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Hingis risks losing “mystique” with comeback

Hingis will need mum if she is to succeed Keystone

Switzerland's former tennis star, Martina Hingis, is gambling her iconic status by planning a return to the circuit, the editor of Smash magazine tells swissinfo.

Michael Hasler said Hingis could struggle to compete with a new generation of players after three years out of the game.

Hingis took tennis by storm by becoming the youngest player to top the world rankings at the age of 16 years and six months.

But a serious foot injury forced her out of the game in 2002 after she had won five Grand Slams and 76 WTA tour victories.

She plans to make her comeback to the professional circuit next year after an unsuccessful return in the Thai Open in February.

swissinfo: Is it wise for Martina Hingis to make a comeback?

Michael Hasler: I’m not so sure that it is wise. On the one hand Martina is very clever and if she does not think she is able to compete she will not come back. But if she does return and cannot reach world number one again it could destroy her mystique.

Number four or five in the rankings would not be good enough for her. She would want to be remembered as a champion, not as a failure.

swissinfo: Why has she decided to return now?

M.H.: She was simply missing the game she loves, but she was also missing being in the spotlight. Martina is still well known and is seen a lot on television but that’s not the same as being an active sports star.

Her motivation is not money because she is already a millionaire and can still earn a lot through PR work. But that work only keeps her occupied for part of the year and can probably get quite boring. She is still only 25 and wants to be doing the thing she loves – playing tennis.

swissinfo: What challenges face Hingis when she returns to the professional circuit?

M.H.: Tennis has changed quite a bit since she was last playing. The Williams sisters [Venus and Serena], the new Russian players and Lindsay Davenport are all very hard hitters of the ball.

Martina will have to cope with the physical side of the game and make sure she is back in shape. You never lose your eye, but what you can lose is your physical fitness, which has not been helped by her injuries.

However, she is a very smart player – that is branded in her soul and brain – and she still knows how to play tennis.

swissinfo: What will Hingis bring back to the game?

M.H.: She plays in a different way to most of the women players today. She has guile and elegance which has been missing from the women’s circuit in recent years.

swissinfo: Have there been other tennis stars who have returned to the game after a break?

M.H.: Jennifer Capriati and Andre Agassi both took time out for various reasons and came back. Both of them became world number one after returning to the game, so there is a precedent of an extremely successful comeback.

swissinfo: Hingis tried a comeback earlier this year in the Thai Open and was knocked out in the first round.

M.H.: She was not properly prepared that time and I do not believe that it was a proper comeback. It was more like she was testing the water. This time she will prepare harder and it will be for real.

swissinfo: Could we see a Swiss number one in both the men’s and women’s game?

M.H.: I strongly believe that Roger Federer will remain number one for some time, but as for Martina – I doubt it. I think it will be too hard for her.

I think that it is important for Martina to have the backing of her mother [Melanie Molitor who coached Hingis in her earlier years]. She may not want to be Martina’s full-time coach again because she is busy with her tennis academy in Switzerland, but Martina needs the support of her mother if she is to stand a chance of succeeding.

The two are inseparable in terms of Martina’s former tennis achievements. Martina’s mother used to do everything for her and knows her inside out.

swissinfo-interview: Matthew Allen

Martina Hingis was forced to quit tennis in 2002 following two ankle operations.
She sued Italian sportswear company Sergio Tacchini in 2001, blaming their shoes for damaging her feet.
Hingis won her last Grand Slam at the Australian Open in 1999, but lost in three sets to Germany’s 73rd-ranked Marlene Weingartner in her last comeback in the Thai Open in February.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR