new interview !
Former world No. 1 Martina Hingis is coaching and playing doubles with current No. 17 Sabine Lisicki at the 2014 French Open*. She also sat in the player box of promising young Swiss star Belinda Bencic during her first round match against Venus Williams, advising the 17-year-old in the Roland Garros players’ lounge following her loss. Off the court, she’s busy promoting her Tonic Tennis clothing line. It’s a busy schedule, particularly for someone who officially retired from the game (for the second time) in 2007.
It’s difficult to believe the 2013 International Tennis Hall of Fame inductee is only 33 years old, just one year older than fellow Swiss Roger Federer. Even she admits she’s packed more into those years than most people experience in a lifetime. In many ways, her renewed presence on the WTA Tour is a fresh start for Hingis after an unceremonious exit from the game and a messy split from her husband of three years. She declined to comment on the status of that relationship, but multiple references to “moving on” allude to her forward-thinking mindset.
In her in-depth interview with Tennis Now, Hingis discussed her media struggles as a teen, relationship with her mother, anti-doping violation and fear of trying something new.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you have given yourself at 14 when you were playing your first professional matches?
Maybe be more selfish. Sometimes when you travel a lot, week in and week out, you always want that private life to be part of it, and it’s very difficult to have a relationship. On the men’s side, it’s much easier. They just travel with their girlfriends. I would compromise in moments where I shouldn’t have. That’s my only regret.
On the media side, no one can prepare you when you’re thrown into that at 14. Some of my answers were not diplomatically correct. As a teenager, you get a few hits on your hand and then you learn, but you don’t always make friends. On the other hand, because I was pretty direct and said what I thought, that gave a little spark to who I was. Today, everything is politically correct and people try not to say the wrong things.
Did you feel a lot of pressure as a teenager on the tour?
I didn’t really feel pressure because I knew what I was capable of doing. I knew there were only two or three players out there who could beat me: the Williams sisters, Lindsay Davenport and Jennifer Capriati.
Sometimes I was too distracted by other things. I had my horses, my other sports. I sometimes I felt like I was missing out on things. If you really want to make it to the top, you have to have tunnel vision. All the distractions are there right in front of you and they are reachable when you’re at the top of the game. You know, going to Miami, going out and all of this.
You were forced out of the game due to that one positive test in 2007 and the subsequent two-year ban. Do you feel like you were robbed of what your career could have been?
I think I already had my time. The two years of playing (after the first retirement) were kind of a bonus. Even today, what happened there [with the doping violation], it was for the wrong reasons. I always fought against [the accusations]. You can go only so far.
I know you spent a lot of time and money trying to clear your name. How do you feel about the way things ended up?
They changed the rules after me. That tells the whole story, pretty much. A lot of things have changed. I wished they had been already in place when I was having those issues, but oh well. It helped for the others. [Note: After the Hingis case, the ITF allowed anti-doping tribunals to reduce ban length from the formerly standard two-year time frame, depending on the case).
Do you think you were treated fairly by the ITF? Should they be more worried about systematic doping than traces of cocaine?
I think people know that I always said I never took anything. I stood up for me.
If you hadn’t had those injury issues before your first retirement, do you think you would be doing what Serena Williams is doing now?
Although we’re almost the same age, I started younger. She didn’t always play a full schedule. I played between 20 or 22 tournaments a season, and she had half of that. They paced themselves differently. From 16 to 22 was craziness, week in and week out. I was able to experience other things after that. I don’t have the physical capacity that the sisters have. Sometimes, if you want to do athletics, you have to have those genes.
Personally, you’ve had some ups and downs in the past year. Has tennis helped steady you?
Definitely. It’s always something that I can hold on to. Things come and go, but tennis was always there for me.
Now that you’re a coach, do you appreciate your mother more? What is your relationship like now?
Oh yes. My poor mom! I see the players now – it’s grueling and you have to motivate them. It’s more mental than the tennis. You have to be patient, but you still have to push at the same time. My mom was a friend, mother and coach in one.
You’re still close?
More now. I’m very happy that I can always call her to get some tips and ideas on how to get better as a coach. She has so much more experience that I do. She worked with little kids and the pros.
How would you describe your personality?
I’m very impatient when I want to get something. I always want to win no matter what. I hate to lose. I’m also careful with trying out new things. Every time I tried a new thing, I was crying and saying, “I don’t want to do this!” Today, I’m happy I did all that: skiing, horses, racquetball, squash, badminton, ping-pong. But every time I try a new thing, I’m almost scared of it because I’m not going to be as good as I was in tennis. I’m always going to be compared to that, and it’s hard to be No. 1 at something else.
When you think back on your tennis career, what sticks out at the highlight?
The first tournament that I won. I won Filderstadt as a 16-year-old and got a Porsche Boxster. My mom was really happy. It was her present for two years, and then I took over. I won the car, but I couldn’t even drive it. It was a manual. The year before, Iva Majoli won it and drove it into the net of the court because she forgot about the clutch. It was a ‘96 model, and I had it for 10 years. It was my baby.
*Lisicki retired from her singles match after sustaining a wrist injury in an on-court fall. She had not yet made a decision to play doubles at the time of this article.
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