Sunday, September 13, 2015

Martina Hingis thrives on doubles court

When Martina Hingis made it to the women's doubles final with Flavia Pennetta at last year's US Open, it was a Cinderella run that nobody, not even Hingis herself, expected at the start of the tournament. Twelve months later, it's safe to say that her goals are far loftier.

The former world No. 1 in singles paired up in March with Sania Mirza, and the duo has since established themselves as the best doubles team in the world. They immediately won the first three tournaments they entered and then later won the doubles title at Wimbledon, marking Hingis' first Grand Slam women's doubles crown in 13 years.

"It feels like it was another life," said Hingis of the days when she routinely lifted up Grand Slam trophies in the late '90s and early 2000s. "Usually you're lucky to win once or just happy to be out there on the grounds. Three years ago, I would sign up for this right away, that's for sure."

Hingis and Mirza have shown at this year's US Open why they've been so successful. Mirza's huge forehand sets Hingis up for winning volleys at the net, while both of them possess thumping returns that give them numerous chances to break serve. They have yet to lose a set this tournament and have dropped just 20 games in five matches to move into yet another final.

And it's not just women's doubles in which Hingis has been excelling. She and Leander Paes have won both the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year with volley displays worthy of any highlight reel. Their 6-1, 6-1 victory in the Wimbledon final was the most one-sided mixed doubles championship match at the All England Club since 1919. They are also now in the US Open final and one match away from becoming the first mixed doubles team to win three Grand Slam titles in the same year since 1969.

"Hingis probably has the best ground strokes or return of serves I have ever seen," said Paes. "I still learn from her.”

But it's circumstance that even gave Paes the opportunity to learn from her this year. Hingis retired from the sport in 2003, at the age of 22, after two ankle surgeries. She returned to the tour in 2006 but then retired once again at the end of the following year. She took up coaching and began to work with Anastasia Pavylyuchenkova, but a 2013 practice session in Rome with then-world No. 2 doubles team Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina made her realize she still had game.

"We played a practice set, and I thought maybe I still had some matches in me," said Hingis. "Doubles you only have half a court to cover, so it's a lot easier than singles, as well."

A doubles-only comeback began in the summer of 2013, but it was slow-going at first. She went 3-6 in her first few tournaments and found herself exiting early from tournaments she used to win routinely. It was then that Hingis decided to ramp up her training routine even further in order to make an impact on tour.

"I don't want to come and just play one or two matches," she said. "I'm there to win the tournaments. I'm not just there to participate."

She teamed up with Pennetta last summer, and the pair enjoyed a successful second half of the season, winning two tournaments and posting a 21-7 record. But it was only when she dumped Pennetta and teamed up with Mirza that she's been posting the dominant results fans remember from when she was the best women's player in the world. And at age 34, she has several years to rack up even more Grand Slam titles.

"I think now I just really enjoy it. I digest it much differently than when I was 17," said Hingis. "The people, the standing ovation. It's just one of the best moments."

No comments: