Former world number one Martina Hingis returns to competition in Thailand on Tuesday after a 27-month absence from tennis.
The 24-year-old Swiss is playing in the Volvo Women’s Open in Pattaya and has hinted that she could return to the women’s tour if she comes through unscathed.
Hingis, who quit the sport in 2002 because of a persistent foot injury, has said she wants to use the event to gauge her fitness and performance levels.
“The tournament is a test. I don’t know how my body will react,” she told Le Matin newspaper earlier this month.
“I was a bit rusty in the beginning, with some small pains in my calf at times. But that is part of the game.”
The winner of five Grand Slam singles titles and 76 WTA tour titles, Hingis was the youngest player to be crowned world number one. She achieved the feat in March 1997 at the age of 16.
But she packed in the game five years later, unable to shake off a long-term foot injury.
In an interview with swissinfo in July 2003, Hingis said it would take a “medical miracle” to get her back on the tennis circuit.
Sports journalist René Stauffer, who writes for the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper, says Hingis has been working hard on her game for the past few months but has yet to decide whether she wants to return full-time to the sport.
“This tournament is a good way to see if she’s still keen and competitive at a higher level,” he told swissinfo.
“She is only 24, she is still hungry and she knows she is still a very good player. I think that’s the driving force behind all this.”
She has certainly picked a good tournament to ease herself back into top-class tennis, since the draw in Pattaya features only three players in the top 50.
Stauffer believes this is the right move, saying Hingis would not be doing herself any favours trying to take on a top-ranked player at this point.
“She may be thinking that the top ten is weaker than it really is. Lindsay Davenport is world number one and Martina used to beat her quite easily,” he said.
“But there are all the Russian players and they have a tremendous quality of play. Martina might find it extremely difficult to break into the top ten again.”
Hingis’s return to competition has been welcomed by players and tournament organisers alike.
Tennis great Martina Navratilova, who Hingis is named after, said a player of her quality would be a tonic for women’s tennis.
“It’s a shame that she had to stop playing so early in her career. If she can play again, it would be fantastic,” Navratilova told the Tages-Anzeiger.
But France’s Amélie Mauresmo, speaking at the Australian Open in Melbourne, sounded a word of caution.
“I believe she stopped playing because she felt she was no longer physically able to compete,” she said.
“If she has not done a lot of work in this area, she won’t be able to live with the best players.”
However, Stauffer said Mauresmo’s comments should be taken with a pinch of salt.
“She stands pretty much alone with this opinion. I think that most of the players say that Martina is still good enough to compete with them.”
swissinfo, Adam Beaumont
Her last match was in October 2002 in Filderstadt, Germany, where she lost to Russia’s Elena Dementieva in the second round.
After that loss, she withdrew from all remaining tournaments, citing continued pain in her left ankle and a premature return following surgery on her left ankle in May that year.
Hingis won 40 singles titles and 36 doubles titles on the WTA tour.
She won five singles and nine doubles grand-slam titles.
She was born in Kosice, Slovakia, but moved to Switzerland when she was eight.