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Old 02-11-2003, 05:07 PM   #437
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Martina Hingis says goodbye . . . . .

No answer to power game

With Martina Hingis consigning herself to the history books, she appears to have closed the chapter on grace and skill at the top of the women’s game. Power’s the game as James Buddell wonders what it would take for a player of the Swiss star’s ilk to ever dominate again.

The warning signs were always there. The teenaged Hingis took the money and ran à la Yevgeny Kafelnikov. She would reach the finals in every tournament she could find - hoarding singles and doubles trophies wherever they appeared.

Suddenly, after two consecutive years at the top, where Hingis had won five Grand Slam titles, Steffi Graf - suddenly enjoying a late flourish to her magnificent career – dispelled the Swiss Miss’ aura of invincibility in the Roland Garros final of June 1999.

On a disputed line call, Hingis came apart. Graf raised her arms victorious as the 18-year-old Hingis broke down in tears, while the Parisian court filled with a chorus of boos. This was the beginning of the end.

Ever since that day, nearly four years ago, the WTA tour has seen powerful American players rise to the forefront of Grand Slam play and in the world ranking lists.

From Lindsay Davenport and a resurgent Jennifer Capriati to the Williams sisters with their own ‘biff, bang wallop’ style of tennis, they hold the titles to the past 11 Grand Slam tournaments.

As a result, the women’s game now cries in desperation for variety. A Hingis type, who can place subtlety ahead of power. A Maria Bueno or Evonne Googlagong would be ideal.

Serena and Venus haven’t surprised us with their dominance. Their unremitting brutality may seem boring, but their father and coach Richard warned us, predicting the world’s top spots for his daughters.

Sadly only Kim Clijsters took note of his (not so) ‘arrogant’ claim.

To get an idea of the women’s game of the future, cue to the men’s tennis of ten years ago. Human cranes with booming serves like Goran Ivanisevic and Richard Krajicek were in their pomp. Since then, the rest of the competition has figured out what’s needed to counter raw power, none better than Andre Agassi. Today the field is more wide open than ever.

Strength in depth is therefore the key to a brighter future on the WTA tour, while the players Hingis are left behind or forced into a new era of athleticism and aggression.

For now Serena is Queen! While a new star burns bright, highlighting a game lost with Hingis’ retirement. A game, which CAN be recaptured! And you don’t need to spend hours bulking up at the gym.

The evolution of the men’s game has proven that crafty ground strokes and well-placed serves can neutralise power tennis.

But wait a minute. Isn’t that what Martina Hingis’ game was all about?


Eurosport
jbuddell@eurosport.co.uk 11/02/2003
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