In 1997 Martina Hingis had her heyday: she featured in all 4 Grand Slam finals and took home 3 of them, becoming the youngest player ever to reach the number 1 spot in the world ranking. And she was only 16. Ten years later she is sending mayday signals. It’s getting evident for the tennis community that her dream comeback is now becoming a cruel nightmare.
Back in the day the ruthless girl who owned the circuit in the late 90s managed to earn as many lovers as detractors. It is understandable that people fall for the winner the same as they tend to hate the arrogant. Success came to Hingis at such an early stage that she might have thought to be a goddess of the tennis court, which is probably true. And nothing changed that perspective maybe until the bitter defeat by Steffi Graf at the French Open in 1999.
She had already fell from the tennis throne by the end of 2002 when she was forced to retire due to injuries aggravated by desperation.
But it was Martina’s destiny to be a tennis legend, to become a cult player. And that is why she came back. And she did so not as the cocky and fussy girl the she once was but as mature and charming woman in love with the sport that once put her in the spotlight. And then everyone was able to see all her great qualities better than ever: her skill, her movement, her intelligence, her charisma. She was considered the underdog, the ultimate defender of the brain in its lost struggle against the muscle. Even the doubters turned into stone when she qualified for the year-end WTA Championship.
And the process was left almost completed at the last Wimbledon, the tournament she entered after more than a month without practice — and against medical advice — in the knowledge that the result would certainly be a disappointment. Using her own words, she went to Wimbledon because “it kind of gets tiring when all you do is watch others. That’s why I didn’t want to miss out on Wimbledon after I missed the French”.
Martina put herself in the verge of disaster against a wildcard on the opening day, being forced to save 2 match points before knocking out her teenager opponent who happened to be British: a local girl. The crowd still loved it. For her second round match, she was allocated on Court 13. It takes some effort to remember the last time she played a Grand Slam match on a court as small as that one. But she won, and those who care enough to turn up loved it.
It doesn’t really matter that she crashed out in the 3rd round against a player ranked some 50 positions below. Or that she could have made it to the semis without meeting opposition highly ranked than her. Martina had already admitted that she was not a contender. Even her more faithful fans are slowly coming to terms with the fact she will never win a Grand Slam title again. But they love her more than ever. In the dusk of her career, you could find players with more titles but none of them will fill as many pages and represent the kind of character that goes straight into the legends book. Martina Hingis has now become a cult player.
By Roberto Barrio