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Martina Hingis: Genius, still at work

Nitin Prasad
CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
752   //    16 Sep 2015, 07:15 IST
Martina Hingis Sania Mirza US Open 2015

She’s a Hall of Fame inductee and still winning Grand Slams a decade after her earliest achievements, which has firmly cemented her name among the legends of the game. Swiss Miss Martina Hingis won the US Open Women’s Doubles title along with India’s Sania Mirza on Sunday, bringing to culmination a dream run in Grand Slams this year on a high note. At the age of 34, she has won 3 mixed doubles and 2 women’s doubles titles this year – a remarkable feat at any age.

Named for the great Martina Navratilova, Hingis first burst onto the scene as a teenager, winning her first major at the tender age of 15 years and 9 months (1996 Wimbledon Doubles). In the coming years she would set a number of “youngest-ever” records. She still holds the record for the youngest Slam winner and the youngest world No. 1, two records that it does not appear will be broken anytime soon. One trophy missing from her singles resume, however, is the Coupe de Mousquettaires, or the French Open.

Success for Hingis came at the expense of injuries. A persistent foot and ankle injury forced her to call it a day, at the age of 22. Her immense love for the game did not allow her to stay away from the game, and she made a comeback in 2006. In her first year back on tour, she displayed flashes of brilliance she showed as a teenager, winning matches against some of the top players and finishing the year ranked number 7 in the world.

However, her comeback was short lived as a doping controversy during Wimbledon 2008 forced her to retire once again. Most people thought it was the last time she would play on tour. However, she proved many wrong when she made a second comeback from retirement to play doubles exclusively.

While many recognize the early part of her career for her singles achievements, she has an enviable doubles record as well. In 1998, she won the calendar Grand Slam in doubles, making her only the fourth woman in history to do so. A practice session with Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova was what got Hingis considering a comeback in earnest.

While playing singles might be asking too much of her body, she found that she required to cover only half the court in doubles which would help her physically. She had quite some success with Sabine Lisciki initially, with whom she also had a brief coaching stint.

Successes with Sania Mirza

Hingis has tasted significant success since she teamed up with India’s Sania Mirza in March 2015, with the pair winning the first three events they played. This was after she and Leander Paes won the Australian Open mixed doubles crown at the start of the year. She would go on to win two more titles with him, in addition to two with Mirza. 

The Swiss has taken doubles victory with three different Indian Grand Slam winners across categories. She has won 4 mixed doubles Slams with Indian partners, three of those this year with Leander Paes at the Australian Open, Wimbledon and most recently at the U.S. Open. She formerly partnered Mahesh Bhupathi to victory at the Australian Open in 2006.

Mirza and Hingis then went on to win the women’s doubles title at the Guangzhou Open in China, a WTA event. In addition to their two Slams, the pair have also won a total of four WTA events – at Indian Wells, the Miami Masters and the Family Circle Cup, all of them in the USA, before their most recent victory.

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Unlike singles, doubles requires a different set of skills. Hingis never had the power of the Williams sisters. But she displayed great understanding of the court, its dimensions and position of players. Possessing one of the most solid and safest volleys in tennis, she never feared rushing to the net and finishing of volleys, an area crucial in doubles. Her game complemented well with that of Sania Mirza, a predominant baseliner, and this was the reason behind their unprecedented success in 2015.

Her grit, determination and fighting spirit were on full display at the 2015 Wimbledon Ladies Doubles final when the pair came back from 5-2 down in the deciding set to win the title against Makarova and Vesnina.

Trust for your partner on court is an essential for a successful doubles pairing, and Hingis and Mirza had this in abundace. It is one of the significant factors in their partnership, an contributes to making them the Number 1 ranked team in the world despite only joining forces in the middle of the season. Hingis says that she is able to digest her victories at the highest stage of tennis better than she was able to earlier in her career. 

Here to stay

She meant business when she decided to make a comeback. She was not here to play third rounds and quarterfinals, but to win tournaments. 

At an age when most tennis players begin to peak, she walked away from the sport troubled by injuries. Conversely, at a point where most players have reached the twilight of their careers, Hingis has become a dominant force in the game, in what seems to be a deja vu of her teenage years.

With the current stellar form she has been putting on display, it seems that Hingis is here to stay for a while. Nineteen years after her first Grand Slam title, the Swiss Miss is still at work doing what she does best, possibly even better than she was then. And with the Olympics in Rio next year, she seems hungry for more success and on track to achieve it.

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