Monday, August 06, 2012

Martina Hingis visits Vancouver to promote 'Tonic'

WEST VANCOUVER - A dazzling diamond necklace glistens against Martina Hingis’ neck, sparkling as bright as her toothy, megawatt smile.

Officially and comfortably retired from tour tennis since 2007, the five-time Grand Slam champion is still only 31, which is why she might well have been in London this week in a dream mixed doubles pairing with Swiss countryman Roger Federer instead of in West Vancouver to promote her Tonic Tennis clothing line.

But her life, while admittedly still busy, is one of relative leisure now. She travels with her husband, French show jumper Thibault Hutin, and plays occasional exhibitions, legends doubles at Grand Slams and some low-pressure, short-set World Team Tennis with the New York Sportimes.

She also helps coach a group of teens at a tennis academy in Paris and is actively involved in the design and marketing of that clothing line for Vancouver-based Tonic Lifestyle Apparel.

“I don’t miss the workouts, the grind, the training — the six hours on court, I don’t miss that at all,” Hingis said in explaining why she turned down Federer’s entreaty late last year to join him for mixed doubles at the 2012 Olympics.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday morning on the patio of Hollyburn Country Club, Hingis said she was flattered by Federer’s invitation, “but I haven’t played [competitively] in five years.

“I would have had to get back in the grind and train six months and play some doubles, some real competitions,” added Hingis, who lost in the second round of the Olympic singles competition in 1996. “I was really happy when he thought about me, but I was like ‘yeah, you go get the gold medal in singles,’ right.”

So instead of hitting her two-handed backhand on the grass courts of Wimbledon this week, she was on the hard court at Hollyburn between matches Tuesday evening to show off that clothing line.

Wednesday night, she will play an exhibition match against Toronto’s Sharon Fichman, who is 10 years Hingis’s junior and who admits to having posters of the Swiss Miss on her bedroom walls as a youngster.

“She was my hero, my idol growing up” said Fichman, who is also in the Odlum Brown VanOpen women’s draw this week. “I tried to watch her as much as I could. She was such a smart player, she could hit every shot. This opportunity is definitely exciting for me.”

Hingis was part of the WTA’s teen era, joining the tour at 14, reaching No. 1 when she was just 18 and holding that spot for 209 weeks.

Ankle injuries led to a first retirement at age 22 in 2003. She returned in 2005, then retired again in November of 2007 after testing positive for cocaine. She denied using the drug, but decided not to appeal a two-year ban.

Today, girls must be at least 15 to play on tour, and even then are limited in the number of tournaments they can play. Hingis is not a fan of those restrictions.

“I think that’s the time you learn the most, when you are 15 to 16. When you’re 18 or 20, it makes it a bit more difficult. That’s why you see players winning Grand Slams who are older and more experienced.”

Some of Hingis’s contemporaries are still playing, including sisters Venus and Serena Williams.

“I don’t look like the Williams sisters, I don’t have the same physicality,” the 5-7, 125-pound Hingis said with a laugh.

“If I had Serena’s serve, probably I’d still be playing as well. My game was just a little bit different. To hit four aces in a game, that makes tennis pretty easy.”

Hingis certainly wasn’t a power player. She relied on finesse shots, using angles to open up the court and deploying the drop shot as one of her key weapons.

“I miss the variety, the clever game out there,” she said of today’s tennis. “It’s so much [more] physical, so much faster.”

Hingis hooked up with Tonic after discovering some of the company’s exercise clothing in London in 2009 while she was appearing on an English version of Dancing with the Stars.

“I loved the materials, loved the colours,” said Hingis, who contacted the company about creating a line of tennis wear.

“The one thing I can help on is how it feels. Already the material’s so great, so just little adjustments here and there for tennis, like what is practical.

“I think I have pretty female features, it’s not like Sharapova or somebody,” she said with a giggle while referencing the statuesque Russian star. “It kind of fits everybody, that’s the goal.”

Hingis, whose parents had her swinging a racket at age two, says she wants any children she has to play tennis.

“It gave me a great life. It’s a social sport, a beautiful sport. Even today, I’d rather go play tennis than run on the street.”

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