Nagging injuries forced former world number one Martina Hingis to call it a day. Was it the foot and ankle pain? Or did the Swiss realise that today’s power game is too much for her? Gregory Lanzenberg looks back at what could be the last of a dying breed of champions.
At five-foot-seven, 130 pounds, Hingis was overshadowed by bigger, stronger opponents. But she used her greatest weapon - her mind - to compensate, wearing down heftier opponents and bending them into submission.
The Slovakian-born Hingis began playing at the age of two.
After her mother Melanie, a professional Czechoslovakian tennis player, divorced when Martina was 4, she remarried a Swiss computer salesman and relocated to the Zurich area. From her first tourney at 4, her mother would remain Martina’s only coach for the rest of her career.
Hingis turned pro at 14 and never looked back.
In 1997, she beat France's Mary Pierce in the Australian open final to become the youngest Grand Slam singles champion of the 20th century at the age of 16 years, three months. She would rise to the top three months later to become the youngest No. 1 at 16 years, six months and one day.
1997 would be the best year of her career as Hingis added the Wimbledon and U.S. Open crowns to her collection and became the first player since Steffi Graf to reach all four Grand Slam finals.
Only a knee injury sustained when she fell off her horse and causing a slight tear in her left knee ligament, prevented her from winning the French Open as she reached the final only to fall to Iva Majoli. Hingis completed that season with 13 tournament titles which was the best of any player in the 1990s.
Only Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, and Chris Evert have spent more weeks at number one than Hingis, whose five grand slams are on par with the tally of the current top woman in the game Serena Williams.
Fortunes turned however at Roland Garros in 1999. Three points away from victory in the final against the veteran Steffi Graf, Hingis lost her cool on a disputed line call. She crossed the net to the other side of the court to point to the spot where the ball had landed in breach of the game’s rules and edicate.
The crowd turned on her.
Hingis would never win a Grand Slam again.
First there was Venus. Then Lindsay Davenport. Sidelined for the final months of the 2001 season after October surgery to repair torn tendons in her right ankle, Hingis came back vigorously to score instant success in Sydney where she snapped a 13-month title drought to capture the championship.
Boosted by her victory, Hingis advanced to her sixth straight Australian Open final where she held a one-set, 4-0 lead over Jennifer Capriati. But defending champion Capriati turned in a timeless performance by fighting off four match points to stage a remarkable rally and capture her second consecutive Australian Open crown with a 4-6, 7-6, 6-2 triumph.
More ankle trouble followed before Martina’s announcement last week that she’d quit all serious training and was devoting herself to her studies.
For many, it’s a hard pill to swallow to see one of the game’s greats retired at age 22. Although you have to wonder if all that could change should the all-powerful Williams sisters decide in turn to call it a day.