Hingis a local institution: McNamee
By Darren Walton
13:51 AEST Sat Nov 3 2007
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Former tournament director Paul McNamee says Martina Hingis was an "institution" at the Australian Open who will be sorely missed at the season-opening grand slam in Melbourne.
For the second time in a tumultuous but mostly brilliant career, Hingis announced her retirement from tennis on Friday after testing positive to cocaine.
While maintaining her innocence and insisting she had never taken drugs, it was a sad end for the 27-year-old former world No.1.
But McNamee hoped and believed fans would forgive her and remember the Swiss Miss for the champion she was.
Hingis was the dominating darling of Melbourne Park between 1997-2002 and once again last year when the five-time major champion reached the quarter-finals just a month into her comeback from three years on the sidelines.
"She was really an institution at the Australian Open. In the modern era, nobody made six finals in a row - and won three of them," McNamee said.
"And of course she was part of that epic final (in 2002) with Jennifer Capriati where she had to be covered in ice packs in the 10-minute break before the third set.
"Apparently that had never been seen before.
"I think of her in that way. Look, how it has ended is not ideal at all obviously. That's an understatement.
"But I don't think how she ended the game will be how she will be remembered because it was so long after her heyday.
"It was an amazing comeback, but she never recaptured those glory years she had from the age of 16 to 21 when she got to six (Open) finals in a row. That was phenomenal."
At 16 years and three months old, Hingis became the youngest grand slam champion of the 20th century with victory over Mary Pierce in the 1997 final.
Compensating for her lack of power with unrivalled cunning and guile, Hingis completed a hat-trick of Open triumphs and also collected Wimbledon and US Open trophies as a teenager before retiring for a first time in 2003 with chronic ankle injuries.
"When she was at the peak of her power, from 16 years of age to 21, she was phenomenal," McNamee said.
"I mean, that was her career in that period. Pretty much from 22 she was looking around for something else to do in her life."
McNamee said he could see the writing on the wall for Hingis long before the drugs storm.
"She wasn't playing much this year. I think she was accepting she wasn't going to win another grand slam," he said.
"She'd come back and got back in the top 10 but I could detect that there didn't seem to be the goals there anymore from a tennis perspective.
"I must admit I wasn't starting to suspect retirement was pretty imminent.
"There just weren't any signs this year that she was committed to playing.
"So, in terms of her tennis, it's not a great shock that she's retiring."
McNamee said Hingis should always be welcomed back to Australia.
"I'd love to see her again to see how she is going," he said.
"She was always friendly with a smile. She was certainly one of the easiest top players I've ever had to deal with.
"What you saw is what you got with Martina. She's a really good person.
"I'm obviously sorry to hear what's going on, but I take people how they come."
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