Patty Martinez began winning tournaments when she was a little girl in San Diego wearing long, ankle-length dresses and patty-caking the ball back with gum-chewing, not to say exasperatingly casual, regularity.
Continuing to play with an anachronistic hard-rubber bat, she grew up to win three U.S. Open Women's Singles Championships, not only because of that early developed block/push table control, but because she'd soon added an outstanding pick-hit to go with it. She would lean forward into the table, balancing left hand up, like a bird's wing, and, though seemingly rooted to one spot, would suddenly flash-hit, flash-in a winning forehand.
She was a member of Pal Alvarado's San Diego Club as far back as 1962...when she was 9 and already the San Diego Women's Champion.
By 1964, Patty was U.S. Open Junior Miss Champ. Not only that, but, though she was only 12, she also had wins over both Donna Chaimson (later Sakai) and Connie Stace (later Sweeris). This was quite impressive because that year Donna was the U.S. Open Women's Singles runner-up, and she and Connie were the U.S. Open Women's Doubles Champions.
Not too surprising then that, in the 1965 U.S. Open, Patty found herself in the Women's Singles final--against the already legendary, 9-time U.S. Women's Champion Leah Neuberger. Question was: could the kid get her head together to threaten, maybe even upset, her aging but very experienced opponent?
We'll soon see, for here is Brooke Williams'--Patty's 1964 U.S. Open Doubles partner's--first-hand account of this historic match:
"My purse, my purse--I can't find it. This is the third time I've lost it," wailed the 13-year-old California comet Patty Martinez.
"What was in your purse?" I asked, while [Defending Champ] Valleri Bellini (whom Patty had beaten earlier) was saying, 'You can do it--just go out there and win."
"What was in my purse?" said Patty. "My comb--and a dollar."
I was fearful that this confounded purse episode might perturb the otherwise imperturbable youngest Junior Champion in United States history. "Here's my comb, Patty--and I'll give you a dollar. Now please forget the purse--this is your big moment."
Half an hour earlier, there...[had also been] excitement. "Have you eaten, Patty?
"What did you eat?"
"A coke and a French fuzz."
!!! I dashed to my suitcase and extracted a protein bar, which she dutifully consumed.
"Have you worked out against [hard] rubber?" asked the wise Valleri. "Leah uses [hard] rubber you know."
I grabbed her hand and sprinted to Sol Schiff, the great veteran [hard] rubber player....That wonderful man instantly left customers and equipment and took Patty into the practice area and gave her a thorough workout against rubber until she was called for her final against Leah.
Then the lights went out, the floods were trained on two storybook stars, and the TV cameras were set [for this was the first U.S. Open to be televised]."
As it turned out, Patty did seem to have gotten her head together--was into the 5th with Leah. But in that final game, Miss Williams tells us, Neuberger got off "to a devastating lead" and kept "in firm control" until she was up 20-15 match point. "It seemed as if she had already achieved her objective of tying Dick Miles's record...[of 10 National Singles Championships].
Nevertheless the score went to 20-16, then 20-17, at which score Patty attempted a putaway, which, however, floated high and apparently out. But wait! It now descended rapidly and just nicked the end of the table!!
At this point the building became electrified--anything could happen. 'Look at her body,' table tennis theorist Jack Carr observed about Patty, 'not a trace of tension"--20-18...20-19, and yes, 20-20!!!
Now all spectator inhibitions vanished. Thousands [sic] rose to their feet and screamed their lungs out.
All right, all right, you've guessed it. Patty took the next two points and the United States Open Women's Singles crown.
'I'm leaving now,' said former National Champion Bob Gusikoff. 'Who wants to see the men's final after the women? It would be an anti-climax!'"
Ah, such '60's exuberance--good for the game, huh?
In the 1966 U. S. Open, Martinez lost to another steady pick-hitter, the 1963 Champion, Bernice (Charney) Chotras in 4 in the semi's. But Patty shared the #1 ranking that year, for Bernice was beaten in the final by Patty's arch-rival, Canada's equally precocious Violetta Nesukaitis.
1967 was another big U.S. Open year for Patty. As a reporter for a San Diego paper put it:
"The only thing which bothers Miss Martinez, it seems, is her hair, which is always getting in her eyes. Except for brushing it aside and occasionally fanning herself with her paddle, she plays as unconcernedly as one would in a neighborhood game.
After playing 20 sets [matches] yesterday she seemed as fresh as she was at the start."
