swiss miss

Martina Hingis: Rewriting a Fairytale

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For most athletes, enshrinement in their sport’s Hall of Fame is the pinnacle of lifelong achievement; the International Tennis Hall of Fame, the self-titled “Home of the Legends of Tennis,” is no different. Eternal recognition of greatness is truly the highest honor in sport, above the grand slams, the titles, the endorsements and the prize money. At the same time, enshrinement in the Hall of Fame carries a sense of finality; it is meant to close the book on athletes’ careers in their minds and the minds of the public, all while allowing the masses to recollect and appreciate all that they achieved. It’s the happy ending to the fairytale.

For Martina Hingis, who had twice been denied the chance to end her legendary career on her own terms, induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in July marked something completely different.

Shortly after her induction to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, the five-time Grand Slam champion announced that she would be making a return to the WTA in doubles this summer. Hingis has committed to play five events, starting this week at the Southern California Open in Carlsbad. She will partner Daniela Hantuchova for the duration; the pair will also play together in Toronto, Cincinnati, New Haven and at the US Open. For now, Hingis has only planned a comeback in doubles; rumors have nonetheless been circulating that she is merely testing the waters for a full-fledged return in singles.

Whatever Hingis decides, chances are high that her third foray into the fray will be her last. Despite being considered one of the all-time greats in tennis, Hingis’ competitive career was comparatively short compared to her contemporaries. Hingis was on top of the world at the tender age of 16, and won all five of her Grand Slam singles titles before the age of 19. Nagging heel and ankle injuries resulted in two surgeries, and Hingis’ teenage dream was over at the age of 22.

The Swiss Miss returned in 2005, but as the old saying goes, sequels are never as good as the original. She lost the first singles match of her return in Pattaya City to Marlene Weingärtner. She claimed she had no further plans for a comeback, but success in World TeamTennis prompted her to announce a full comeback for 2006. She added three more titles in her second chapter, including a record fifth in Tokyo, and won the Laureus World Comeback of the Year Award in 2006.

At Wimbledon in 2007, however, Hingis tested positive for trace amounts of cocaine and was handed a two-year suspension from the sport. Despite vehemently proclaiming her innocence, she chose not to fight the ban and retired for a second time. With the recent scandals regarding doping in major professional sports, as well as the ITF’s suspension of Viktor Troicki, it’s understandable that Hingis’ return could be met with some apprehension from critics and conspiracy theorists alike.

Despite her past controversy, Hingis’ return has been met with positive fanfare; in addition, her induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame speaks volumes. A panel of 125 journalists from around the world votes for the incoming class, and in addition to weighing a player’s accomplishments, “consideration will be given to integrity, sportsmanship and character.” With her immortality recorded in Newport, the book was thought to be closed on Hingis’ career.

However, between injuries and a suspension, one of the game’s greats never got to write her own ending.

Hingis, unlike other prodigies in sport, has always had a deep-seeded love for her craft; in return, tennis fans around the world have a deep-seeded love for her court craft, guile and intelligence. Despite two “careers,” Hingis never had a farewell tour. This is her chance. Every good story has character development, plot twists, and perhaps most importantly, a resolution. It seems only right that she gets the chance to begin (and end) the final chapter of a storied career on her terms.

HEWITT A THREAT AT SW19: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Blast from the Past – My biggest praise this week goes to Australian Lleyton Hewitt. Not only did he defeat six-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer in the final of Halle, but he did so after having undergone two hip surgeries. The match had more than shades of the old Hewitt who was at the top of the game nearly ten years ago, with the Aussie chasing down everything that Federer threw at him. While it has to be said that Federer’s game did go off, there’s no doubt Hewitt played a large part in making it so. Down a set and 0-40 at four-all in the second, Hewitt refused to succumb. Federer clearly became a bit rattled and began to press, ultimately resulting in Hewitt snapping his 15-match losing streak against the Swiss. Wimbledon is a different prospect with the matches all being best of five, but given his status as a former Wimbledon champ and his current run of form, Hewitt’s suddenly looking like a decent pick to go deep at SW19.

Back on Track – After the dismal circumstances under which Sam Querrey made his exit at Roland Garros, it was nice to see him quickly back on the horse and in the winner’s circle this past weekend at the Queen’s Club. Querrey held his nerve to take a tight two-set victory over compatriot Mardy Fish, whom it also has to be said put together one of the nicer weeks of tennis he’s had in awhile. And as a sidebar to Querrey’s win and Hewitt’s, I think it’s safe to say that while it’s tough to bet against the big boys at the majors, this Wimbledon feels a little more wide open than it has in recent memory.

Undecided – Well, the Swiss Miss may not be done after all. No, Martina Hingis isn’t contemplating making yet another comeback to the singles game, but she is seriously considering the possibility of coming back to play doubles on the WTA Tour, naming American Lindsay Davenport as her current choice of partner. Hingis has already committed to playing 14 matches in World Team Tennis for the New York Buzz this summer, and given her level of talent, it’s hard to imagine it will take her long to shake the dust off her game. She’ll also be teaming with former partner Anna Kournikova to play the Legends Doubles event at Wimbledon, and I’m sure many are hoping that a potential return of Hingis to WTA Tour doubles will entice Kournikova to eventually follow suit.

Salt to the Wound – Brit Alex Bogdanovic has made no secret of the fact that he wasn’t thrilled when he learned he wouldn’t be receiving one of the Wimbledon main draw wildcards despite the fact that he meets the ranking criteria. But he didn’t give up hope at having another shot at winning a main draw match and opted to take his chances in the qualies. It was there in the second round that he came up short against talented Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, losing by a heartbreaking 24-22 in the third. I’m not a huge Bogdanovic fan, and I perfectly understand the logic behind not granting him a wildcard. But at 24-22 in the third, you gotta feel a little sympathy for the guy.

More Returns – This week has marked the return of a couple more players to the main tour just in time for the Big W. Eastbourne has seen Belgian Kim Clijsters bounce back nicely from the foot injury that kept her out of Roland Garros, as well as Frenchman Gilles Simon, whose absence from the 2010 season has been long and frustrating. While it’s a big ask for either to set high expectations for Wimbledon (Simon much more so than Clijsters), it’s great to see them notching some wins under their belt and gaining some momentum as they’re shortly to head into the heart of the summer season. And in case anyone missed it, former No. 1 and French Open champion Thomas Muster will be making a return to the Challenger Circuit at the age of 42. I’m not quite sure what the thought process was behind this return other than for love of the game, but to each their own.  Maybe he was inspired by Kimiko Date Krumm.