel,” Del Valle said. “So we did everything.”

Apart from saving on airfare wherever they can, the Martin’s have started online fundraisers on multiple platforms. Andres himself has made his own personal business cards and washed windows in his neighborhood in an attempt to make some cash to pay for travel and tournament entry fees. 

It’s a career the entire family has been behind for nearly a decade. From as early as when he was 2-years-old, Martin’s parents said it was obvious he was a gifted athlete. Still wearing diapers, he had developed the hand-eye coordination to dribble a basketball up-and-down their driveway. 

Martin also played several youth sports growing up, though he shined the brightest on a tennis court. 

“From the moment he picked up a racket, he was just a natural,” Rafael Martin said. 

Both of Martin’s parents believed he had a future in athletics, and their suspicions were validated when he first started training with local coach Murry Lokasundaram, who said it didn’t take long to realize Martin had potential. 

“Just watching him, the way he behaved, the way he had work ethic and intensity, he had a lot of drive and desire at a very early age,” Lokasundaram said. “There’s a lot that goes into that.”

Training under Lokasundaram, Martin quickly began to outpace his peers. As he progressed, his coach started to realize the need for Martin to move on. 

Martin, who grew up playing on public courts, is a bit of a rarity in the competitive youth tennis community. He didn’t get his start with a country club or expensive academy. But that meant competition for him was at a premium, and Lokasundaram feared his pupil would start to plateau.

“We knew at an early age he couldn’t stay with me,” he said. “He couldn’t be with me as he grew. He needed to be surrounded by better players.”

Without the money to buy his way into one of the top-end training institutions, Martin was forced to take the hard-work route once again. 

Eventually, he managed to earn a scholarship to the prestigious Smith-Stearns Tennis Academy in Hilton Head, S.C. Although he was only a teenager, Martin quickly had to transition to living on his own, keeping up with his own online schoolwork and dealing with everyday responsibilities such as doing his own laundry. 

“He’s had a lot of self-discipline, by being by himself, traveling by himself, having to make connections at the airport, different things,” Lokasundaram said. “He’s had to do this by himself instead of having someone there holding his hand.”

Now, Martin faces another uphill climb in achieving his latest goal — playing in the junior grand slam tournaments. Martin, currently ranked as a fringe top-300 junior player internationally, needs to achieve a top-100 ranking in order to qualify for the Australian, French and U.S. Opens, as well as Wimbledon.

But Martin’s greatest obstacle in pursuit of a higher international ranking isn’t anyone he has to face on the court, but rather his lack of sufficient funds. He, his parents and Lokasundaram said the financial difficulties of constantly traveling overseas have weighed down his chances of moving up the ranks.

“He’s playing on a very limited schedule,” Lokasundaram said. “The other players get 15, 17 of these tournaments in a year. He only gets like seven. So what he’s done in a small sample size is incredible.”

Incredible is a good word to describe Martin’s career as he has progressed from the Flowery Branch public courts to national prominence. As a junior in high school, he has already verbally committed to playing college tennis at Georgia Tech.

And while Martin said he isn’t sure if he had time to make up enough ground to play the junior grand slams in the coming year, he’s also not counting himself out.

“I still have a lot of upside to my game,” Martin said.

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