Photo by Brian Paglia
Lovejoy senior Jill Martin juggles high school, classes at Clayton State and leading the Lady Wildcats tennis team as the No. 1 singles player. "I really enjoy juggling all three, and I think it makes me really level-headed," Martin said.

Photo by Brian Paglia Lovejoy senior Jill Martin juggles high school, classes at Clayton State and leading the Lady Wildcats tennis team as the No. 1 singles player. "I really enjoy juggling all three, and I think it makes me really level-headed," Martin said.

By Brian Paglia

bpaglia@news-daily.com

Lovejoy senior girls' tennis player Jill Martin can get stuck on the baseline during matches, and she knows it.

She knows she is short, too, and that against taller and stronger opponents with similar, or superior, skills than her own, she can get banged off the court, pushed further and further back until all it takes is one drop-shot, leaving Martin too far to rush the net and save the volley.

Martin has learned this watching professional matches between Maria Sharapova and Justine Henin. She has observed how Sharapova, tall and powerful at 6-foot-2, can bully Henin, who is 5-foot-5, but how Henin will inch toward the net during a volley, shortening the court and putting pressure on Sharapova.

Head-to-head, Henin is 6-3 against Sharapova, and has four more Grand Slam titles (7-3).

So up 5-0 in her No. 1 singles match Thursday against Mundy's Mill, volleying in the sixth game , Martin began to inch closer and closer to the net, shortening the court, waiting to strike.

Martin's opponent was caught too far back, trapped in a corner, so Martin returned her shot to the opposite side to win the point.

"My father was giving me the eye, because he hates me standing back there," Martin said. "I've been working on volleys all month, so I had to come up there for at least one."

It was a calculated move by Martin, but that's the way she operates. The senior already has the next steps of her life after high school charted: playing tennis at Brandeis University, going to graduate school at Harvard, then working for global investment and banking firm Goldman Sachs.

For now, Martin juggles high school academics and Lady Wildcats tennis, while taking classes at Clayton State, where she is already a sophomore.

"She's a role model for other kids," Lovejoy coach Rashell Robinson said. "She's highly organized. She can compartmentalize. When she's here, she's here. ... She's very mature. The girls look up to her."

"It's pretty fun," Martin said. "They all have great aspects."

Indeed, Martin didn't have to go back to Lovejoy. She's found most students in the dual enrollment program with Clayton State think they're too good for high school, but Martin didn't want to miss it.

She didn't want to miss out on the drama, on playing against the boys' tennis team at practice, on trying for her third state tournament appearance with Lovejoy, which finished the regular season undefeated in Region 4-AAAA.

To Martin, this is the part of her life that is simply icing on the cake, as she says.

"This is only going to come around once," Martin said. "I can go to college until I'm 80 years old. ... But high school you can't do over again."

Martin began playing tennis when she was six. Her father would drag her out to a tennis court every day with her younger sister.

"He got all these tapes, and we just went out there and started hitting balls," Martin said. "He used to get so frustrated, because we'd be out there digging in the sand, hanging out in the park. But we went out there everyday, and I just kept going until I didn't have a choice but to be good."

When Martin was 11, she began playing in tournaments, and that's when she took off. Soon, she was attending camps at Emory, Georgia Tech and in Florida. Her freshman year at Lovejoy, the Lady Wildcats made the Class AAAAA Sweet 16.

Martin joined the Posse Scholars Program -- an organization that identifies overlooked high school students and partners with colleges and universities to provide four-year, full-tuition scholarships -- and got an offer to play tennis at Brandeis. She almost made a last-minute switch to play at Columbia, but Martin stuck with Brandeis out of loyalty.

Since then, she's spent her senior season fine-tuning her game, working on volleys, second serves and her net game.

"The (Brandeis) coach is really looking for a perfected game, someone who's good in every aspect," Martin said. "I've really been working on ... different aspects of my game to make it solid all around."

"She's got the confidence, she's got the foot-work, she's got the body movements, and she'll make an adjustment instantly," Robinson said. "You won't get two bad shots from her. If you do, you'll never get a third one."

Robinson said Martin has all the makings of a Fortune 500 CEO.

But right now, Martin is focused on making the most of her final season of high school tennis.

"The girls are really passionate," Martin said. "Most of these girls I've been playing with since freshman year. ... I think we'll do really good at state."