The Sania Mirza - Martina Hingis partnership - a marriage of equals?
Here's why Hingis was the stronger part of the Hingis-Mirza doubles combine.
Earlier this year, the immensely successful women’s doubles pair of Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis announced they would be ending their partnership after a year that saw the pair shoot quickly to the World No.1.
The two began winning tournaments soon after commencing their partnership, winning three Grand Slam titles together in that year – Wimbledon and the US Open in 2015, and the Australian Open in early 2016.
What prompted them to end the partnership is unknown, but Mirza’s father and earliest coach Imran Mirza seemed to suggest Hingis had initiated the split.
The issue with Hingis leaving her partners is not a new one. Former doubles partner Anna Kournikova famously once said that Hingis ‘left partners’ once they began losing matches, and it is plausible this is the case. Indeed, Mirza was not on a significant match-losing streak, but had seen some flagging form apart from her title with Hingis at St. Petersburg.
Given that the pair did win two titles on the WTA circuit this year in addition to their Australian Open victory, the news that they had split came as a shock to the majority of the tennis-following fraternity.
Middling results in 2016
The pair kicked off the year with a title win at the pre-Australian Open Brisbane International, beating the German combine of Angelique Kerber and Andrea Petkovic, quickly following that up with the title at Sydney. That gave them the momentum they needed to progress quickly through the Australian Open, where they won their third Grand Slam title together.
Continuing that form, the two also won the title at St. Petersburg, following which the decline of their form appears to have commenced.
They had three Round of 16 exits on the trot – at Doha, Indian Wells and Miami, before stuttering back to finish the runners-up at Stuttgart, a form they would keep through the WTA clay court season.
After finishing second in Madrid, the pair won the title at the Rome Masters, putting them in a fair position as contenders for the French Open title – the only Grand Slam they had not won together – but they were met with yet another Round of 16 loss.
The two were unable to recoup in the grass court season.
Interestingly, at the first Grass Court tournament of the WTA season, at Birmingham, Mirza was paired with American CoCo Vandeweghe – who has gone on to pair up with Hingis on the professional circuit since.
Mirza and Hingis returned to pair each other at Eastbourne, to no good effect, and then were unable to defend their title at Wimbledon, exiting in a straight sets quarter-final loss.
The Indo-Swiss pair would play one more tournament – the Montreal Masters or the Rogers Cup – before announcing their split. Here too, the pair crashed out in the quarter-finals, losing to a significantly lower-ranked pair in straight sets.
With both participating at the Olympic Games, the pair announced their split.
How much of the pair was Hingis, and how much Mirza?
Much has been spoken of how Hingis has been a far superior player, and given the number of records she has set in the singles, they would not be remiss in believing so. The holder of a number of records in the sport, the Swiss Miss, as she is fondly known, has been the youngest ever Grand Slam winner, the youngest ever player to hit the No. 1 ranking, and has been successful across surfaces – with the only exception to that rule the French Open, but in her case, her ‘not-so-stellar’ results meant she made the finals at Roland Garros, twice.
Returning from her second retirement in 2012, Hingis saw renewed vigour in her game, having decided to stay out of singles tennis. But fans who say that this was instrumental solely in propelling her doubles career would be incorrect; the Swiss was immensely successful in the doubles even early on in her career, and holds more doubles Major titles than she does singles.
She also has a career Grand Slam in the doubles – a feat she achieved in 1998, when Mirza was only twelve.
The biggest transformation to Hingis’ already significant statistics has, perhaps, been by Leander Paes rather than Mirza. The Indian ace, who is widely considered one of the greatest exponents of the doubles game, won four Grand Slam titles with her – with the pair achieving the Career Grand Slam at Roland Garros this year.
Although they are the first point of reference in judging a player’s success, Grand Slam titles may not be the only decider in the chemistry of a doubles pair, and that was something Mirza and Hingis, as a doubles combine, had in spades.
Always quite the power player, Mirza’s forehand is legendary. The aggressive, quick, powerful shot-making the Indian shows is in its own league, and interestingly enough it was born as a result of an inability to correct her existing motion as a child.
In her autobiography, Ace Against Odds, Mirza mentions several coaches attempting to help change her wrist movement in the long run, swayed otherwise by the success they had seen her achieve with it.
She also has the ability to vary speeds at will, and although she was once a top-30 singles player, was hampered repeatedly by injury that curtailed her singles career.
Together, the two dug deep to hit the World No. 1 ranking.
Hingis, on the other hand, has been able to successfully sustain her form and stamina throughout. Aged 16, to aged 35, the Swiss has been able to dig into new form.
She has played – and won Majors with – a number of partners – Natasha Zvereva, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, Anna Kournikova and Jana Novotna – before Mirza. Each of those players had different proficiences, varying speeds, serves and playing styles. It is, perhaps, to be noted, that the key to a doubles pairing is its chemistry and adaptability – something Hingis has appeared to have in spades.
Mirza has also had a series of doubles partners, among them the powerful Elena Vesnina, who is now one half of one of the most powerful doubles pairings in women’s tennis today.
In her fifth year on the women’s doubles circuit, she only recently hit her stride with Mirza. Since their split, Mirza has had a good run, however, winning the Western and Southern Open - or the Cincinnati Masters – with new partner Barbora Strycova, following that up with a Connecticut Open with Romania’s Monica Niculescu.
Could she scale the heights Hingis has? Although it is still early days for the Indian relative to the Swiss’ career, it would appear that Hingis has historically been the stronger link in that partnership.
Mirza too seems to adpatable to new partners, but has historically has trouble with endurance.
Hingis may be the significantly stronger player, but now has to play catch-up in the rankings, as it is now Mirza who holds the upper hand, the sole women’s doubles No. 1 after two title wins on the WTA circuit.
For now, the two could see each other on opposite sides of the net at the US Open Tennis Championships, as they did in the finals of the Western and Southern Open, before they have one final appearance together at the WTA Finals in Singapore.