After a tough freshman season, sophomore Martin Kildahl has excelled this season and moved from the No. 3 spot in doubles to the No. 1 spot.
Doubles teammate Tobi Obenhaus said of Kildahl, “Last year he learned how to come in and improved his volley, which makes him an even more dangerous player.”
“The Viking” is an apt nickname for a blond-haired, blue-eyed, 6-foot-1-inch 185-pound native of Oslo, Norway. And while it aptly describes Martin Kildahl’s physical appearance and his heritage, the nickname best describes the tennis player’s aggressive playing style.
His former doubles partner and close friend Tobi Obenaus has observed this firsthand.
“He’s a very aggressive player,” Obenaus said. “This makes him a very dangerous player. Last year he learned how to come in and improved his volley, which makes him an even more dangerous player.”
It was this improvement which pushed Kildahl from No. 6 singles and No. 3 doubles to No. 3 singles and No. 1 doubles. And Kildahl looks right at home in his new position after beating Eastern Washington’s Art Karas, 6-2, 6-2, as well as winning his first doubles match, 8-5.
But things weren’t always so great for Kildahl. In his first season, Kildahl considered going back to his native home and giving up UW tennis because of an injury and difficulty transitioning to a new country. But his teammates, many of whom were also born outside the United States, came to his aid, sharing their experiences and supporting him.
“I was disappointed and I was thinking about maybe going home,” Kildahl said. “I learned how much they were there for me. They told me about their experience, especially Derek [Drabble] who had a similar experience, struggling in tennis and school and missing his family in the fall. It gave me some comfort to see how well he’s doing now.”
To improve his tennis, Kildahl increased his training intensity. He worked out after practice, ran, and played a lot of extra tennis in an effort to gain a physical edge.
“I started running more when I got back and working out more after practice and I got a lot better,” Kildahl said.
While the extra practice improved his physical skills, Kildahl still needed to boost his confidence. He got that edge after beating top-tier competition in Europe.
“When I got home, I immediately started playing tournaments,” he said. “I beat a guy who was ranked [No.] 800 in the world who I didn’t think I could beat. I don’t think I’m that much better. I think I believe in myself more.”
But Kildahl wasn’t the only one who believed. Head coach Matt Anger had faith in “The Viking” the whole time and gave him the confidence to make his improvements.
Anger, who was named Pac-10 Coach of the Year in 2005, was one of the main reasons Kildahl chose to play tennis at the UW.
While he may not have felt it, Kildahl showed signs of greatness last year. His dangerous forehand and killer serves helped the doubles pair of Kildahl and Obenaus to a nine-match winning streak.
“It was awesome,” Obenaus said of playing with Kildahl. “We are very close friends so being out there on the court was awesome to share those great moments with him.”
And, while he is a “Viking” on the court, he is a gentleman off it.
Despite the distance, Kildahl has remained close to his family who has supported him his entire career. In fact, he said the thing he misses most from Norway is his mother’s cooking.
“They really support me,” Kildahl said. “Tennis is a big thing in the Kildahl family.”
His teammates have nothing but respect for him as well. He made an impression on Obenaus as soon as they met.
“He’s the first person I met off the plane,” Obenaus said. “After five minutes I felt like I had known him for a long time. He’s great. You can always ask him to do a favor for you and he is very appreciative when you do a favor for him. He’s a fun guy to hang around.”
With the support of his coach, his teammates and his family, Kildahl has excelled at tennis. The sport, which he was ready to give up a year ago, has now become something he truly enjoys.
“A year ago I said I never would be able to [play professionally],” he said. “Now, in doubles, if I keep improving like I did, it’s a possibility. I’m enjoying tennis even more. I don’t want to stop right after college.”
Reach reporter Zach Ruby at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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