Doubles gives Hingis more opportunity
NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Martina Hingis is annoyed with herself. You can tell despite the smile, from the way she squints through the bright light directed at her during her news conference at the New Haven Open. Her comeback, playing doubles with former partner Daniela Hantuchova, is just five full-time weeks old, and losing a match like she did minutes earlier hasn't gotten any easier.
"I guess this week was pretty tough," Hingis said with that wry smile. "Ahhh, it's so nice being around the pool and Jacuzzi [at home]. But, that's what I've decided to do."
Hingis and Hantuchova have had good weeks and a bad week, but Hingis is still able to compete at age 32. Doubles brings out the best in her game; her uncanny ability to anticipate the ball, her quickness in getting there, sharp angles, net play -- Hingis still measures up against the best.
"[She is] just the same, even better," Hantuchova said. "The way she knows the game is just ridiculous. Like I said many times that if you have it inside of you, you are going to have it forever."
It's clear: Hingis still has the fire that won her three Grand Slam titles in 1997 and two more before the end of the 1990s, before powerful serves overwhelmed her quick-witted game and foot injuries stole some of her speed.
"When you're 17, 18, you're just so hungry," Hingis said. "You go out there and play and you really want to do it. Sometimes [for] me, I miss the challenge, to be out there and the competition, but then I have to find the right dose of it."
And that perhaps could be limiting her competition to doubles. Hingis was filing paperwork with the WTA Tour and ITF for her comeback even as she was voted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame last year. She was young but had been away from the court for the requisite amount of time. And recently she had begun to see what her career had meant to people -- even during random encounters.
"It's very rewarding when you're so good at something that people really enjoy you being out there with them, or it's a reward to them," Hingis said. "It's nice to see smiling faces."
Some might contend that tennis treated Hingis harshly when she was issued a two-year ban after testing positive for a trace amount of cocaine in 2007. Later, ATP player Richard Gasquet successfully appealed similar penalties, saying a small amount of cocaine entered his system when he kissed a woman in a Miami nightclub.
Hingis simply denied having used the drug, took the complete punishment and retired.
She was away from the court, but Hingis was hardly away from the game. In 2010, Hingis returned to World TeamTennis in the summer. Later, she played doubles at a few tournaments, including Wimbledon. She coached Russian player Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who was awarded the No. 32 seed in the 2013 US Open when Maria Sharapova withdrew.
"I don't understand some players that completely go away, like they hated it," Hingis said. "I never had hate for tennis. Thanks to tennis, I had everything."
Hence, The Comeback, version 3.0.
There are some differences now. In Cincinnati, Hingis said she felt so quick and light. It almost deceived her. "Sometimes the brain is playing games with you," she said.
But she sees now that not every night will be like that.
"When I used to practice and train really hard and do pretty much everything possible, I'd end up winning the tournament -- at least make finals or have a good performance," Hingis said. "Now it's harder to get through the teams."
She knows her strengths and her limits. "I'm not going to hit four aces like Serena [Williams]," Hingis said. "Believe me, I wish I could."
For Hingis, the US Open is a good barometer of a comeback, at least in one possible form.