THE WISTFUL WONDER OF MARTINA HINGIS

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Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

While playing the WTA Finals, Martina Hingis has announced her retirement again, with many more Grand Slam titles to her name – in doubles – than she had the last time she retired. The last of the great teen phenoms, she was No. 1 for 209 weeks and won an amazing 25 Slams. Like her namesake, Martina Navratilova, she emerged out of Czechoslovakia to have a fabulous career in singles and doubles. Like Chris Evert she was a wonder from the baseline. And like John McEnroe, she had a sublime touch, a feel for the ball and an innate mastery of the court. In honor of the 37-year-old Hall of Famer, Inside Tennis presents this collection of notes and quotes from a lively, provocative tennis career like no other.

JUST WHAT DOES AN ORIGINAL THOUGHT TASTE LIKE? Mary Carillo noted, “There’s no one on court who knows more what an original thought tastes like than Martina Hingis.”

BUD COLLINS’ TWIST: Bud Collins wrote that millionaire Hingis, “isn’t the orphaned Oliver Twist asking for more. Still, she has the wistful waifliness of Twist, disguising the extraordinary tennis mind of a jaded long-timer. Intriguing to behold, she has figured out the puzzles of the rectangle, the alteration of pace and angles, something that most phenoms never do.”

THE POWER OF INSOUCIANCE: Writer Simon Barnes said, “It is hard to say why Hingis wins. She is no metronome, but she seldom plays a memorable shot. Her greatest weapon is her insouciance, her nerveless control of length. She never plays points, she plays matches. She manipulates her opponent about the court on each point and puts her through the ringer as the match develops.”

HINGIS HEADLINES:

MEAN, GREEN AND JUST 15

• HUMILITY, THY NAME IS…HINGIS?

ONE LESS BURDEN: Jerry Magee wrote that Hingis “is not burdened by any sense of false modesty.”

LOVE FOR SALE: Describing her commercial appeal, Hingis enthused, “I’m for sale!”

TELL US MORE: Once, after blowing out Mirjana Lucic in Rome, Hingis said, “I was just unbelievable.”

THE STAGGERING IMPLAUSIBILITY: In 1999 Hingis suffered two of the worst back-to-back losses ever. After her sad meltdown in the French Open final, No. 129 Jelena Dokic defeated No. 1 Hingis at Wimbledon. Ian Woolridge claimed, “The sheer enormity, the staggering implausibility… this hard to ignore defeat heaps humiliation on the shame she already felt.”

PRETTIER-THAN-THOU: Hingis once told Detour magazine that she was glad they were doing stories on tennis’ “Spice Girls” rather than on the WNBA because “we’re so much prettier than all the other women in sports.”

THE MARTINA MESSAGE: Martina’s mother named her daughter after Navratilova. If Hingis had been a boy, she would’ve called him Martin.

A STAR IS BORN: In 1993, Switzerland’s Hingis, 12, became the youngest girl to win a junior Grand Slam title by taking the French Open. In 1996, she emerged as an elite player by upsetting Steffi Graf at the Italian Open. She then partnered Helena Sukova to become the youngest Wimbledon champion in history; she reached the semis in singles, doubles and mixed doubles at the US Open; demolished Monica Seles 6-2, 6-0 for the Bank of the West title in Oakland and then reached the final of the TWTA Championships. At the end of ’96, she was ranked No. 4.

CHILDREN WILL LEAD US: During Hingis’s first heyday, Jana Novotna predicted, “In the future we will see younger players becoming No. 1 at an early age, but they will not last as long. They will retire when they’re 23 or 24…Hingis will be the first one. In 10 years, nobody will be surprised when you have a Grand Slam champion at 15 or 14.”

ON SERENA: During the Lipton Championships, young Venus Williams predicted that when she’s No. 1, her sister Serena would be her chief competition. Hingis countered: “Oh, that’s nice…I didn’t have that much self-confidence after winning one match.”

ON SERENA II: “She always will have a big mouth. They always talk a lot. It happened before. It’s going to happen again.”

ON STEFFI: Dismissing Steffi Graf, Hingis once said, “There is nothing I can learn from her, nothing I want to copy from her game.”

ON STEFFI II: Hingis once said, “I don’t want to become like Steffi [Graf] or…other players. They just go on the court, play their game and go away.”

ON PLAYING HERSELF: Asked what makes her such a tough competitor in the semis or finals, Hingis said, “I’ve never played myself at this stage, so I don’t know.”

HENIN ON HINGIS: After playing Hingis, Justine Henin confided, “I had a little bit of trouble on the return. It’s never been easy for me to return against a player who’s serving pretty slowly.”

GIRL TALK: Hingis recalled that the main thing she asked her WTA mentor Chris Evert after she turned pro was, “How do you handle men?”

IN SEARCH OF PRINCE CHARMING: Hingis confided, “A lot of people are afraid of me, especially the guys. It’s not easy to find the right one. Guys are intimidated by fame and if they spend time with me, it’s not easy to integrate themselves in what to do, the manners and how to behave.”

YET ANOTHER CRUEL INDICTMENT OF JOURNALISTS: After
 Hingis was asked about her romance with Radek Stepanek, she proclaimed, “Who else am I going to date, a journalist?” Then after her breakup with Stepanek, Hingis said, “I’m so over athletes! Bring on the good guys and entertainers!”

