By Richard Pagliaro - Martina Hingis retreated to her mountain home in Trubbuch, Switzerland to recover from October surgery to repair torn ligaments in her right ankle. The fourth-ranked Swiss arrived in Australia yesterday with modest expectations as she attempts to scale the summit back to the top of tennis.
The three-time Australian Open champion has reached the Australian Open finals for five consecutive years, but coming off the first major injury of her career, Hingis does not sound confident of continuing her streak of success in Melbourne.
"This is the first time I have started a new season coming off an injury," said Hingis, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in the spring of 1997 after falling from her horse, but still managed to reach the French Open finals before falling to Iva Majoli. "I'm not promising anything. I just want to go into matches building my confidence and trying to do my best."
The five-time Grand Slam champion has not won a Grand Slam title since capturing her third consecutive Australian Open crown in 1999, but Hingis has been a remarkably consistent contender, reaching the semifinals in 18 of her last 21 Grand Slam events. The fact that she no longer faces the pressure of trying to hang on to the No. 1 ranking may prove to be liberating to Hingis' game and her outlook. She has gone from the cold Swiss winter to the hot Australian summer and is ready to return to tennis with a renewed enthusiasm
"I haven't played for some time, but now I'm feeling fine and ready to go," said Hingis in an interview with The Australian.
"I have been training in the mountains. I spent most of the time walking. I also did some bike fitness, in the gym, and four hours a day of tennis. It was beautiful in the mountains and I prepared myself mentally and physically for the New Year. I have a new attitude and new energies."
Following her fall at the French Open last year, Chris Evert predicted Hingis would be the last women's No. 1 shorter than 5-foot-8 inches. The 5-foot-7 Hingis was frequently overshadowed by power players Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Lindsay Davenport and Jennifer Capriati in the past year. But rather than attempting to pump up the power in her game, Hingis said she plans to sharpen her strengths: finesse, shot-making skill, consistency and court coverage as she begins her quest to return to the top.
"The new generation of players all appear to be taller — they have more power, more muscle and are in better physical shape," Hingis said. "But we don't all have to have big muscles to win tournaments. You just have to see what Lleyton Hewitt, Sebastien Grosjean and Roger Federer have done. My game is about shot-making skills, technique, using the court and my speed."