Saturday, October 03, 2015

Martina Hingis & Sania Mirza are the premier renaissance act in tennis

Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis are turning into quite the renaissance act, perhaps even the very best we have seen in recent memory. After a couple of Grand Slam titles in quick succession, the remainder of the season is about icing their already substantial cake. If their inexorable march to the title in Guangzhou is any indication, they seem intent on keeping the party going long into the night.

Only a few years ago, neither woman was really painting the charts anywhere on the WTA. Sania was tending to her bruised body, often wondering if it was even worth sustaining her middling career. A wrist surgery in 2010 and her subsequent marriage left Sania hardly playing any tennis for over six months.

Meanwhile, Hingis was happy traveling the world and playing some minor league team tennis to keep herself occupied in an on and off retirement cycle. But her adrenal glands were overflowing again and being on the sidelines was beginning to constantly gnaw at her less than satiated soul. She was already into her 30s though and given her physical limits, the only real chance of her coming back rested on playing doubles.

Sania herself had decided it was enough, when she made an inspired decision in the summer of 2012, to abandon her singles aspirations in favour of prolonging her career. Even though she enjoyed a decent run on the tour with Bethanie Mattek-Sands (2013) and Cara Black (2014), her only taste of Grand Slam glory came from mixed doubles.

Even as Sania and Cara called time on their partnership, the Indian decided to play 2015 in the company of Taipei’s Su-Wei Hsieh. Still unable to make a forceful decision about her commitment to tennis, Hingis was dabbling in it with a multitude of partners – Sabine Lisicki and Flavia Pennetta being her main collaborators.

But Martina’s success with Leander Paes at the Australian Open combined with some poor results for Sania-Hsieh seemed to have colluded to create a combination that is threatening to take women’s doubles to a whole new level. Sania’s split with Hsieh came at an opportune moment on the tennis calendar.

As the duo came together for the first time in March, their magic seemed very apparent. The results were immediate and forceful – the duo defeated the seasoned combination of Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina in back to back events at Indian Wells and Miami to announce the coming storm. Sania’s power from the back-court and Hingis’s finesse at the net were turning into an irresistible potion for their flummoxed opponents.

As they arrived at Wimbledon, the crack duo had already won three tournaments and reached the finals in Rome. An unexpected loss in the quarter-finals of the French Open left the two women hungry for more as they transported their craft and tools to the English meadows.

The classic finale in London when the duo locked horns with Makarova and Vesnina again, underlined their commitment to the partnership and their own second coming. The Indo-Swiss duo survived a Makarova service game at 3-5 in the final set to clinch a nerve wracking 5-7, 7-6, 7-5 victory.

The team’s brilliance on the court is fueled by a cocktail designed to make the most of their individual talents. Sania can mount her beastly assault from the chosen comfort of the deuce court, knowing that Hingis is more than happy producing some instinctive brilliance off the advantage court.

Sania’s discomfort on the ad court was one of the main reasons for her split with Hsieh, who was adamant about living on the deuce court.

As much as this was Sania Mirza 2.0 and Martina Hingis 3.0, the two players were clearly not content with making up the numbers. Martina’s guile with the volley and a strong backhand were playing ideal complements to the ferocious forehand of Sania.

"It feels like I'm doing it all over again," acknowledged Hingis. "But I'm not thinking, 'Okay, the last time was 18 years ago.' What counts for me is right now, today, in this moment. I know I have the support and the trust that I have for her shots and for her game, and it builds up every time we step out together."

"We try to help each other out if the other one is struggling,” explained Sania. “That's kind of the key,"

Victory at Wimbledon provided Hingis-Mirza with an aura that was unshakeable. And they carried it with them across the Atlantic. As they bludgeoned their way through the draw, they faced their stiffest battle in the quarters.

But from 0-5 down in the first set, the two women won 13 of the remaining 15 games to pummel the Chan sisters into submission. In the seventy minute final, Hingis and Mirza conceded just six games to Casey Dellacqua and Yaroslava Shvedova.

The fourth seeded pair was nearly reduced to a prop on the grand stage, as the world No.1 team marched to their second straight Grand Slam title, this time without losing a set. In fact they lost a miserly 26 games through the tournament.
No two women have enjoyed a greater renaissance in modern tennis, as have Martina and Sania. They seem eager to decorate their partnership with unabated success. So they will go to Wuhan this week, with their eyes wide open, but their heart set on that voyage to Singapore.

Sania was writing an epitaph to her partnership with Black when the duo won the Finals in 2014. Hingis-Mirza will reach the finals in October, aware that victory will serve to accentuate their credentials as the doubles combination that rules women’s tennis. Only this time around, it could be the beginning of a new chapter in women’s doubles.

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