Hingis confirms Melbourne return
By Patrick Miles
December 17, 2005
THE Australian Open has scored an early advantage with assurances from Switzerland that Martina Hingis will take a wild-card into the first Grand Slam of the season.
Even tournament officials were conceding that it would be almost impossible to surpass last January's event, when record crowds lapped up Lleyton Hewitt's progress to the final and Alicia Molik's appearance in the last eight.
But the presence this January of Hingis, three-time champion at Melbourne Park, guarantees enormous interest again as the 25-year-old Swiss attempts a return to the top level after a break of more than three years.
When Hingis announced her comeback this month, without specifics, she said: "It's going to be great - four more weeks to go, probably, till I play my first tournament."
In Zurich yesterday, one of Switzerland's most respected tennis journalists quoted Hingis's manager, Mario Widmer, as saying she would definitely play at the Australian Open, which starts on January 16.
Tennis Australia, which has agreed to give Hingis a wild-card if she asks for one, was unable to confirm yesterday that the star attraction was on her way.
A spokesman said TA was awaiting confirmation, with "fingers crossed".
According to Widmer, the player's schedule for the Australian summer will be announced "at Christmas".
Tournament director of the Sydney International, Craig Watson, said he would offer Hingis a wild-card into the tournament she has won three times already.
Last weekend, Hingis played against her former doubles partner and fellow early retiree, Anna Kournikova, at an exhibition in Rio de Janeiro.
Hingis led 6-1 1-0 when the Russian was forced to quit with a bad case of blisters on her right hand.
Hingis, who has won five Grand Slam singles titles, made a tentative return to the WTA Tour last February but lost in the first round of the Thailand Open to Germany's Marlene Weingartner.
Her last match before a series of injuries to her feet brought her stellar career to a premature end was at Filderstadt in 2002, when she lost in the second round to Russia's Elena Dementieva.
Earlier this month, Hingis committed to a full 2006 season.
She said she was willing to "take the risk" of sustaining further injuries. "With every job, you have to be willing to pay some kind of price," Hingis said. "You have to be willing to play with pain to a certain level. The question is how much you can take."
Hingis made her first visit to the Australian Open in 1995, then reached the final six years running from 1997, a sequence beginning with a hat-trick of titles.
Her win-loss record at Melbourne Park stands at 44-5.
Another player making a fresh start here, Jelena Dokic, yesterday won her first match in Australia in four years with a straight sets win in the Australian Open wild-card play-off at Melbourne Park.
The former world No.4 overpowered Victorian Beti Sekulovski 6-2 7-6 to move through to the second round.
Dokic, more relaxed and slowly regaining fitness, showed glimpses of her skills. Occasionally let down by double faults and loose shots, the 22-year-old nevertheless held firm in the second set tiebreaker after the pair had traded service breaks.
Reunited with former Fed Cup captain Lesley Bowrey, who was courtside yesterday, Dokic said she needed to work hard to regain her form but she was feeling much more comfortable after 10 days back in Australia.
"I was a little bit nervous. I haven't played matches in a really long time (her last tournament was in Italy in August)," Dokic said.
"There are some things I need to improve on but I expected not to play so well in the first match.
"I think match play will help." Additional reporting: AAP