After a near six-year absence, former world No. 1 Martina Hingis is back on the WTA Tour.
But Hingis, a five-time Grand Slam singles champion, insists her return will only be in doubles and not singles.
The 32-year-old Hingis began her second comeback to the tour Wednesday, teaming with Daniela Hantuchova for a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Julia Goerges and Darija Jurak in the Southern California Open.
Hingis, whose last tour match was September 2007, consistently showed the deft hands that made her a nine-time Grand Slam doubles champion before a sparse crowd that gave her a warm ovation when she was introduced.
Hingis didn’t touch the ball until the fifth point of the match but flashed her doubles talent when she hit a backhand volley right at Jurak for a point in the second game.
”I felt like I got more comfortable (after the first set), returning, serving, everything,” she said. ”For me, mentally, I felt really good after that. The (first) service game of the second set, after that game I was like, `I’m back to normal.’ ”
The five-time Grand Slam singles champion frequently flashed a smile as she and Hantuchova overwhelmed their opponents. The pair hugged after Hingis’ lob shot over Jurak’s head sealed the first-round match.
”It was very special, very emotional,” Hantuchova said. ”I was also little bit nervous because, obviously I wanted to play my best.”
Hingis is scheduled to play doubles with Hantuchova in four tournaments, including the US Open.
”It was a great test for us and being able to beat them the way we did, it just gives us a lot of hope for the coming weeks,” Hantuchova said about beating the team that reached the final of the Bank of the West Classic on Sunday.
Hingis has retired twice previously, the first time in early 2003 at 22 and the last time in November 2007.
”I always had it in the back of my head in the last six years,” said Hingis, who has been coaching for the past two years. ”Now, being so much closer to it, being closer to the game, closer to the matches, I was like let’s try it again and see if I can have a great time.”
Her last WTA match was a second-round loss to China’s Peng Shuai at an event in Beijing in September 2007.
But recent comments made by current tennis commentator Lindsay Davenport, the three-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1 ranked player, that Hingis was using the doubles comeback to launch a full-fledge return to singles later this fall, has fueled rampant speculation.
All of which the ”Swiss Miss” swatted away like a weak second serve.
”It’s a different world,” said Hingis, a recent inductee into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. ”Even Team tennis now, it’s brutal. It’s only one set, but still like the next day I wake up and you have to put so much more effort into it. Playing tournaments, that’s the easy part. It’s all the grind behind it, behind the scenes that people don’t see. The six straight hours of training. At 17, everything seemed to be so easy. Now. I’m almost twice the age.”
Hingis just completed her second season of playing World TeamTennis, leading the Washington Kastles to the championship and earning her second consecutive MVP award, all of which has her ready for her next return.
”It’s kind of weird just to play doubles,” Hingis said. ”Team tennis always gets you in great shape. Being the MVP, that helps, I guess, the confidence. I played a lot more the last two years than I did in the first three years when I stopped.”
Hingis’ schedule after the Southern California Open includes two more warm-up tournaments at Toronto and Cincinnati before playing the US Open, all with Hantuchova.
”I don’t have any expectations,” Hingis said. ”Obviously, I wouldn’t put myself in this position if I didn’t feel fine enough to be able compete at this level. We’ll see. Team tennis, it was good enough. Will it be good enough in this world? It’s another question.”
Hingis, who won 43 career singles titles, was also an accomplished doubles player with nine Grand Slam titles, including a calendar-year Grand Slam in 1998, and 37 doubles titles overall.
A chronic ankle injury forced Hingis into her first retirement in 2003 and she was sidelined three years before she launched her first comeback in 2006.
But her return fell far short of the standard set by the woman who held the No. 1 spot for 209 weeks, fourth longest in WTA history. Hingis was nothing close to the player who was the youngest Grand Slam singles winner at 16 years, three months when she captured the Australian Open in 1997 and later became the youngest female player to ascend to the No. 1 ranking.
Hingis ended her first comeback under a cloud of controversy after she revealed in November 2007 that she tested positive for cocaine after losing in the third round at Wimbledon that year. Although Hingis professed her innocence, she said she was retiring rather than fighting the charges.