Almost 23 years ago to the day Martina Hingis made her professional debut and now after three impressive careers in the sport, Hingis said goodbye for the last time. Hingis said of retiring that “it’s the right time for me, it’s better to stop at the peak and I can say I had a very good time. The successes I’ve had over the past three years have been great and it’s going to be hard to beat anyway”. She leaves as a legend of the game, with a storied and impressive career behind her. Currently ranked world #1 in doubles she also reigned for a total of 209 weeks as the singles world #1.
Hingis won 25 Major titles including five Grand Slam singles titles, thirteen Grand Slam women’s doubles titles, including the Grand Slam in doubles in 1998, and seven Grand Slam mixed doubles crowns. She won the season-ending WTA Championships twice in singles and three times in doubles. She also has an Olympic silver medal and holds the record for youngest Grand Slam champion in history having won the Wimbledon doubles when she was 15 and is the youngest singles Grand Slam winner in the Open Era. Indeed, she reached all four Major finals twenty years ago when she was just 17.
The Beginning of Greatness
Perhaps she went so far so young because it all began when she was practically a toddler. Hingis was born in Czechoslovakia to talented tennis playing parents. Her mother, Melanie Molitorova, was a professional tennis player who decided, while Hingis was still in the womb, that she would become a great player. Thus, she started playing tennis at two-years-old and entered her first tournament at age four. After Hingis’ parents divorced, she and her mother left for Switzerland when she was 7-years-old. Hingis acquired Swiss citizenship through naturalisation and her development as a player continued unabated. She also played for Switzerland her entire professional career.
Hingis’ Professional Career – Act I
In 1993 at the French Open, Hingis became the youngest player to win a Grand Slam junior title at 12-years-old. Then, in 1994, she defended her French Open junior title, won the girls’ singles title at Wimbledon, and reached the final of the US Open. In 1996, Hingis, at 15 years and 9 months old, became the youngest Grand Slam champion of all time, when she won the Wimbledon doubles title with Helena Sukova, who was twice her age. By 1997 Martina Hingis was the world #1.
And in 1998 Hingis won all four Grand Slam doubles titles, the fourth woman in history to do so, while also becoming the third woman ever to hold the #1 ranking in both singles and doubles concurrently. Hingis lost in the final of the US Open that year to Lindsay Davenport, which ended an 80-week streak as the #1 in singles. But Hingis got a measure of revenge by finishing the year with a victory against Davenport in the final of the season-ending championships.
Hingis won a total of seven singles titles in 1999 and reclaimed the #1 singles ranking but lost to Davenport in the final of the WTA Tour Championships. Although she did not win a Grand Slam singles title in 2000, she kept the year-end #1 ranking with nine tournament crowns, including the WTA Tour Championships where she won both the singles and doubles titles. Then came 2001 where Hingis lost her #1 ranking, for good this time, as injuries began to affect her game. She underwent surgery on her right ankle that year, and her left ankle the next. Citing pain and poor performance, Martina Hingis retired from tennis at the age of 22, in February of 2003.
A Brief Return to Tennis – Act II
After rumours of a comeback in 2005, Hingis announced her return to the WTA Tour in November of 2006. She had some success that year, winning her first Grand Slam mixed doubles title, and a few singles titles. However, Hingis still struggled with injury. Then in late 2007, Hingis called a press conference in which she revealed that she was under investigation for testing positive for benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine, after a drug test at Wimbledon earlier that year. While Hingis denied taking the drug, she retired again. Hingis said her persistent injuries were a contributing factor to this second retirement. In January 2008, the International Tennis Federation suspended Hingis from the sport for two years.
The Final Act
In 2013 Hingis came out of retirement again and has since been dominant on the WTA doubles circuit. She has won four women’s doubles and six mixed doubles Grand Slam titles since. In 2015 she won five Major doubles titles alone. In 2016 Hingis won the French Open mixed doubles with Leander Paes to complete the mixed doubles Career Grand Slam. Hingis became the fourth woman in history to complete a career Grand Slam in both doubles and mixed doubles. Hingis won three Major doubles titles in 2017 and just prior to announcing her retirement this week, she once again rose to the #1 doubles ranking on 2 October for the 67th week in her career.
But Hingis will step away from playing professional tennis at the conclusion of the WTA Finals in what is surely the final goodbye. Tennis will miss her style, her grace, and her skill on the court. But the sport will also miss the personality that played the sport with a smile even in the toughest moments. And though it may be the end of her playing career, it need not be an exit from the sport. Tennis will always have a home for Hingis, perhaps she will find a way back one last time.
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