He’s a professional model with New York Models boasting a People Magazine Top 50 Most Beautiful People in the World honor in 2000. A spot in Sports Illustrated for Women’s swimwear issue followed in 2001, as did a fashion spread in Playboy not too long ago. “That was the last thing I did,” he said in a recent phone interview. “It’s hard for me to do a lot of that stuff. I look for campaign type things and it’s not easy to get them,” pointing out, “No. 1, there are a lot of models out there.”
Don’t expect this humble athlete to ever do a cheeky shoot either. “I wouldn’t even entertain such an offer. I mean, would I model in underwear? Sure, but nothing beyond that.”
A Google vanity search produced 18,000 Internet sites bearing his Christian name, a handful of which got down right biblical. Groupie girl sites with endless bare-chested snapshots riddled the top searches. One site was bluntly titled “Jan-Michael Topless Practice Pictures.”
“It’s great to have fans. Without the fans there’s nothing,” a very down-to-earth Gambill said of his enthusiastic female fan base. “Hopefully, there are a lot of diverse personalities on the tour that garner fans from all kinds of different walks of life.”
Being a Star Trek buff, with a collection of Franklin Mint-issued memorabilia to prove it, Gambill was essentially interpreting Vulcan words of wisdom: “Infinite diversity in infinite combinations.” “I’ve loved the show since I was little,” Gambill said of the Star Trek franchise. “It was about relationships and how people deal with each other. It was a positive outlook on the future of humanity.”
Fellow Trekkies might infiltrate the female fan fold if they were aware that William Shatner and Patrick Stewart are big Gambill fans who have been known to make appearances at his matches. “They both love tennis a lot. We’re mutual fans of each other,” Gambill said. Gambill spoke with adoration about his good friend and childhood idol, Stewart. “We speak almost weekly, often times more.” Stewart, who has been performing in The Master Builder at the Albery Theatre in London, attended his Wimbledon matches. Gambill continues, “Patrick is one of the best dramatic actors, period. There is so much I can learn from him by just being around him and picking his brain … and I do that a lot.”
Hobnobbing with Star Trek royalty has given Gambill the acting bug. “After tennis, acting would be something I would enjoy pursuing. It’s something that’s every bit as difficult, if not harder, than sports. It takes a lot of luck and you don’t really have your own destiny in your hands like tennis. It just takes one director liking you or not liking you.”
Tennis takes precedence in his life. His dad, Chuck Gambill, has even been his life-long tennis coach. “The tennis is me in the core and it’s what I love to do and what I’ve wanted to do since I was 9 years old — be a pro tennis player. But, it’s not what I always want to do. And you’re not going to see me coming back around. I’m not interested in coaching in the tour after I’m done. I really don’t enjoy traveling as extensively as we do.”
Overall, his results have been pretty good against the guys he may face this week. He has winning records against Schalken (5-2), Fish (3-1), Chang (4-3), Enqvist (3-2) and the tournament’s No. 1 seed, Roddick (2-0). Other players on the roster — Dent (who withdrew due to injury), Srichaphan, Rusedski and Kafelnikov — have gotten the best of him before. He’s never played Ginepri or Ancic at a Grand Slam or ATP event.
“We’ve had some very close matches before,” he said of Dent. “The last time was 6 and 6. He just played a couple of the big points bigger. I had some chances to pass him and didn’t do it, so you know I’ll be working on getting to the passing shot quick and really hitting the ball — picking my spot and hitting it and hopefully moving a little better.”
Known for his powerful two-fisted forehand and backhands, the RCA Championship audience should look for him to set up points off of this almighty attribute. “I hit the ball hard. A lot of times, with a big serve, I get a lot of short balls — easy balls to pound away.” Returning well, taking command of the ball and giving his opponent a good chase are his best strengths. “I set up points as quickly as I can hitting the ball deep and penetrating the court — trying to get the guy moving. When I can return well and take away their major advantage, like a big serve, then it puts a lot less pressure on me to hold my serve. That’s how I play my best tennis.”
He explained that he takes short steps and is more confidant on hard courts than clay or grass. “My foot work is designed for hard courts. I don’t slide very well, so when I get back on the hard courts I feel a lot more confident on my feet.”
Gambill, a hard-hitting back court player, lists John McEnroe, a server and volleyer, among his tennis heroes. “I just enjoyed watching Mac. It’s my enjoyment of watching him play more than anything else,” he said. As for emulating Mac’s racket breaking and tantrums, Gambill said, laughing, “Ohhh, you’ll see me break some rackets here and there. It’s gotten intense on the court."
“A lot of commentators (small pause) I would like to start on fire because I can’t stand them,” Gambill said, taking a deep breath and laughing. But of McEnroe’s commentating on NBC, BBC, CBS and the USA Network, he said, “McEnroe said some nice stuff and he’s very insightful and doesn’t mince words, which I respect a lot.”
Mac aside, his all time favorite tennis player is Jimmy Connors. “He is why I started playing the game. Without him this wouldn’t have ever happened. I would have never started playing the game, so he’s the guy I look up to the most.”
Because he loves playing in the States the best, the U.S. Open is the Grand Slam he’d most like to conquer. “I love America. I love this country more than me. I always play my best tennis in the U.S., so it would be the one for me to win.”