Hingis puts usual suspects on notice: Maria first on hit list
By Linda Pearce
January 5, 2006
MARTINA Hingis has questioned the credentials of another former Wimbledon champion and world No.1, Maria Sharapova, the player the provocative Swiss most wants to meet on her journey along the comeback path.
"It's always been, 'I wonder what she's got, Sharapova?', because I don't see that she's got something that special," said Hingis, who has previously admitted she relishes the prospect of confronting Sharapova.
"Her serve is great, her groundstrokes, but I can't tell until I play her what makes her so exceptional. Or do you know? Can you tell? What's so exceptional about her?"
When it was suggested that Sharapova - who on August 22 became the fifth-youngest No.1 in history behind Hingis - is a powerful shot-maker, mentally tough, and plays the big points well, Hingis agreed that "sometimes one point here, one point there, that's the difference".
She should know, for so it was yesterday at the Australian Women's Hardcourt, with Hingis too steady in the clutch moments for 35th-ranked Klara Koukalova. The 6-3, 6-2 result sets up a winnable quarter-final against Spain's Nuria Llagostera Vives, who upset second seed Francesca Schiavone. Thus, more than three years after her last serious match, Hingis is yet to drop a set.
The day after Lindsay Davenport warned in Hong Kong that her contemporary would find it tough to return to the top after such a long sabbatical, Hingis was also delivered some more welcome news: that her old aura is still worth something in the currency of tennis respect.
"One thing I realise is that still some of the girls they do have respect, that's nice to see, now I have to take advantage of it," she said. "Sometimes it seems that opponents are pulling back rather than going forward."
Yet one problem has been closing out sets, and Hingis needed to save three break points at the end of the first, and another two at the death in the second, as her reworked serve became a little tight and tentative and Koukalova decided to attack what is still a vulnerable second ball.
Hingis said she was happiest that it was "the winning spirit which got me through today, that I really wanted it more because we were pretty flat, both of us, at the end and I just really had more to give". "And at the third match point I was like, 'please, thank God, you know, it was over'. So that anticipation's coming back and every set I feel like I'm shaking off a little bit of the rustiness of the last three years. Overall I think it was a pretty solid performance."
Had Hingis been offered a semi-final appearance before her comeback event started, she surely would have taken it, and Schiavone's departure opens up the draw nicely. Vives has the dubious honour of being the only player to lose in a WTA Tour event to lowly-ranked Australian Sophie Ferguson, at last year's Australian Open, and Hingis was scarcely trembling with apprehension ahead of today's match.
"She's a little girl, running, so she's hopefully not going to overpower me - that's one thing," said the five-time grand slam winner. "You just have to be patient. She gets a lot of balls back, she runs down a lot of balls. I don't think she really has a big weapon, but neither does she have a weakness."
Later, speaking in Swiss-German, a typically forthright Hingis said of Llagostera Vives that while her next opponent is a good claycourter, "frankly, she shovels the ball back".
The remaining quarter-finals will feature top seed Patty Schnyder against Lucie Safarova, No.3 seed Dinara Safina versus Anabel Medina Garrigues and fourth seed Flavia Pennetta against either Tatiana Golovin or Sybille Bammer.
I just love her honesty...