Twenty sets! Well, that's how many it took for Patty to win the Junior Girls (the final over Nesukaitis), the Women's (the final over Priscilla Hirschkowitz Parker), and both the Women's and Mixed Doubles.
This, as I say, was in 1967. I don't remember exactly when I myself first met Patty, but, having taken a 10-year absence from the game to, as they say, get a life, I hadn't returned to play in earnest until the fall of '65 and so hadn't seen Patty astonish everyone with that win over Leah.
But in Oct. of '65, I remember I irresponsibly flipped a racket at the close of a tight match I'd lost that somehow unexpectedly caromed off a barrier and grazed Patty's brother Jess on the nose....That apparently endeared me to the whole family.
In those days, the two major tournaments were the U.S. Open in the spring and the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) tournament (thought of as the Canadian Open) held at the Toronto Fairgrounds in the fall. In '68 in the quarter's of the CNE, Patty was two games down, and then down 18-10 in the 5th to her Women's Doubles partner, Barbara Kaminsky, but went on to beat Barbara and then win the tournament by besting both Stace and Nesukaitis.
Also of some importance was the fact that at this CNE tournament she played Mixed Doubles with me--U.S. Men's #12 that year. Patty and I were good friends and had similar hug-the-table, block and flat-hit attacking games. Also, I was high--had just upset U.S. #2, Danny Pecora, the Defending Men's Singles Champ. Moreover, not only were Patty and my games complementary, but, since Patty was always so confident and upbeat, I felt that way too. First we beat Pecora and Alice Green, then the partnership of Denis Neale, the English #1, and Violetta Nesukaitis, the Canadian #1. How exciting! True, we lost the final to Dal-Joon Lee and Barbara Kaminsky, but it was all great fun--especially as out there on court I gave Patty and her love beads a mild, wild embrace.
In '69 Patty won the CNE Singles over Violetta and, partnered with Glenn Cowan, won the Mixed over Bernie Bukiet and Nesukaitis.
At the Munich '69 World's, as a card from Paris told me, Patty lost only two matches in the Team's, and in the Singles before losing she had a win over Sweden's Eva Johansson. And although she didn't win the English Junior Open, she did knock out the #2 and #4 seeds. So she had quite a successful trip abroad.
Also in '69, Patty and her California teammates--Wendy Hicks, Angelita Rosal (later Bengtsson), and Heather Angelinetta again won the Women's USOTC.
At the U.S. Open that year, Martinez beat Hicks for the title. (In '72 Wendy would win the Open, downing Patty in the semi's.)
In the semi's of the 1970 U.S. Open, Patty lost to Irene Ogus, a member of the '65 English Team that had won the European Championship. Down 2-1, but, up 20-19 in the 4th, Patty corrected the game-winning point given her by the umpire, for she knew the ball had hit below her wrist, and since the "paddle-point-rule" was in effect then, she'd lost the point. Though she was eventually beaten in 5 by Irene, you could understand how she was the recipient of the Elmer Cinnater Sportsmanship Award.
In 1971 Martinez returned to the CNE but lost to Judy Bochenski in the semi's. However, Patty and I again played in the Mixed, and, though we lost in the final to England's Alan Hydes and Nesukaitis, we had a great, come-from-behind semi's win over the Sweerises (-8, -13, 20, 16, 19).
In 1971 Patty went from flying lessons into a "significant other" relationship with one, Leyrl Cash. "Swooned in a Cessna" she was, and her t.t. game was momentarily grounded.
But, as Patty Cash, she was back in '72 for the reciprocal "Ping-Pong Diplomacy" visit of the Chinese. And at the '73 World Team Tryouts, posting a 10-1 record, she shared first place with Alice Green.
Patty didn't play in the '73 or '74 U.S. Opens, and it was clear her career was coming to a close. But she made the '75 U.S. Team to the Calcutta World's, and I did some fund-raising to help her and the others to go.
Interestingly, there in India she lost a mirror match to a Hong Kong girl who also played with hard rubber. "Wow, what a weird racket," said Patty--like so many others had said before on playing her.
In the '76 U.S. Tryouts for the '77 Birmingham, England World's, Patty avenged an earlier loss or two to Irene Ogus, but then suffered an arm injury. They took her to a hospital where she said, "Give me what you give football players." But the doctor wouldn't do that--and she came back to the tournament with her arm in a sling.
So...after a 15-year career, no more competitive table tennis. Last I heard, Patty was teaching her kids backgammon...and taking all doubles.