The first team to qualify for the finals as early as May, lack of results mid-season saw them decide to part ways and begin newer associations: Mirza with Czech Barbora Strycova and Hingis with American Coco Vandeweghe.
The digressing roads taken also had digressing results for the former partners. Mirza continued to build upon her success with Strycova and came close enough to securing another place for herself in the Singapore finals with her new teammate. Results however did not go Hingis’s way as she would have wanted to, despite a strong start to her partnership with Vandeweghe, in Cincinnati and at the US Open.
Coming back together at such a juncture to play this one last tournament then meant that Mirza and Hingis, known erstwhile as SanTina, would be playing under pressure. Of having to rekindle their on-court cohesion that had made them near-flawless for a year-and-a-half. And then, to try and defend their title with a changed format.
In 2015, the eight doubles teams, divided into two groups of four, played out round robin matches. The two leading teams from each group qualified for the semi-finals, which then saw two finalists. This year, the format was essentially a knock-out, with the teams starting off by playing the quarter-finals. Thus, while last year, there were a couple of opportunities for the teams to reach the penultimate stage of the tournament, this year they only received one chance to go ahead in the draw.
Mirza and Hingis did well in their quarter-final, defeating the Chan sisters from Chinese Taipei in straight sets. It wasn’t an easy match. Nor was it expected to be, since the two needed to get re-acclimatised to each other. The 7-6, 7-5 outcome did, in the end, prove that separated or not, the Mirza and Hingis teamwork camaraderie still worked.
Throwback to how it went wrong
Their 3-6, 6-2, 10-6 loss in the semi-final to the eventual champions Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova, however, was a recapitulation of what had started to go wrong in their partnership causing an abrupt truncation.
Since their loss in the Doha quarter-final that ended their 41-match victory streak, Mirza and Hingis struggled to sustain their rhythm across matches and tournaments. It would be wrong to say that they had not fallen short in tournaments in 2015 or that they were invincible all throughout the season. Between last year and this year, what had altered was their approach to tackling their losses and upsets.
Until the 2015 US Ope, which set the precedent for their long winning run, each defeat saw them sort out their difficulties with an inspired zest. This year, then, marked a reversal of this attribute of theirs, prompting them to call time on their collaboration, seemingly unseeing of the time, right before the US Open where they were previously expected to defend their title.
The tournament that saw the beginning of their domination then also went on to become the swivel for their careers. Not only as a team, but also individually. The US Open became the benchmark of what each had come to expect of their tie-up. Not being able to match up to themselves became the catalyst of their irrevocable ending.
Playing in Singapore was a transient interjection and a fitting endpoint to their association. After last week, Santina belong solely to the past. The future is about two distinct entities, Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis.
A sad but fair summation of their rightful split.
It was fantastic to watch while it lasted though.
I have no doubt that Martina will find magic with someone else, as she has many times before.
It's just a matter of time.