As Bartoli retires, Hingis comeback continues

MASON, Ohio — France’s Marion Bartoli realized a dream last month, winning her first Wimbledon singles championship.

Wednesday night, she announced her retirement after losing in the second round of the Western & Southern Open to Romania’s Simona Halep.

A couple of hours before Bartoli walked off the Grandstand court at the Lindner Family Tennis Center following her 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 defeat, Martina Hingis and partner Daniela Hantuchova had been eliminated from the doubles draw 6-4, 6-4, by the top-ranked team of Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci. Hingis, who once held the top singles ranking for 209 weeks, is less than a month into a second comeback to the WTA tour after being away for the last six years.

Bartoli will turn 29 years old on Oct. 2. Hingis will turn 33 on Sept. 30.

“It’s time for me to retire and to call it a career.  I feel it’s time for me to walk away actually,” said Bartoli, composing herself as she spoke through tears. “My body just can’t do it anymore.  I’ve been already through a lot of injuries since the beginning of the year.  I’ve been on the tour for so long, and I really push through and leave it all during that Wimbledon.

“I really felt I gave all the energy I have left inside my body.  I made my dream a reality and it will stay forever with me, but now my body just can’t cope with everything.”

Hingis can relate. She played her first WTA event at the age of 13, winning an indoor tournament in Langenthal, Switzerland, and losing just one set in five matches along the way. She won five Grand Slam tournaments by the time she was 19 and played in six straight Australian Open finals — winning three — before a chronic ankle injury forced her to stop playing in 2003 at the age of 22. She sat out for three years, and when she returned in 2006 her play wasn’t close to the level she had previously performed.

That comeback lasted only one year.

Bartoli played her first WTA event in her home country at Les Contames. She won two qualifying matches and earned $120 in July 1999 when she wasn’t yet 15. Bartoli became a tour regular in 2001 and Wimbledon was her eighth career tournament victory. It was her first Grand Slam event title in 47 tournaments. No woman had ever played that many Grand Slam tourneys before winning her first one. She is seventh in the latest WTA tour rankings and was seeded eighth at the Western & Southern Open.

Her body has hurt and the grind just isn’t worth it any more.

“It’s hard to explain,” said Bartoli, “but when you dreamed about something for so long and you have been on the tour for many, many, many years and you have been through up and downs and high and lows and already a lot of injuries since the beginning of the year, my body was really starting to fall apart, and I was able to keep it together, go through the pain with a lot of pain throughout this Wimbledon, and make it happen.

“That was probably the last little bit of something that was left inside me. It’s fine. I mean, I have the right to do something else, as well. I’ve been playing for a long, long time, and it’s time for me now. It is.”

Court No. 9 sits outside the opposite end of Center Court from where the Grandstand court is. There, in the late afternoon, crowds filled the seating bowl to watch Hingis and Hantuchova take on the reigning U.S. Open and Australian Open champions. Fans unable to find a seat stood outside the gates and black-meshed fences surrounding the court, peering in, around and over in hopes of getting some view of the action.

“It’s been amazing how many people have come out and supported us,” said Hingis. “The feedback that I get, it’s nice to have you back and all of that, it’s really nice to have that feedback.

“I mean, it’s really obvious when the stands are packed for a doubles match, right?”

Professional tennis belongs to the young. The most gifted are like Hingis and Bartoli when they first played on the tour. Of the current top-10 singles players in the world, Bartoli is the third oldest; No. 1 Serena Williams and No. 5 Li Na are both 31. The other seven players are 26 or younger.

“I recovered much faster,” said Hingis of her earlier playing days. “I could have played singles, doubles, and mixed (doubles) the same days, and I came back the next day and I was all smiling and nothing was hurting.

“Today, I play one match, and I’m like ‘Oh, my God.’ I think the body is the most — she’s like responding to me like, ‘What are you doing to me?’ But I think it takes time, and it will get better again, get used to it. There’s no choice.”

Hingis and Hantuchova reached the quarterfinals at the Southern California Open in Carlsbad two weeks ago in their first tournament. They won a match at the Rogers Cup in Toronto last week and beat Annabell Medina Garrigues and Flavia Pennetta in the first round here. They had their moments against Errani and Vinci, leading 4-2 in the first set. Down 5-1 in the second set, Hingis and Hantuchova rallied with three straight game wins before falling.

“Sometimes I smile because I’m just happy to have made a nice rally or a nice point, a nice shot. So, definitely not going to cry about it,” said Hingis. “We definitely had our opportunities today. It feels the same. We always get, I’m not going to say scared, but that we can play with them so well and actually having the chance of winning or at least getting a set or something, being ahead.

“We know that we have the opportunities beating teams like that. We’ll take those chances hopefully, yeah. That hopefully is going to come soon.”

Hingis has been doing some coaching and playing on the World Team Tennis circuit the past couple of years. She and Hantuchova are hoping to get a wild card entry into next week’s tournament at New Haven, Conn., just so they can get as many matches in as possible before the U.S. Open starts on Aug. 26. She has claimed this comeback will only be on the doubles tour but things can change. She’s not even sure how long this comeback will last.

She sees Serena Williams and Li Na, who each advanced to the third round with wins Wednesday, still succeeding on the singles tour. She sees Japan’s Kimiko Date-Krumm, who was ranked as high as No. 4 in the world in 1992, return to play five years ago after more than a decade away from the tour. Date-Krumm, 42, and partner Arantxa Parra Santonja lost in their second round doubles match Wednesday.

“It’s unbelieveable at her age,” said Hingis. “She must really love tennis. I mean, I do, too, but sometimes, at some point, you kind of slow down.”

For Marion Bartoli, that time has come.