Swiss tennis player
Martina Hingis, who has won five Grand Slam singles titles and over $17 million in prize money, was at the top of her game and the top of the world in 1997, the year she won the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open, and fell just one match short of also taking the French Open title. She was a brash, self-confident, fun-loving teenager who could dissect an opponent by playing tennis with the innate strategy of a chess master. But, at just five-feet-seven-inches and 130 pounds, Hingis's game of ball movement and finesse has been overcome by a new game of women's tennis that thrives on power.
Born to Play
Martina Hingis was born September 30, 1980 in Kosice, Slovakia (then part of Czechoslovakia). Her father, Karol Hingis, was a mechanic and a tennis enthusiast. Her mother, Monica Molitor, was an eighteen-year-old ranked tennis player from Roznov when she married Hingis; Martina was their only child. Even before her daughter's birth, Molitor was convinced that Hingis was destined for tennis. Hingis first picked up a racket at the age of two, using a full-sized wooden racket with the grip cut away so she could get her small hand around it. At the age of three, the family moved to Roznov, and Hingis began playing on tennis courts. She entered her first tournament when she was four, which she lost handily, 12-0, to an older player.
Hingis's parents divorced when she was three, and her father returned to Kosice. Coached by her mother,
Hingis, who is named after Czech tennis legend Martina Navratilova , began to compete regularly. By the age of six she had won 80 official matches. At the age of seven, she won a tournament for nine-year-olds playing left-handed due to a broken finger on her right hand. When Hingis was eight years old, her mother married Andreas Zogg, a Swiss computer salesman, and the family moved to Trubbach, Switzerland, near the Swiss border with Liechtenstein. (Molitor and Zogg divorced in 1996.)
As a nine-year-old, Hingis began playing in international tournaments for fourteen-year-olds. Within a year, she was winning some of them. Taking the title at the European Championships in 1991, Hingis began a winning streak that would propel to the top of the professional ranks. The following year, at the age of twelve, she became the youngest player ever to win the Junior French Open, which is open to players up to eighteen years old. When she was thirteen, she won the Junior U.S. Open and the Junior Wimbledon, setting records for both as the tournament's youngest winner.
Hingis turned professional in 1994, just four days after her fourteenth birthday. For Hingis, tennis was fun, as was traveling the world with her mother, receiving unending attention from the press, and earning millions in endorsement contracts. Winning, Hingis would often unabashedly admit, was easy. She didn't like to practice and traded traditional workouts for horseback riding, hitting a punching bag, and rollerblading. Her ability did not lie in a dominating forehand or a killer serve; rather, Hingis's primary talent was an innate sense of how to play out points—how to manipulate each volley to set up the winning shot.
At a time when women's tennis was reeling from problems caused overzealous parents (Steffi Graf 's father went to jail for tax evasion, and Mary Pierce 's abusive father was banned from attending tournaments), Molitor received high marks for allowing Hingis to balance tennis with other interests. At most Hingis practiced a couple hours a day and filled her time with movies, dates, horseback riding, and other teenage activities. Hingis signed a five-year contract with U.S. based-agency International Management Group in 1993. Her endorsement deals included Yonex rackets and Opel automobiles, and she inked a contract with the sportswear company Sergio Tacchini for $10 million.
Hingis made her debut on the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) Tour in Zurich as a wild card, ranked No.378. She won her first professional match, but then lost to fifth-ranked Pierce, 6-4, 6-0. During the 1995 season she won her first match at a Grand Slam event by beating Lindsay Davenport , ranked No. 7 at the time, in the Australian Open. She reached her first singles finals that year in Hamburg. In 1996 Hingis continued to gain ground in the rankings after finishing 1995 with a year-end ranking at No. 16. She managed to reach the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, and she defeated Graf, ranked No. 1, in the Italian Open quarterfinals before losing to Conchita Martinez in the finals. At Wimbledon she became the youngest player (15 years, 282 days) to win by taking the doubles title with Helena Sukova. She also became the youngest player to reach the semifinals of the U.S. Open. Before she turned sixteen, Hingis had become the youngest player, male or female, to earn $1 million on the court. She finished the 1996 season ranked No. 4.
|1980||Born in Kosice, Slovakia|
|1994||Turns professional; ends year ranked No. 87|
|1996||Becomes youngest player to ever win Wimbledon; ends year ranked No. 4|
|1997||Becomes youngest player in the twentieth century win a Grand Slam title; becomes youngest player to attain No. 1 ranking|
|1998||Becomes youngest player to defend a Grand Slam title; ends season ranked No. 2; attains No. 1 doubles ranking|
|1999-2000||Ends seasons ranked No. 1|
|2001||Ends season ranked No. 4|
|2002||Ends season ranked No. 11|
|2003||Does not play in the Australian Open, the season's first Grand Slam, due to nagging injury|
Dominates Women's Tennis
In 1997 Hingis dominated the tour. She became the first player since Graf in 1993 to reach the finals of all four Grand Slam singles events, winning three of the four. Hingis went undefeated through her first 37 matches, tying Navratilova's 1978 second-best record (Graf went 45-0 in 1987). On March 31, 1996, after defeating Monica Seles in the Lipton Championships, 6-2, 6-1, Hingis attained the No. 1 ranking, the youngest player to do so since computer rankings were instituted in 1975. She walked through the Australian Open without losing a single set and won her first Grand Slam singles title by defeating Pierce in the finals, becoming the youngest player (16 years, 3 months, 26 days) in the twentieth century to win a Grand Slam title. In April 1997 Hingis took a fall from her horse, suffering a slight tear of the posterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. Undergoing surgery to repair the knee, she sat out several tournaments but returned in time to reach the finals of the French Open, but lost to surprise finalist Iva Majoli. Once again at full strength, Hingis won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, defeating Jana Novotna (2-6, 6-3, 6-3) and Venus Williams (6-0, 6-4), respectively.
