Martina Hingis: The Swiss queen and her teenage conquests

On her journey to stardom, the former World No. 1 set a slew of "youngest-ever" records in both singles and doubles.

Martina Hingis dominated the tennis world from her teenage; Credit: [email protected]

In women’s tennis, the late 1990s were brimming with world-class players. Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Gabriela Sabatini, and Jennifer Capriati were among the finest tennis players to grace the court at the time. It seems as if the fighting pack couldn’t become any more competitive, but it did. Martina Hingis showed up at the party unannounced and immediately began stealing everyone’s thunder. The teenager hardly needed time to settle down as she swiftly took the game by storm.

Hingis started playing the game basically from the time she began to walk, thanks to her mother, who is also a former professional tennis player. The Swiss star started swinging a tennis racquet from the age of two. Even her father was a tennis player, but it was her mom-coach Melanie Molitor who reportedly had a bigger influence on her career. Infact she was also named after legendary former player Martina Navratilova. It was with the hope that one day she will reach the heights set by Navratilova and Hingis duly delivered.

Martina made history in 1993 by becoming the youngest player to win a Grand Slam junior championship – singles at the French Open – at the age of twelve. Just weeks after turning 14, she made her WTA debut at the Zurich Open in October 1994. She’d, however, had to wait another two years for her first big breakthrough.

Hingis became the youngest Grand Slam winner of all time in 1996 when she won the women’s doubles title at Wimbledon with Helena Sukova at the age of 15 years and 9 months. Later that year, in Filderstadt, Germany, she won her maiden singles title. It was the first of 43 titles Hingis would win.

An era of dominance

There haven’t been many better years in tennis history than the one that Hingis had in 1997. She won the Australian Open singles title by defeating Mary Pierce convincingly, playing more like a veteran pro than a promising teenager. If the relative ease with which she won the title was stunning, what was even more remarkable was the maturity that Martina showed in the final. She lifted the trophy at the age of 16 years and 3 months, becoming the youngest Australian champion in history. Hingis also won the women’s doubles title in that Grand Slam with Natasha Zvereva.

She began the 1997 tour season in stellar fashion, winning 38 straight matches. In March of that year, Hingis rose to the top of the world rankings, becoming the youngest ever to hold that position. At the Wimbledon, Hingis broke another record, beating Jana Novotna to become the youngest Wimbledon ladies singles champion since Lottie Dod in 1887. But, this was not a straight forward affair. Credit to Novotna for stretching her to three sets, but Martina eventually prevailed to win the match 2-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Then it was on to Flushing Meadows! In the final of the US Open, she overcame an up-and-coming star, Venus Williams, to cap off a remarkable year. The one blemish on an otherwise perfect year occurred in Paris. Martina lost in the final of the French Open against Iva Majoli, and that was the only trophy she did not win in 1997. A calendar year Grand Slam would have been on her resume if she had not lost in the final.

Doubles glory

The following year was equally special for the Swiss player as she started to dominate the doubles world. In 1998, Hingis won all four of the Grand Slam women’s doubles titles, only the fourth woman in history to achieve that distinction. She and Mirjana Lucic won the Australian Open, while Martina won the remaining three Grand Slams with Novotna. It propelled her to the top of the rankings, making her the third woman to hold the No. 1 ranking in both singles and doubles at the same time.

All her singles Grand Slam titles – five – came when she was still a teenager. It was in Australia where she had the most success, winning three consecutive titles in 1997, 1998, 1999. She also won the doubles title in Melbourne in all these years, thus becoming the only woman to have won three successive Australian Open trophies in singles and doubles simultaneously.

Hingis’ main weapon was her groundstrokes, which she used to match the game’s best hitters stroke for stroke. She controlled the game’s flow and covered every inch of the court by playing at a quick tempo. Her speed and agility helped keep the game at a high level. Martina’s returns sent the fans wild since she hit balls early in the game, leaving her opponents little time to react.

Comebacks

She was not done by any stretch of the imagination. Hingis won a plethora of women’s doubles and mixed doubles titles in different phases of her career. She had retired twice and returned twice, but one thing remained constant – her form, which never dipped.

It was in her second comeback when she started to raise eyebrows as the Swiss star began to form lethal partnerships with many players to win women’s doubles and mixed doubles titles. India’s Sania Mirza and Leander Paes were among those who benefitted from this partnership. Even Mahesh Bhupathi won the 2006 Australian Open mixed doubles title partnering alongside Martina.

She was a true professional, who adapted and modified her game to stay at the top in different eras. The Swiss star went through numerous phases in her career, experiencing ups and downs, but she always managed to recover. Tennis needed her as much as she needed the sport. She will surely go down in history as a sporting legend!




WRITTEN BY
Sportslumo Desk

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