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Old Oct 16th, 2002, 04:07 PM   #1
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Hingis Future Murky

Hingis Future Murky

By Matthew Cronin
********************

If Martina Hingis decides to retire prematurely this winter, it would be the biggest blow to women's tennis since Gabriela Sabatini retired prematurely at age 26 in 1996.

Hingis means a lot to her sport: She still is one of the game's top thinkers; she's unquestionably the most insightful analysts among the elite; she's proved with her five Slam titles that size doesn't always have to matter; she has great rivalries with the Williams sisters, Lindsay Davenport and Jennifer Capriati, four of the five best players out there (with Amelie Mauresmo elbowing in at No. 3).

On Friday, Hingis announced in Zurich that she has withdrawn from tournament play for the rest of the year, saying that she came back prematurely from ankle surgery and needed to "free my mind." It's been pretty obvious since she came back in mid-August at the Canadian Open that she's nowhere near the player who should have won her fourth Australian Open title in January when she let go of four match points against Capriati. She's slow, she has little depth on her shots and has almost no confidence. As well as Elena Dementieva can play when she's healthy and focused (which she hasn't been often this year), she is not in Hingis' class yet. So when Martina walked off the court in Filderstadt, Germany, on Thursday, after being blown out 6-3, 6-1 by the Russian, it was pretty clear that she was in a tailspin.

"I am not playing at the level I would like to play and I don't want to play in front of my fans like this," Hingis said. "Maybe I came back too early after my surgery." Hingis underwent the surgeon's knife on May 20 to repair one torn ligament and three loose ligaments on her left ankle.

The Swiss went on to tell Reuters that "This created a downward spiral ... in a sport where spirit and self-confidence are very important. I decided I need some time to clear my head."

Hingis said that she has no idea when she's going to try to play again, saying that she'd discuss the matter with her doctor, her mother and coach, Melanie, and her mother's boyfriend and her manager, Mario Widmer. "I have not decided on a definite comeback. That remains to be seen as I have set myself no dates at this point," she said.

ANNA ALSO RETURNED TOO QUICKLY
Interestingly, Hingis' frequent doubles partner, Anna Kournikova, made the same mistake last year, coming back from surgery way soon (ironically she also returned in August) and got beat up pretty bad as a result. It took Kournikova nearly a year to right her ship after that rushed decision and the same fate could await Hingis, who like Kournikova is very dependent on her footwork and athleticism to be successful.

Like Anna, Martina has been playing year-round at a high level since she was in middle school (or at least being tutored at home by a junior high instructor). Her legs are rejecting the thousands of miles she has run on court and are giving her brain a clear message that she needs to reduce her schedule and change her training regimen.

Sadly, Hingis' body is breaking down earlier than expected. She's only 22 and already has two bum ankles. Steffi Graf didn't start to really physically deteriorate until she was 27, while the 28-year-old Monica Seles' notoriously sore feet didn't start to hamper her until she was 24.

MOVEMENT IS THE KEY
However, there's major difference between Hingis and the two-aforementioned all time greats: Hingis cannot use power to make up for her lack of movement. Therefore, if she loses a step – a la Michael Chang – she'll never win a Slam again. Sure, she could change tactics and come to net more to employ her wonderful volley, but she has to get there first, and we all know that she doesn't serve hard enough to give herself a chance to come in often and is too short to stretch enough for well-struck passing shots to give herself a dominant net game in singles.

Five years ago, when Hingis first became No. 1, the Williamses were still immature players, Davenport and Mauresmo hadn't peaked yet, Capriati was AWOL, and Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin and Daniela Hantuchova were still stealing glances at the Teletubbies. Now when Hingis walks on court, she's feels like General Custer in his final moments.

"It was slower," Hingis said of the sport in 1997. "You had more time to think where you gonna hit the shot. Today you have to react so fast, it's so much speedier. Sometimes it's like, 'Okay, wait a minute. I need to think where I'm gonna hit the next shot.' Sometimes you just got to hit it back fast, that's the difference. You don't even think sometimes, just hit it back as hard and fast as you can, give the opponents less time."