Named the Female Athlete of the Year for 1997 by the Associated Press, Hingis became only the fourth player in history to sweep the Grand Slam doubles, winning all four in 1998. She managed to defend her Australian Open title by defeating Martinez, 6-3, 6-3, but failed to win another Grand Slam the remainder of the year and went on a six-month, nine-tournament winless drought before claiming the season-ending Chase Championships. She was eliminated from the French Open and Wimbledon in the semifinals and reached the finals of the U.S. Open, which she lost to Davenport, who took over the No. 1 ranking in September.
Power Overcomes Finesse
During 1999, the supremely confident Hingis began to show cracks in her armor. Prone to speak bluntly and with small regard for tact, Hingis found herself in hot water at the 1999 Australian Open when she reportedly made derisive comments about her openly gay opponent in the finals, Amelie Mauresmo. Hingis was roundly criticized for her remark, which she refused to acknowledge or apologize for. Hingis defeated Mauresmo in the finals to win the Australian Open for the third consecutive year. She followed at the French Open by throwing a tantrum in the finals, which she lost to Graf, that she later called the only moment she regrets in her career.
Hingis reached the Australian Open finals once again in 2000 and 2001, but failed to retake the title either year. Although she went on to win nine tournaments in 2000 and ended the year once again ranked No. 1, something about her self-perceived invincibility had vanished. At Wimbledon in 2001 she won just two games in her first-round loss to unseeded Jelena Dokic. The media began to question whether Hingis's finesse game could stand up to the sheer power of players like Lindsay Davenport, Venus and Serena Williams . Questions also began to raised regarding Hingis's drive to win.
In 2002 Hingis played in the finals of the Australian Open for the sixth consecutive year, but lost to Jennifer Capriati , 4-6, 7-6(7), 6-2, despite having four match points during the second set. In May 2002 Hingis began to experience nagging injuries. She had surgery on her left ankle and withdrew from the French Open and Wimbledon. She returned for the U.S. Open but lost in the fourth round to Seles. Hingis made several attempts to return to the game, but ended up withdrawing from the Chase Championships and the 2003 Australian Open.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1991||Wins European Championships|
|1993||Wins Junior French Open|
|1994||Wins Junior U.S. Open; wins Wimbledon Juniors|
|1996||Wins Wimbledon doubles (with Helena Sukova)|
|1997||Wins Lipton Championship; wins Wimbledon; wins U.S. Open; wins Australian Open singles and doubles (with Natasha Zvereva); named Tennis Magazine Player of the Year|
|1998||Wins Australian Open singles and doubles (with Mirjana Lucic); wins French Open doubles (with Jana Novotna); wins U.S. Open doubles (with Novotna); Wimbledon doubles (with Novotna); wins Chase Championships|
|1999||Wins Australian Open singles and doubles (with Kournikova)|
|2000||Wins French Open doubles (with Pierce)|
|2002||Wins Australian Open doubles (with Kournikova)|
The Seven Year Itch
Ahead 6-4, 2-0 in the  French Open final against [Steffi] Graf… Hingis protested a poor line call, failed to get an overrule and simply couldn't let the matter go. Hingis threw an epic tantrum…. [she] walkedaround the net to Graf's side and pointed out the spot where her disputed shot had fallen. The French fans pounced; boos and hisses filled the air. Hingis plopped into her chair and refused to play. She was docked a point. She resumed play, held on to her lead and then, serving for the match at 5-4, blew the game. Now Graf pounced. Cheered on by the crowd, she won the second set and took a commanding lead in the third, and still Hingis couldn't stop sulking. Facing two match points, she insulted Graf and the game by serving underhand. The crowd howled, and Graf closed out the match. Hingis stormed off the court and refused to return for the awards ceremony until Molitor dragged her back, her face contorted and teary. When a WTA official tried to guide her toward the podium, Hingis smacked her on the arm.
Source: S. L. Price, Sports Illustrated, (June 3, 2002): 70.
Whether Hingis has the determination and physical ability to return to the game is open for debate. Clearly, however, she came into her career at a perfect time, when women's tennis, rattled by scandalous behavior, was looking for someone gregarious, lively, and confident. Hingis, simply by being a teenager who glowed in the attention from the media and dazzled her opponents on the court, provided a much-needed breath of fresh air to game of tennis.
Address: c/o WTA Tour, 133 1st Street NE, Saint Petersburg, Florida 33701.
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Sketch by Kari Bethel