Thursday, July 7, 2011

This Martina also legendary

   When your name is Martina, the pressure is on from the beginning.   
   But Martina Hingis, named after legendary Martina Navratilova, lived up to massive expectations. Born in the former Czechoslovakia (like Navratilova) before moving to Switzerland as a child, Hingis forged a career that almost certainly will land her in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
   Hingis, 31, won 15 Grand Slam titles (five in singles, nine in doubles and one in mixed doubles). She became the fourth woman in history to complete a calendar-year Grand Slam in doubles in 1998 and came within one match of winning the singles Grand Slam in 1997.
   At 15, Hingis became the youngest player to win a Grand Slam title, triumphing in women's doubles at Wimbledon with Helena Sukova in 1996. Hingis also became the youngest player to reach No. 1 in singles at 16 years, 6 months in 1997.
   She returns to the Sacramento area for the first time in six years Friday night. Hingis and the New York Sportimes of World TeamTennis will face Sacramento in the Capitals' home opener at 7:30 p.m. at Sunrise Mall in Citrus Heights.
   Hingis led New York to the 2005 WTT title at the same site before launching a tour comeback from essentially a three-year layoff in 2006. She underwent surgery to repair ligaments in her left ankle in 2002 and eventually returned to win three titles and climb to No. 6 in the world.
   "Team tennis in 2005 made me come back and play again," Hingis said during a recent conference call. "It made me hungry. I wanted to see if I still had my game, and I have no regrets. I'm very proud of what I achieved."
   Hingis retired from the tour in November 2007 because of a left hip injury and a positive cocaine test. She denied using the drug but chose not to fight a two-year ban.
   Hingis remains a formidable player, winning the ladies invitational (senior) doubles title at Wimbledon with Lindsay Davenport last week without dropping a set.
   Listed at 5-foot-7 and 130 pounds, Hingis relied on craftiness, agility and consistency.
   "She had a very intelligent game, and she moved very well," said tennis journalist and historian Bud Collins. "One of the best quotes I ever heard about her came from Nick Bollettieri (who briefly coached Hingis). He said, 'Wherever the ball is, you'll see her.'
   "She was a very good volleyer. She didn't have the power that others have, but she was very smart. She knew where to put the ball and how to change speeds and spins."
   L. Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated assessed Hingis' career in his online tennis mailbag last April.
   "I don't disagree with the contention that she caught a 'soft spot' in the WTA lineage, coming on the scene when (Steffi) Graf and (Monica) Seles were fading and the Williams sisters had yet to establish full dominance," he wrote. "Still, her record is a formidable one."
   In addition to playing legends tournaments and exhibitions, Hingis has a new tennis line, Tonic by Martina, and rides horses. She married French show jumper Thibault Hutin last December in Paris.
   Collins said Hingis' positive test won't affect his vote if and when she is nominated for the Hall of Fame, possibly for the class of 2013. Consideration is given to "integrity, sportsmanship and character," according to the Hall's web site.
   "It was a one-time thing," said the 82-year-old Collins, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1994. "She's a fine young woman. I can't speak for the Hall, but I would vote for her."
   Hingis sidestepped the issue.
   "This is the past," she said. "I don't really talk about this anymore. I don't really care. People will remember me as a player."

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