Hingis is the youngest ever player to hold the No. 1 ranking – a place she held for a total of 209 career weeks on and off between March 1997 and October 2001. She's fourth on the all-time list behind Graf, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert in weeks ranked at the top. Back in 2001, she thought she had a shot at Chris's mark of 262 weeks, but now that seems like a pipe dream.

As she said after she was waxed by Seles (a player she once owned) at the US Open, she has to do "everything. Endurance and do a lot of cardio. ... The mental part is the least I'm thinking about right now. If you have the rest of the game, the mental part will come automatically."

But the rest of the game didn't come this fall and unless her doctor and trainer find the right cure for what ails her ankles, it may never arrive. Now there is a very good chance that the girl who was called by many the smartest player ever may never win another Slam, never get back into the top 10, never even contend for another major title. Given how much richness she has brought to the sport, that would be very tragic indeed.
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Old Oct 16th, 2002, 04:12 PM   #2
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okay, I dont get it. Hingis is one of the games great "thinkers" but yet she depends on her athletisim and footwork. Which on is it?
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Old Oct 16th, 2002, 04:19 PM   #3
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I didn't write the article. However all the thinking in the world won't help if you can't catch up to the ball to hit it. If Martina was as fast as Venus, and moved as well, she'd be fighting for #1 now.
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Old Oct 16th, 2002, 04:24 PM   #4
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Marti should hire Nathalie Tauziat as her coach. She admires Nathalie and affectionately calls her "The Professor." Nathalie herself, wasn't blessed with huge groundies or a brutal serve. She found a way. Martina is more mobile, athletic and talented. With Nathalie's help, Martina could be at least twice the player Nathalie was.

Luci, she's a great "thinker," but she needs her athleticism and footwork to pull off the tactics. You can't have one without the other.
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Old Oct 16th, 2002, 04:28 PM   #5
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This article is incredibly sad. I read Hingis' recent interview and her feelings on returning to top level tennis gave me very little hope that Martina will be able to do so. It seems as though she has resigned herself to not fighting her way back. While I have never been the biggest fan of Martina's, I do feel that it would be a tremendous loss to tennis if she decided to give up.
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Old Oct 16th, 2002, 04:35 PM   #6
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Apparently all the other players out on tour are just out on court flailing around and don't know how to consruct a point.
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Old Oct 16th, 2002, 07:30 PM   #7
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Interesting article, and I'm not in to much of a rush to see her come back. Hingis is my #1 fave, and always will be, and I wouldn't care if she lost in the first round of every tournament she entered as long as injury wasn't the cause of it. I am happy for the memories she gave me, and would rather see her take an extended break, or walk away from the game all together, than to see her hurt her body even more. I would hate it much more if she comes back to early again, and then 2 years from now she will be like all the athletes who's body has gotten so bad that they can't even play around with their kids. If she comes back healthy that is great, but if she needs to quit in order to make sure she spends the rest of her life healthy, then that is fine by me as well.
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Old Oct 16th, 2002, 09:35 PM   #8
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Ankle surgery is no joke. She'll have chronic problems if she doesn't properly rehab. But she played fine at OZ and Toray Pan Pacific, so I think top five talent is still there. Regardless of your opinion of the Williams sisters, the players occuppying the 3,4 and 5 spots are totally beatable.
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Old Oct 16th, 2002, 09:45 PM   #9
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I never really cared for Martina's arrogant attitude toward other players and she's never been my fave but I've always really enjoyed watching her play. She's a great player and some of the finest tennis I've ever seen has been her legendary on-court battles with Venus (I'm thinking especially of the USO in both 1999 and 2000!). I sincerely hopes she recovers to play again and that she becomes truly competitive once again.
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Old Oct 16th, 2002, 11:15 PM   #10
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That article was a bit excessive. The biggest blow since Sabatini retired? Not really. It would be a big loss, to be sure, but the tour is in a different place now. There is a lot more star power out there.

