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Team WTAworld, Senior Member
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Source: The Sunday Telegraph - London
Publication date: 2002-02-24

It was last month in the Oz Cafe, where the players chill out at the Australian Open, that Martina Hingis and Sergio Garcia showed the first free-and-easy signs of a friendship that could develop into something special. The Spaniard followed the second week from the players' box but, by the time Hingis melted in the final against Jennifer Capriati, her golfing beau was in Perth, ironing the kinks from his iron play.
Hingis was outside the ropes in Carlsbad this week, watching Garcia perform in another in the ever-expanding array of world matchplay golf championships. No doubt they took time out to replenish a relationship as intriguing as that between tennis icons Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf.

Where it will lead we do not know, but Hingis deserves a little good fortune to smile on her. This was a week off for the 21-year- old before one of her favoured times of the year when the American spring season kicks into life, first in Scottsdale, Arizona, for the State Farm Women's Classic, then Indian Wells, California, and finally, to beautiful Key Biscayne, Florida, for the newly named Nasdaq-100 Championships.

It was at the last event a year ago that Hingis spoke of her inability to find true love and that men were frightened off by her intimidating presence. Obviously, in Garcia, she has found someone who does not scare so easily.

"It's one of the consequences of fame and a lot of people can't handle it," she said. "If you are a guy and successful, the attention from the girls is twice as big and they don't even have to be pretty, it's so unfair. But guys are intimidated by fame. I'm proud of what I've achieved but it is difficult to find a person strong enough to cope with it all and respect me at the same time."

Hingis's previous boyfriends have been tennis players - Spanish professional Julian Alonso reached a career-high 30 four years ago when they were an item but has since disappeared without trace. The Swiss player Ivo Heuberger was on her arm for a while and journalists from Switzerland believe she once had a crush on Roger Federer.

Swede Magnus Norman, the former world No 4, cuddled up to Hingis to celebrate reaching the Roland Garros final in 2000, but that was a short-lived liaison. When she had dinner with Australian swimming gold medallist Ian Thorpe in Sydney last year on the night he had presented her with the trophy for winning the tournament, the tabloids had them oozing romantic chemistry."They are all athletes and they should understand," she says. "I have had great times with lots of them and really enjoyed it, but then you go your different ways and the relationship is on the end of a telephone rather than seeing each other. It's really difficult."

Hingis, you sense, has always needed to feel good about herself in life to find true contentment on the court. If she is to win back her place as world No 1, or triumph in a Grand Slam for the first time since Melbourne, 1999, the Swiss Miss needs someone other than herself, her mum and her mum's boyfriend to fight for. Sergio could be the answer.

Hingis once ruled the women's game - her total of 209 weeks as the No 1 is fourth in the all-time list behind Graf, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert - but, once the momentum faltered at the back end of last year, there have been two new faces peering down. Capriati earned her spurs last October and now it is the turn of Venus Williams. Hingis is in fourth spot, her lowest position since she was 17. She needs all the love she can get.

It is difficult enough coping with the demands of being the player everyone wants to shoot at but having been there and relished it so much, Hingis is confronted with how to win it back. "There are a lot of girls playing great tennis," she said this week. "It gets more and more difficult, like you're seeing in the men's game. The competition is getting stronger - there aren't the steady No 1s any more.

"I wasn't too disappointed after Melbourne - how could I be? I had just come back from a bad injury, I won Sydney and I had four match points to beat Jennifer in the Open final. She was too good on those points. I came so close. In Florida, I have been practising with a few guys and with Jennifer and feel great. Speed is the key to my game along with finesse and anticipation."

Her golf game is said to be improving, too
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