Monday, August 22, 2016

Martina Hingis' former doubles partner Sania Mirza holds on to her #1 ranking dropping Hingis to 2

For so long the standard bearer for tennis on the subcontinent, Sania Mirza is no stranger to flying solo. A strange sensation for one of her generation's outstanding doubles players, but one that has fostered an inner steel crucial to her longevity at the top of the sport.

Following the premature conclusion of her singles career in 2012 owing to a serious wrist injury, Mirza quickly established herself as a doubles specialist to be reckoned with. Already a serial title winner, a sequence of increasingly fruitful partnerships elevated her game - and ranking - to new levels.

Alongside Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and in particular the evergreen Cara Black, Mirza lifted silverware at many of tennis' flagship events; with Black by her side, this culminated in the Indian qualifying for then winning the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.

When Black left the tour to focus on family life, it left Mirza as one of the most sought-after partners on tour. And it was not long before another serial major winner came calling: Martina Hingis.

Success was immediate, the duo winning their first 14 matches and three tournaments together. The last victory in this sequence, in Charleston, brought Mirza to another major milestone: the No.1 ranking.

So impressive were the pair's results - they won three consecutive majors, going unbeaten for 41 straight matches between August 2015 and February 2016 - Mirza was soon joined by Hingis atop the rankings. It was an honor they held until this Monday, when Mirza reassumed the mantle of outright No.1 following victory alongside new partner Barbora Strycova in the final of the Western & Southern Open.

Their opponents in the final were none other than Hingis and CoCo Vandeweghe, the ownership of the No.1 ranking adding an additional layer of intrigue to an already tense occasion.

"We played each other in the final, which is of course the best time to play each other," Mirza told ESPN. "It was not the easiest situation, it is a bit weird. There are nerves but at the end of the day we are tennis players and we have to try and win and do our best and we both tried to do the same thing.

"We had a great partnership but it was time to move on and we have moved on. We've both had a great tournament. I have to look forward and I have to focus all my energy on this partnership which is obviously doing great."

Defeat for Mirza would have seen her surrender sole possession of top spot to Hingis, and she was full of praise for her new partner's competitive instinct following a rollercoaster final, in which they trailed 1-5, 15-40 in the first set before storming back to clinch the title.

"We are really happy, it was a new partnership and we are obviously very happy and excited to have started this way and winning one of the big tournaments of the year," she said. "We had a really tough draw. We have beaten some big teams and for us it has been an amazing week.

"As professional athletes you have to first see whether you match each other on the court, which is what I thought which is why I approached her to play when that split had happened. Obviously I was right because our playing styles complement each other. We are similar personalities and we will get to know each other better in the course of time. We fight for every point."

The 38th doubles title of the 29-year-old's career extends her spell at No.1 to 72 weeks, a number bettered by only 10 players in history. The ranking will again be on the line when Hingis, Mirza and their new teammates head to New York for the year's final major, the US Open.

"Consistent performances matter, it's not a flash in the pan of one odd tournament. I have won six tournaments this year and played a bunch of finals which is huge already for this year. The hardcourts are my favorite surface. I am looking forward to the next few weeks. I am not going to put any added pressure on myself that this what I need to do or should do."

No comments: