Hingis comfortable as comeback continues
The Desert Sun
March 8, 2007
INDIAN WELLS - She's erased the doubts of those who thought she'd fail in her comeback.
She's erased the doubts that she couldn't win again by taking three Tier I tournament titles in just over a year.
But Martina Hingis, one of the most successful comeback stories in sports in recent years, isn't quite ready to say that the next step in her comeback is winning a Grand Slam title.
"First I have to beat (the top) players," Hingis said Wednesday as she prepared for this week's Pacific Life Open. "I lost to (Amelie) Mauresmo, I haven't beaten her yet. Or (Kim) Clijsters or Maria (Sharapova) or Justine (Henin-Hardinne). At least in another tournament if I beat one of them, then maybe I can start thinking about Grand Slams."
That might seem like less-than-confident talk from Hingis, 26, the former No. 1 player in the world now in the second year of her comeback from injuries. It might also seem strange to hear no talk of Grand Slam titles from a woman who has five to her credit, has worked herself up to No. 6 in the world rankings and is seeded third in the Pacific Life Open.
But for Hingis, it's not a lack of confidence as much as simply a cautious progression off the second half of a career that once saw her as the dominant player in the game.
"If I can beat constantly the top girls at the top level, then I have the right to say (she can win a Slam)," Hingis said. "But first I have to beat them."
If Hingis hasn't exactly re-established herself as an elite player as she enters the second year of her comeback, she has at least proven herself to still be a winning tennis star. When critics predicted disappointment and even failure when Hingis returned to the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour last year, she responded with tournament victories in Oakland and Fildenstadt, Germany. Already this year she's won a Tier I event in Japan.
"I think I've earned my spot in the rankings. That was the greatest appreciation. No one can take that away from me. I reached the quarterfinals again in Australia and won Tokyo. It's already been a good start," Hingis said.
It is that quarterfinal berth in the Australian Open that is part of the reason Hingis isn't jumping at the chance to say she can win a Slam anytime soon. In the five Slams she's played in her comeback from foot injuries, Hingis has reached three quarterfinals and exited the other to Slams in the second and third rounds. So the way Hingis sees it, she needs to reach a Grand Slam semifinal before she can talk about winning a Slam final.
Part of the reason Hingis hasn't won a Slam in her comeback yet, she said, is her style of play. A top shot maker and strategic player in her day, Hingis returned to a tour when power in serving and ground strokes is more valued than the art of moving an opponent around the course or pinning an opponent behind the baseline.
"It is not a realistic thing to talk about winning a Grand Slam, because I'm not the kind of player like Serena (Williams), coming out of nowhere and blowing everybody (away)," Hingis said Wednesday.
Williams, coming off her own injuries, won the Australian Open this year.
The window for a possible Slam for Hingis isn't exactly large these days. At 26, Hingis may be on the rise in her comeback, but she is also the oldest of the top eight seeds in the Pacific Life Open. It's been 11 years since Hingis, then known as the Swiss Miss, won the first of her 43 WTA titles. It's been 10 years since Hingis won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the same 1997 season, and nine years since her only Indian Wells title.
"I left a note to Tim Filich from Wimbledon last week, and he wrote me a message, a letter, and he was like, has it really been 10 years since you were a Wimbledon champion," Hingis laughed. "I went, 'Whoa.'"
Hingis can't get back the three years she missed with the pain and recovery from her foot injuries, but she's more than happy to have a second chance.
"You can't turn back time, but there are some great things in life, now that there is a second chance," she said. "I'm happy to be taking in every second."