Somebody Gots To Go
March 17, 2002 Talk about it E-mail story Print
Hantuchova Sheds a Fear
Tennis: Playing her first tour final, Slovakian teenager overcomes self-doubt and Hingis to win Pacific Life Open.
By LISA DILLMAN, TIMES STAFF WRITER
INDIAN WELLS -- So often, victory has intimidated and eluded Daniela Hantuchova, costing her in the last year against the elite players in women's tennis.
When the slender 18-year-old from Slovakia faltered in Saturday's Pacific Life Open final against Martina Hingis, it became difficult to watch. But this time self-confidence, not self-destruction, carried the day as Hantuchova defeated Hingis, 6-3, 6-4, in 75 minutes.
When Hantuchova allowed a shot to drop on the line with the second-seeded Hingis serving at 3-5 in the second set, she was visibly dismayed. It was a rare rookie mistake. Hantuchova lost that game at love, but the past experiences of misery helped her rather than haunted her. She won the first point of the next game, resumed breathing and took the title on her second match point, rifling a backhand winner down the line. Having completed the biggest upset on the WTA tour since Meghann Shaughnessy defeated Venus Williams last summer at Stanford, a stunned Hantuchova dropped her racket and put her hands over her face, basking in the applause at Indian Wells Tennis Garden. She jogged over to celebrate with her jubilant parents, Marianna and Igor, who had flown in from Bratislava on Friday night.
"For me, it's like dream coming true because this was my first final ever in such an important tournament and playing one of the greatest players, beating her the way I did today was just unbelievable for me," said Hantuchova, who won $332,000.
"That was always my dream to have both [parents] at my first final. So I'm very happy my dad came, too, that they were both watching my match."
Said Hingis: "Oh, she just played very fearless, had nothing to lose. I had a few opportunities, which I didn't take, especially early in the set and she was hitting those lines. I'm like, 'OK, not much I can do about that.'"
Hingis, 21, thought about it some more. She had hit a strange note in the on-court ceremony, twice mentioning the possibility of revenge against Hantuchova, who was poised and classy in her acceptance speech.
"When I was 18, I was fearless too, I guess," Hingis said, laughing.
Hantuchova was appearing in her first final, acting as though it was her 40th, not her first. She was broken in the opening game but came back and broke Hingis. In all, she broke Hingis' serve six times. Passivity was never part of her game plan. Hantuchova's smooth yet powerful groundstrokes continually caught the lines, keeping Hingis off balance and unable to read her shots.
She had 20 backhand winners to five for Hingis. It was just as one-sided on the forehand side, as Hantuchova had 10 winners to three for Hingis.
Nigel Sears, who has coached Hantuchova since the middle of last year, kept the game plan simple.
"I said, 'Look, if you want to win this match, you've got to take it to Martina, you've got to hit her off the court,'" he said. "The people that beat Martina are the people that hit her off it. You're not going to win it if you get sucked into her game. I said, 'I really want you to take some risks, and go for it.' There's a balance on how much you give away when you're going for it.
"She has the game to do it. The people that give Martina problems are the Williamses [Venus and Serena], [Lindsay] Davenport, [Kim] Clijsters, people who go for it. People who try and rally with her, they get beaten every time. So that wasn't an option."
Hantuchova will move to No. 17 when the new rankings are released. She said the final was her best match because of the magnitude of the tournament and the opponent.
"I was believing from the first point that I can beat her," Hantuchova said. "I was just trying to do the right things, just to follow the tactics that were set up before the match. And it worked out."
As always, the final points were the most difficult. Serving for the title at 5-2, she missed two forehands and two backhands.
"I was a bit nervous at this point because I knew I was four points away from winning such a big tournament," Hantuchova said.
Sears was unsettled in his courtside seat, as were Hantuchova's parents.
"How many [chances] do you get against Martina Hingis?" Sears said. "Because she's got so much experience and you always got to feel, if you blow an opportunity, it might come back and bite you.
"When she lost that game at 5-2, it was stressful. But she hung on and I thought she deserved to win because she did dominate and kept her head together. What can you say? I'm absolutely thrilled."