Martina Hingis officially announced she is retiring from professional tennis. The 2017 WTA finals in Singapore will be the last tournament of her incredible career.
Although most of the tennis world dreads the moment Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will retire, I am saddest today. Martina Hingis has been the first reason I fell in love with tennis and the main reason I wanted to play this wonderful sport. Her and Justine Henin. Hingis was only a couple of years older than me when she won her first Grand Slam title in doubles in 1996. I was practicing martial arts at that time but was never really invested in that. Hingis went on to dominate the women’s tennis scene over the next years. She was probably one of the last to actually dominate for reasons other than power or a commanding on court presence.
The Swiss is probably one of the smartest players to have ever played the sport on that level. An all court player, with incredible perception, a tactically sound game and a variety of shots that often threw her opponents off. Either against big hitting baseliners, like Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati or the Williams sisters, or when facing tennis legends like Steffi Graf and Monica Seles, Hingis brought such beauty to the game, it was difficult to take your eyes off her. For those who like to measure success by numbers, many have already started compiling lists of Hingis’s titles and accolades. But there are some elements to what distinguishes a great athlete from a true legend, which cannot be measured that way.
Martina Hingis, the tennis maverick
Aside from an extremely talented and successful tennis player, Martina Hingis has been one of the most controversial figures in tennis. As the youngest player to ever achieve such success, she wasn’t always able to deal with everything that comes with it. There’s no better testament to this, than the 1999 Roland Garros final, against Steffi Graf. Hingis’s temper tantrums and constant negativity were met with the French crowd’s intense disapproval, turning it into one of the most drama-filled matches of all time. But as the match progressed and the 19-year-old was reduced to tears in the arms of her mother, I just saw a little girl trying to balance between the light and darkness within.
Martina Hingis seemed to often let the darkness take over. Throughout her tumultuous career, her persona wavered between the universal appreciation of her talent and the equal resentment of her often conceited conduct. The two coexisted, as if, in spite of all her faults and provocative behavior, her skill and passion for the game forced irrevocable respect and admiration at the same time. The spicy rumors surrounding her personal life and her testing positive for cocaine in 2007 only added to her maverick profile. The criticism she’s received was never softened because of her age or talent. It was as harsh and blunt as some of her own comments and then some more at times.
But throughout the adversity and negativity surrounding her, Hingis herself remained true to her course and never wavered. Following her own set of rules, she accepted the animosity with a steely perseverance and unshakable conviction to speak her mind at all times and at all costs. In a niche as polished and posh as the tennis scene, the sharp tongue of Martina Hingis was probably as unique as her sharp mind.
Martina Hingis, the tennis legend
There are several attributes that separate a great athlete from a true sports legend. Patrick Mouratoglou has said that real champions are in a “situation of constant non-satisfaction” and that is what keeps them going, that is the cornerstone of their success. Martina Hingis was hungry enough to return to the sport twice after retirement. But there’s something more than tangible success that has turned her into a tennis legend in my eyes. It’s the end product you would get if you tried to blend the row talent, the age records, the arrogance, the annoying comments, the stories from the locker-room, the 25 combined Grand Slams, the 3 retirements, the drug ban, the shot-making skills, the 23 years on tour, the genius.
It’s quite indescribable and certainly too difficult to elaborate on in this poor tribute. I think that, because of the controversy surrounding her, history hasn’t yet put Hingis on a pedestal high enough yet. Time may destroy most things, but in her case, time will likely elevate her achievements and presence in the tennis world to a legendary level, saved only for a selected few.
Martina Hingis retired from tennis, as doubles world number 1, yesterday. And I am quite sad.
Featured image by Alex Proimos (Flickr: Martina Hingis in Melbourne) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons