Interesting story fond on Tennis On The Line. Hingis had just taken over the #1 ranking. A great read!
A Star Is Crowned: New #1 Martina Hingis Topples Monica Seles for 1997 Lipton Title
For all its great matches and intriguing stories, the 1997 Lipton will be remembered primarily for the coronation of Martina Hingis. That the 16-year-old "Swiss Miss" would rise to #1 in the world rankings was a mathematical certainty before she struck a single ball on Key Biscayne. She could have dropped her opening match 6-0, 6-0 and still taken over the top spot. Hingis would have none of that scenario, however, vowing a "responsibility" to live up to her #1 seed. Sure enough, the precocious star did just that, rolling through a one-sided final to claim her first Lipton championship.
The famous Hingis smile was on display throughout the tournament, but her path to the final was hardly simple. Canadian veteran Patricia Hy-Boulais gave Hingis her first scare, winning the first set of their second round match before falling by a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 count. Martina then dropped the first three games in her next match, a highly anticipated duel with fellow teen sensation Venus Williams. The top seed claimed 12 of the last 15 games, however, and even walked off with one of Williams's trademark white braids in hand after the 6-4, 6-2 triumph.
Trouble loomed again in the fourth round. 16th-seeded Elena Likhovtseva and humid conditions each gave Hingis fits on the Grandstand. She dropped a 6-3 second set and looked exasperated early in the third, unable to dictate play against the hard-hitting Russian. Likhovtseva became inconsistent down the stretch, however, and Hingis escaped with a 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 victory. Always charismatic in victory, Hingis playfully stuck out her tongue in relief as she exited the court. Also typical was the way she patiently signed a slew of autographs before riding off to the quarterfinals via golf cart.
As against Williams, Hingis stumbled early against Mary Joe Fernandez, her doubles partner for the week. Extremely comfortable with the counterpunching Fernandez game, however, Martina improved as the 6-4, 6-1 victory rolled along. The win set up a semifinal battle with one of the few players the new #1 is admittedly uncomfortable against -- mercurial 28-year-old veteran Jana Novotna. Indeed, Novotna's attacking game pressed Hingis to bring out the best in her own game and she wasn't always up to the task, occasionally chucking her racquet in frustration.
With the heat on, both in the form of a 105 degree on-court temperatureand the pressure to maintain her long winning streak, the youngster came through like a champion. Surviving by a 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 score, she advanced to a tournament organizer's dream final: Martina Hingis vs. Monica Seles.
If Hingis was the top story in the women's draw, Seles was undoubtedly the main runner-up. A broken finger and chronic shoulder problems had sidelined the former #1 since November, with several slated comeback attempts scrapped along the way. Monica finally did show up for a tournament, however, and certainly made a good impression in her return. Rust accumulated from lack of match play may have been evident as she dropped a set against Naoko Sawamatsu and had to fight hard for a three set triumph over tough Irina Spirlea, but Seles had clearly gotten into a groove by the time she clobbered Barbara Paulus 6-1, 6-0 in a strikingly lopsided semifinal.
Unfortunately for Seles, she found herself on the other side of a rout in the final. The 23-year-old never established a rhythm against her versatile young opponent and was pressing desperately by the end, hoping in vain for line-painting winners. Hingis never gave Seles an opening, committing a mere 7 unforced errors in a match which was over in a blinding 44 minutes. Amazingly, Monica actually took more games in this 6-2, 6-1 defeat than she had in the 6-2, 6-0 shallacking doled by Martina in their one previous meeting (the 1996 Oakland final). Hingis had extended her official singles winning streak to 25, lived up to her new #1 ranking, and left no doubt that she remains the hottest player on the WTA Tour.
Hingis and Seles provided enough intrigue to carry any tournament, but the women's draw had its share of other notable developments. There was the incredible marathon quarterfinal between Jana Novotna and Iva Majoli, each of them sandwiching occasional spectacular winners between countless errors. It may not have been a particularly well played match, but it was very tense and as close as they come, both players blowing numerous chances to prevail. Novotna finally held on for a 9-7 win in the 3rd set tiebreak, collapsing in relief and exhaustion. Demonstrating why she is one of the most well liked players on tour, a smiling Majoli came over to Novotna's side of the court and embraced the winner. Having suffered through the humid conditions and big tournament pressure, these two warriors had earned the right to be happy it was over.
Mary Joe Fernandez also had to be beaming after her win over former best friend Lindsay Davenport. The ex-doubles partners have taken tentative steps toward ending their months-long feud, but the 6-2, 6-4 victory had to taste sweet for local favorite Fernandez. Another player who had to be pleased with her run was improving French slugger Sandrine Testud, who turned the draw on its ear with a stunning fourth round upset of #2 seed Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. The upsets of Sanchez Vicario and Anke Huber allowed Austrian veteran Paulus to reach the semifinals without facing anyone ranked higher than #20 in the world.
While Hingis grabbed headlines with her championship run and Williams did likewise with her second round elimination of recovering phenom Jennifer Capriati, their 15-year-old peer Anna Kournikova made some noise of her own. Complaining that restrictive WTA Tour age eligibility rules have stunted her progress, the hard-charging "Lolita" nonetheless made her mark with wins over #12 seed Amanda Coetzer and tough Katarina Studenikova. Kournikova also engaged in a brief practice session with Hingis, previewing what should be a great rivalry in the near future.
For now, however, Switzerland's pride and joy is still the sport's "it girl." The #1 ranking didn't become official until the Monday following the Lipton, but Hingis's hard fought win over Novotna and decisive dismissal of Seles were fitting ways to usher in a new era.
by Chris Gerby