Martina Hingis, a 15-time Grand Slam champion, will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame on Saturday in Newport, R.I.
The tennis prodigy to end all tennis prodigies, Hingis owns a slew of “youngest ever” records. She was already the youngest player to win a junior Slam (the French Open at 12) when she became the youngest Slam champion by teaming with Helena Sukova to win the 1996 Wimbledon doubles title at 15 years, 9 months. She was also the youngest to reach No. 1 in singles; she ascended to the top as a 16-year-old in 1997, when she won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and lost to Iva Majoli in the French Open final.
Hingis, who held the No. 1 ranking for 209 weeks, won all five of her singles Slams before turning 19. She also won nine Slams in women’s doubles and one in mixed doubles. Hingis won the calendar Grand Slam in women’s doubles in 1998 — she paired with Jana Novotna for three of the four majors and Mirjana Lucic for the other one – and finished with 37 doubles titles overall to go with 43 in singles. She is one of five players to be ranked No. 1 in singles and doubles simultaneously.
Hingis retired in 2003 at age 22 after struggling with ankle injuries. She returned to the tour full time in 2006 and finished the year ranked No. 7. In November 2007, she retired again after testing positive for cocaine at Wimbledon. Hingis denied taking the drug but didn’t appeal.
The “Swiss Miss” possessed a mature, intelligent game that backed up her cocksure attitude and penchant for trading barbs with the WTA’s finest. Hingis’ all-court game and prodigious understanding of how to create angles and openings were a welcome departure from the baseline-bashing norm.
Here’s a look back at the 32-year-old Hingis’ Hall of Fame career.
Named after Martina Navratilova, Hingis was trained to be a champion by her mother, Melanie Molitor. After a decorated junior career, Hingis turned pro four days after turning 14, in 1994. “I play what I feel,” Hingis said. “I respond to the ball.”
Hingis didn’t take long to assert herself. She finished 1995 ranked No. 16; a year later, she made her first Slam semifinal, at the U.S. Open, where she lost to Steffi Graf. “You can’t really look at her as a 15-year-old,” Graf said after the match. “She has been playing so well, it doesn’t seem like you have somebody that young across the net.” Hingis ended 1996 ranked sixth, setting the stage for her tremendous 1997 season.
Banner year in 1997
At 16, Hingis became the youngest Slam champion in 110 years when she defeated Mary Pierce 6-2, 6-2 in the 1997 Australian Open final. She also won the doubles title. “It’s a great win for me, and next time maybe I’ll play mixed doubles so I can win that too,” Hingis said. This was the first of three consecutive Australian Open singles titles for Hingis, who won the last of her five majors in Melbourne in 1999.
Hingis’ 1997 also included a title at Wimbledon, where she rallied from a break down in the third set to beat Novotna 2-6, 6-3, 6-3.
And to cap her incredible 1997 season, Hingis dominated Venus Williams 6-0, 6-4 in the U.S. Open final to win her third major of the year. Hingis finished 11-10 against the older Williams sister.
Highlights of the match:
Martina vs. Serena
Hingis also had a nearly even head-to-head with the younger Williams sister in what was a heated rivalry. Serena won seven of 13 meetings against Hingis, including the 1999 U.S. Open final. But Hingis won one of their mostly hotly contested matches, rallying from 1-4 down in the third set to edge Serena 6-2, 3-6, 8-6 in the 2001 Australian Open quarterfinals. If Serena had won, she would have played Venus in the semifinals.
Heartbreak at 1999 French Open
Hingis was seeking to complete the career Grand Slam when she faced Graf in the 1999 French Open final. Up a set and 2-0, Hingis was penalized a point after questioning a call and walking to Graf’s side of the net to check a ball mark. With the French crowd whistling and booing her every move, Hingis was broken when she served for the match at 5-4. Graf rallied to win 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 to improve to 4-0 against Hingis at majors. Hingis left the court in tears and had to be dragged back by her mother for the trophy ceremony.
Hingis could rub opponents the wrong way with her biting remarks. Here’s a sampling of her blunt — and at times controversial — talk:
• You’d think being compared to golf prodigy Tiger Woods would be a compliment. Not to Hingis. “It’s all the time, ‘Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods.’ I am better than he is,” she said in 1997. “I’ve been on top longer and I am younger. I’m just better.”
• Hingis began her career with five straight wins over Monica Seles. After beating her 7-6 (4), 6-4 in the 1997 final in San Diego, Hingis offered her match analysis. ”I don’t know actually how I won this match,” she said. “Maybe because I always beat her.”
• You know teenagers. They hate waking up in the morning. Even if it’s to play their early-round matches at the French Open. “I’m not a very good morning person,” Hingis said at the 1997 French Open. “I’m No. 1 in the world, so I should have the right, if I’m going to play on center court, to say what time I want to play.”
• Hingis scoffed when asked about her rivalry with good friend and doubles partner Anna Kournikova. “What rivalry?” she said. “I win all the matches.” Hingis went 11-1 against Kournikova.
• Hingis got into some hot water in 1999 when she was reported to have said in German about her Australian Open final opponent, Amelie Mauresmo, “She’s here with her girlfriend. She is half a man.”
• Hingis stirred up controversy with her response to a question about Richard Williams’ claim that the Indian Wells crowd directed racist taunts at his family in 2001. “I wasn’t there. I didn’t see the finals [between Richard's daughter Serena and Kim Clijsters], just heard about it and it was on TV,” Hingis said. “But I definitely don’t feel like there is any racism on the tour. I mean, it’s a very international sport. I even would say because, you know, they may be black they have a lot of other — how do you say — advantages to be where they are. They can always say it’s racism or something like that, and it’s not the case at all. Not from my standpoint.”
• Here’s an excerpt from a 1997 story by Sports Illustrated‘s S.L. Price:
Hingis is frolicking through the oft-nightmarish world of the women’s tour like, well, a kid cutting loose. “I have never enjoyed tennis as much as I do now,” she said daily at the Lipton, and she proved it by grinning her way through a full slate of singles and doubles matches—she made it to the women’s doubles semifinals—interviews and photo sessions, laughing off the idea of feeling pressure and never ducking behind little-girl modesty. After she took apart much-hyped phenom Venus Williams in straight sets in the third round, a tennis official handed Hingis one of the colored beads that had fallen from Williams’s braids and said she should tell people it was a souvenir. Hingis scoffed, “I’ll say something better than that.” She walked into her press conference, flung the bead into the crowd like a brave tossing a fresh scalp and said with a giggle, “I have a nice present for you. One of Venus’s pearls.”
Another day. Asked if she felt unbeatable, Hingis said, “Well, I am.”
• During a coin toss, Hingis asked Lindsay Davenport, ”Do you want me to serve or break you?”
• Graf missed time in 1997 because of knee surgery. “If she’s going to come back,” Hingis said of the then-27-year-old German, “for sure it’s not going to be the Steffi as she was. Her career is almost over.”
• In 2011, Hingis was asked about then-No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki. “I think I had more game than her,” Hingis said. “I don’t want to be cocky about this, but I think I had more [weapons]. She’s a great fighter but I outplayed [opponents] and I took the ball earlier and didn’t give them as much time. If she wants to win a Grand Slam, she’s going to have to take charge more. She doesn’t have one great weapon. You need that one little extra thing to overcome.”