In many cases, tennis careers end long after the retiring player’s game fades. That is what is so special about Martina Hingis, the former women’s No.1 singles player who said goodbye to tennis last week.
After years of injuries, a suspension and two previous departures, she finished her career on her terms, on top of her game and to the love of fans.
“Tennis will always be part of my life,” Hingis said. “I’ve had an amazing career that I will cherish forever.”
Hingis, 37, began in an era when women’s tennis was changing. Power and hard serves were becoming more common, especially among the sisters Venus and Serena Williams.
Hingis didn’t play that way. Rather than crush the ball, she mastered every stroke and hit the ball more accurately than anyone in the game. She was clever and creative, and impossible to outsmart.
Hingis won the first three of her five Grand Slam singles titles as a 16-year-old in 1997. She nearly won all four that year, but lost in the final of the French Open. Hingis beat opponents in a way that amazed onlookers. Her timing was impeccable. Her forehand and backhand angles were precise, just like her drop shots and volleys.
When Hingis had time on the ball, there was almost no way to stop her.
In all, Hingis won 43 singles titles in her career. She won 548 matches in singles and held the No.1 ranking in both singles and doubles. Only six women’s players have done that. Hingis won 25 Grand Slam titles in all: 13 in women's doubles, seven in mixed doubles and five in singles. Six of her 25 major titles came at Wimbledon.
The years that Hingis could not dominate are, in a way, more impressive than her earlier ones, because she did not quit. Hingis won her last major singles title, the Australian Open, in 1999 at age 18.
From there until 2003 she lost many chances and began to suffer from injuries. In 2003 her health forced her to retire—long after her game had faded.
Many thought Hingis was done, that she would be a big talent who, in the end, peaked far too early. But her love of the sport was intact and she had something else in mind. In 2006 she returned and fought, reaching the quarter-finals at the Australian Open and French Open. But that momentum dissipated, and in November 2007 she retired after announcing she had tested positive for trace amounts of cocaine.
Again, many believed this would be the end of Hingis. To her credit she returned again, this time in 2013. And to everyone’s surprise and pleasure, she put on some of the most entertaining matches in her career as a doubles star, reinventing her game to the tune of 28 women's doubles titles and seven mixed doubles titles, becoming just the seventh woman in history to complete the career Grand Slam in mixed doubles.
She and her partner, Chan Yung-Jan, were ranked No.1 when Hingis announced her retirement.
“It’s perfect timing because you want to stop on top,” Hingis said. And for the first time in her three retirements, she has.
Hingis, who reached the Hall of Fame in 2013, says she won’t play professionally again. But she won’t leave tennis entirely, either. She may coach or comment with announcers - she’s so knowledgeable about the sport that the choice will be hers. Until then, just enjoy the memories of what she accomplished in a stellar career.
“I’m excited for the challenges ahead of me,” Hingis said. “Thank you to everyone who supported me throughout all of the years.”