And it's one thing to suggest that she probably won't win a slam again, but to say she probably won't ever be in the top 10 again? That's ridiculous.

She's got some work to do, but it is possible. Other players are using strategy against the power hitters. Sure, most of them are faster than Hingis, but she has better hands. And many of them take bigger swings, which negates some of their speed advantage.
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Old Oct 17th, 2002, 01:57 AM   #11
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Hmmm...the Michael Chang comparison struck me as being right on the money. However, the coaching by Tauziat and especially improving the serve may be the right way to go. But Hingis shouldn't sacrifice speed for power (the Chang mistake) if she ever wants to get back inside the top five again. (Although the older you get, the slower you get...payback time for the Jana Novotna dismissal 'too old and slow')

Top ten again? I can see this when Seles retires and the other girls are busy being inconsistent. It's true the game seems faster now than it was in '97...Graf was out with injury and Davenport/Williams were too often missing the court for their power to put much of a dent in Hingis' game. Power and accuracy were always the key to beating Hingis and while Hingis was number one, no one was consistently doing this.
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Old Oct 17th, 2002, 04:11 AM   #12
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Supremeross:

Some would argue that Capriati, Dementieva, and Dokic don't know how to construct a point.

Indeed, it could be argued that part of the reason Venus and Serena are dominating now is that they've done a better job of using their power intelligently. Look back to Venus' match against Rubin at the US Open which she nearly lost. In the post-match press conference, Venus made a reference to playing like she was back in 1998, and that she didn't want to play that way.
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Old Oct 17th, 2002, 09:09 AM   #13
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First point : I’ve read the couple of articles written on Martina’s decision to have a break and I found them very pessimistic, considering the worst scenario of a definitive retirement, which has not been announced at all by Martina, and stating indirectly that Martina will never get back to her former level of play. The truth is that press people adore to invent dramas unless their work isn’t really worth reading…

As a matter of fact, everything is possible (I’m talking about Martina’s health) and the worst scenario might happen. But in my opinion, Martina will do everything to come back in due time, providing her body enables it.

Concerning the game in general and Martina’s in particular, I think it’s stupid to state that if she returns she won’t be a top player again. According to her own words the main reason of her break is that she doesn’t like to play sh*t, not being able to give all her tennis skills and abilities. She has been THE champion formerly, that means her mentality is one of someone who makes her best day in day out. As soon as her physical situation comes back to a normative point, be sure she will have her share of wins again. Probably, she will never reach the today’s level of Serena Williams, but I think it’s the same for anyone else on the tour. So, maybe, being #1 again is not a smart goal for Hingis (nor for any other girl) as long as Serena maintains her level of this season. But figuring again among the top contenders is, and if nothing is definitely deteriorated in her body, she will do it, there’s no doubt about that.

(To be continued)
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Old Oct 17th, 2002, 01:10 PM   #14
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Red face Hingis future murky!

Good post quasimodo, you make some excellent points. Martina has a great love for the game...what else has dominated her life since she was two years old? She appreciates what the sport has meant to her....her "pride" in her past accomplishments will be motivation alone to try her best to come back to the level of play that once again is competitive...that desire is paramount with her I think....whether or not her ankles can withstand more vigorous training is still a question mark...but she'll give it her "all" I think...its been a frustrating finish for Marti and the injury bug is ever present with the WTA gals...so I wish she and all the other injured players a successful road to recovery!!


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Old Oct 17th, 2002, 03:04 PM   #15
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First let me say, I don't think Martina "reinjured" her ankle, I think she just became very frustrated with her game and the direction that it was headed. If we remember correctly, at the beginning of this year coming back from ankle surgery Martina won Sydney, made the finals of the AO, and then won in Tokoyo the week after. Martina can still play, she just has to get her game back, i.e. fitness, consistency, and focus/concentration, not to mention in order to be a true contender for the top 5, have a weapon or have no liabilities. And I think that Martina's biggest liability is her serve. As some commentators said when she came back right before the US Open, during her time away her serve has actually gotten worse. Martina's writing off the rest of the season to retool for January. Don't count her out, just yet.
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