Over this past weekend, the International Tennis Hall of Fame inducted five men and women into the 2013 class for their varied contributions to the game. The list included Cliff Drysdale, Charlie Pasarell and Ion Tiriac in the contributor category and 94 year old Thelma Coyne Long in the master player category. Among them, the ‘Swiss Miss’ 32 year old Martina Hingis, whose time in tennis has been shorter than her inducted peers but is as highly memorable and critical to the fabric of the sport.
The Young Legend
It is always interesting to note how the history of tennis sort of blends together. The end of the Evert and Navratilova era transitioned into the rise of Steffi Graf and later Monica Seles. So when Graf was fighting injuries and Seles was coming back from the stabbing that stopped her career mid-stream, it was natural for Martina Hingis to rise in 1997 and etch out a portion of tennis history.
When she won the 1997 Australian Open at the age of 16, Hingis became the youngest singles Grand Slam winner in tennis history. Something that seemed inevitable as she rose through the junior ranks as a 12 and 13 year old prodigy and into a successful professional at only 15. Her mother (who was her biggest tennis influence) named her after Martina Navratilova and you could see part of that in her game as she was an equally impressive doubles player (nine Grand Slams). However, the thing that kept her relevant and on top for over 200 weeks in an era with bigger hitters was that she could move and volley but also be a baseliner as well. You always had fun watching Hingis play because you could expect that she could pull of any shot with her all-court playing style.
In total, Martina would win five Grand Slam singles titles (three Australian Opens, one Wimbledon and one US Open) in addition to nine Grand Slam doubles titles and one mixed title.
Remembering the tough losses
The two biggest and memorable losses in an otherwise illustrious career had to come in Paris for Hingis. Most forget how close Martina was from achieving the calendar slam in 1997 and are baffled to think that Iva Majoli was the one who prevented it and that Hingis was not even really competitive in that final. The opposite happened in the 1999 final against Graf, when she had a commanding set and two break lead and was unable to close out the match. In the eyes of many, it would be Martina’s toughest loss and something that may have affected her play come Wimbledon that year as she would go out in the first round to Jelena Dokic.
Hingis recently spoke about the emotional toll a loss in tennis can have on a player:
“I think tennis is one of the most emotional sports, because it’s week in and week out. I don’t see any other sport that’s as fast-living as tennis is. One day you win Wimbledon and then the next day you lose, and you’re like the biggest loser again. It’s an emotional rollercoaster. But then again, when I lost the ’97 finals at the French, there was Wimbledon right around the corner, and I was even more hungry to try to win that one. So there are chances, and then pluses and minuses to it all as well.
“And the ’99 finals at the French – if I had won that one easily, no one would have talked about it.” - Martina Hingis, wtatennis.com
It was announced early this week that Hingis would return to play doubles with Daniela Hantuchova at the Southern California Open in late July. It comes at a time when we have been encouraged by how much Martina has returned to the game. She has been quite active in World Team Tennis, invitationals at the Grand Slams and even coaching. So, it will be exciting to monitor how her limited return goes and hopefully, it is a sign that she will be a Hall of Famer who remains involved with the sport she loves and we love watching her in.
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