Swiss lucky charm

Making a comeback at the highest level of any competitive sport is an arduous task, particularly in a physically challenging game like tennis. But Swiss ace Martina Hingis has not only shown there can be a second act in tennis, but also how to make the most of it.

The 34-year-old former world number one singles star just rounded off a brilliant year at the US Open, winning the women’s doubles and mixed doubles titles with Indian icons Sania Mirza and Leander Paes, respectively.

With Paes she also won the Australian Open and Wimbledon earlier in the year besides pocketing the women’s doubles crown at the London greens with Sania. Hingis and Paes (42), with a combined age of 76, also became the first mixed doubles pair since 1969 to win three Grand Slam titles in a single calendar year.

“The understanding we have for the game and each other is amazing. Even if one thing doesn't work, we come up with a plan B or C. I just feel like we’re almost invincible going on court,” she had said after double triumph at the Flushing Meadows in New York earlier this week.

Hingis has clearly proven to be a lucky charm for Indian tennis, as combining with her seems to have helped in getting the best out of both Sania and Paes. Hingis and Sania joined hands in March and won the first 20 sets they contested before winning back-to-back titles in two WTA premier mandatory events: BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells and Miami Open.

The duo also won the Family Circle Cup besides reaching the quarterfinals of the French Open. Moreover, after forming an alliance with Hingis, Sania claimed the doubles world number one ranking before bagging the highest national sports award — the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna.

Paes, arguably the greatest Indian tennis player of all time, too holds Hingis in very high esteem. “To come out and play like that in one of the most prestigious courts that we have grown up knowing and winning a title in a Grand Slam without losing a set, that’s very special. We can talk of female athletes in other sports as well but to me in tennis, Martina Hingis and Martina Navratilova are right at the top. The champion that they are off the court is what I really respect,” Paes had said after clinching the Wimbledon mixed doubles title with Hingis. The veteran Indian star has also won the Wimbledon and Australian Open mixed doubles titles with the legendary Martina Navratilova, after whom Hingis was named, in 2003.

Hingis initially announced her retirement from the game in February 2003. After 2005, she made a few singles appearances without much success before retiring for a second time in 2007. In 2013, she decided to return to tennis solely as a doubles player. In a career spanning over two decades, Hingis has won five Grand Slam singles titles (three at Australian Open, one each at Wimbledon and US Open), 11 Grand Slam women’s doubles titles (including a calendar-year doubles Grand Slam in 1998) and four Grand Slam mixed doubles titles.

Born in Kosice, Czechoslovakia (now in Slovakia), as Martina Hingisova Molitor to accomplished tennis players Melanie Molitorova and Karol Hingis, Hingis spent her early childhood in Roznov (now in Czech Republic) before moving to Trubbach in Switzerland when she was seven. She started playing the game at the age of two and took part in her first tournament when she was just four.

In 1993, 12-year-old Hingis became the youngest player to win a Grand Slam junior title, the girls’ singles crown at the French Open. Next year, she retained her title at the Roland Garros besides annexing the girls’ singles title at Wimbledon and finishing runner-up at the year-ending US Open.

Hingis made her professional debut in 1994, two weeks after her 14th birthday, and ended the year ranked world number 87. She took little time to announce her arrival at the big stage as she became the youngest Grand Slam champion of all time in 1996, when she teamed with Helena Sukova at the Wimbledon to win the women’s doubles title at 15 years and nine months.

In fact, Hingis has multiple ‘youngest ever’ records attached to her name. Hingis reigned supreme in 1997. She became the youngest Grand Slam singles winner of the 20th century when she won the Australian Open at 16 years and 3 months. In March, she became the youngest ever top ranked player in the history of the game. In July, she became the youngest singles champion at Wimbledon since Lottie Dod in 1887. The only Grand Slam singles title that Hingis failed to win in 1997 was the French Open where she lost in the final.

Going by her current form, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Hingis triumphs again at the French Open next year with her illustrious Indian partners, adding to the two women’s doubles titles she won in Paris back in 1998 and 2000.

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