AMERICA ROCKS: Hingis once said the Ashe US Open Stadium was “just the biggest, nicest, most beautiful. Just everything is the greatest in America, you know.”

DAUGHTER OF THE YEAR: During Fed Cup, Hingis openly debated tactics with her mother, Swiss captain Melanie Molitor, then threw a towel that hit her in the face.

KATMANDU – AND DONNA KARAN TOO: After a goodwill trip to Nepal, Hingis said, “It was civilization and the third world coming together. If you looked one way you would see cows, dogs, people just laying in the street and then if you looked in the opposite direction you would see a fake Donna Karan bag for $30.”

JE NE REGRETTE RIEN: After her 1999 French Open debacle, where she melted down on court, Hingis said, “I don’t regret anything…That’s me. That’s how I am on the court.”

AND THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE: A repentant Hingis once confided, “I did things I should not have done. But people make mistakes, especially at my age, when you feel you are so smart but in fact you are an asshole.”

SHE DIDN’T KILL ANYONE: Years later, Hingis still seemed to be minimizing her meltdown at the ’99 French: “I was [just] 17! C’mon, other kids do more stupid things. Like in San Diego they are shooting at each other. Helloooo! I didn’t kill anyone.”

WTA WORLD: In the era of  Hingis, Kournikova and the Williames, Lindsay Davenport said, “These players for the most part don’t get along. That’s what makes it so interesting.” –

EVERT ON HINGIS: ”She speaks four languages, plays tennis like a dream, and knows the value of family. I’ll always love Martina Hingis.”

ONE OR TWO OR THREE OF A KIND? Both Chris Evert and John McEnroe said incoming Hall of Famer Martina Hingis reminded them of themselves. Hingis said nobody reminds her of herself.

A HINGIS QUOTEBOOK:

• “I’m number one in the world. Unless that changes, I have a right to be arrogant.”

• “It’s the business that wants this and we’re playing the game, me and Anna [Kournikova] and Venus. We’re the Spice Girls of tennis.”

“The strongest part of my game is my head. The rhythm and the timing are much more important to me than power…I had to think until my head broke.”

“I like everything about tennis; the game, the courts, the competition, and doing everything you can to win. It’s such a beautiful sport.”

•”It’s just another record for me. I mean, I have so many records already.”

“I had a great year. You know, what can I improve? Sometimes I ask myself.”

“It’s all the time, ‘Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods.’ I am better than he is. I’ve been on top longer and I am younger.”

“Women’s tennis is a very lonely world, especially when you’re at the top. You do not have that many friends. There is a lot of jealousy out there.”

A YEAR TO REMEMBER: All Hingis did in the summer of 2013 was endure claims by her soon-to-be-ex husband that she was a serial adulterer; get inducted into the Hall of Fame; play dandy World Team Tennis ball, leading her Washington Kastles to the title; have a heralded WTA comeback in doubles with Daniela Hantuchova; and spark rumors that she might also come back in singles. Her induction speech at the Hall of Fame was a poignant triumph – that is, until the moment was tarnished a bit by an outbreak of crass commercialism. “I was born behind the Iron Curtain, and my mother wanted to tear the curtain apart for me,” the Czech native recalled. “That’s the reason I played as a little girl. My mother had not many choices for giving me a better life and a chance for freedom, to see the world. She chose tennis as a way out of the prison we lived in.” Then moments later, lobbed up an ill-conceived plug for her clothing line, Tonic.

IT PAES TO STICK AROUND: In 2016, Leander Paes and Martina Hingis won the French Open mixed doubles crown and in just 18 months secured a career Grand Slam.

MARTINA AND MARTINA: What if Martina played doubles with Martina Navratilova. What a duo two of the best doubles players or all-time would make. One’s lefty, one’s righty, one’s a serve and volleyer, the other’s an adept baseliner. They not only have the same name, they both emerged out of Czechoslovakia and went on to excel in singles and doubles and ultimately were reluctant to step away from the game.

THE LADY IS A KILLER: After Hingis switched partners and played Wimbledon this year with Jamie Murray, Martina Navratilova said, ”I think Leander Paes was left at the altar.”

A SWEET GESTURE: When 1997 Wimbledon boys’ champion Wesley Whitehouse asked Hingis to pose for an autograph, she replied: “You are a champion, too. Will you sign for me?” But don’t get weepy-eyed. At the US Open, Hingis filled the court with drop shots against overmatched and pregnant Tami Whitlinger-Jones.

VENUS AND MARTINA: In 1997, teens Venus Williams and Martina Hingis met in the US Open final. Who knew that 20 years later they would still be huge forces? Hingis’ fabulous teen success in singles began to falter with the arrival of the “Big Babe” era of power-hitting players. In 2013 she returned from retirement after serving a two-year suspension for cocaine use and promptly displayed her clever shotmaking and adept instincts. Already in the Hall of Fame, she won this year’s Open women’s dubs with Yung-Jan Chan and the mixed doubles with Jamie Murray. She’s now No. 1 in doubles and has won 25 Slam titles – five singles, thirteen dubs and seven mixed dubs – amazing!

 

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