Monday, September 13, 2010

Martina Hingis happy playing exhibitions

NEW YORK -- Martina Hingis was sitting above Arthur Ashe court, her eyes occasionally drifting up to a suite television to watch Venus Williams and Francesca Schiavone in a women's quarterfinal match.

Here they were, two women from her era a lifetime ago, with forehands heavy enough to have survived the Jurassic age of women's tennis while Hingis and her cagey game struggled to evolve. The camera showed a closeup of Williams as she walked to the baseline in a sparkly pink spandex creation.

Hingis smiled. "The dress."

The former Swiss Miss is at the U.S. Open this year, playing doubles with her old partner Anna Kournikova in an exhibition match against Mats Wilander and Pat Cash to start the Thursday night session at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Now a few weeks shy of 30, Hingis seems happy with a schedule-free existence in Switzerland, where she rides horses and hits tennis balls with students from her mother's tennis academy.

"Being on the tour was so demanding," Hingis said. "It's nice just to lean back and enjoy life, have more private time. Not every second is planned."

During her career she sparred with Monica Seles, Steffi Graf, and Venus and Serena Williams.

She won three of four Grand Slam singles titles in 1997, the year she turned 17. In fact, Hingis won five of the seven Grand Slam finals she played between the '97 and '99 Australian Opens, and speculation at the time was that a crop of teenagers would supplant adults in the women's game. But it never came to pass. Hingis didn't win any of the five Slams she played from then until ligament damage in her left ankle precipitated her first retirement in 2002.

Three years later, she missed the game and came back, starting with World TeamTennis. As she went from tournament to tournament on the WTA Tour the next year, Hingis said seeing old friends from Stanford to Tokyo was a homecoming. "I was missing it that time," Hingis said. After winning two tournaments in two years, the renaissance ended early with a positive test for a banned substance in 2008 and a two-year suspension -- a charge for which Hingis has maintained her innocence.

"I feel you shouldn't have any regrets," Hingis said. "It was great to come back when I did."

Unlike other child prodigies who have an uncomfortable relationship with the sport in retirement, Hingis said she does not want to stay away. Despite the public trials of her positive test and her meltdown at the '99 French Open, where she cried to her mother after losing to Steffi Graf, she likes running into Iva Majoli, Chanda Rubin and other women she played with, and still makes appearances at the Slams.

"It's all my friends who are out here," Hingis said.

She has stayed in touch with Kournikova, and they visit when Hingis goes to Florida. They won two Grand Slam doubles titles together, and Hingis won seven more with other partners. Kournikova and Hingis reunited for Wimbledon this season, and the U.S. Open was a natural.

Hingis does not know what her Act III will be, but for now she is content and, after two decades on the road, that is enough.

"I'm sure in the near future there will be something I put my focus on, but now it's really [that] I want to profit off what I achieved," Hingis said.

No comments: