By Jane Voigt
Key Biscayne, Fla. — The sun sat on Martina Hingis’ career over a decade ago. In 1997 she came agonizingly close to an honest-to-goodness calendar-year Grand Slam. She won them all except Roland Garros.
Hingis was the quintessential player. Named after Martina Navratilova, little Martina did it all and well. She was a mastermind of technique, strategy and tactics. With that she won 7 Major singles’ titles and 10 Major doubles titles. Watching her move the ball around a court was magical.
The now 33-year-old came back to the tennis scene in 2010 for World Team Tennis. And weeks before last year’s U. S. Open, she upped the ante joining forces with her former doubles partner Daniela Hantuchova for the last slam of the year. However, the draw did them dirty with a first-round match-up against the No. 1 seeds, Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani. Out went Hingis and Hantuchova.
Hingis, though, is a competitor through and through. In everything. She continued to play World Team Tennis, but the itch scratched. So at Indian Wells she stepped up to the baseline once again as a coach for and as a doubles partner with Sabine Lisicki. They arrived in Miami as a wildcard entry into Sony Open Tennis.
The pairing seems like a dream mix of power and finesse.
Martina Hingis (left) and Sabine Lisicki during a point today on Court 1 at The Sony Open. They defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Sorana Cirstea 62 61.
Photo credit Jose Armando Rodriguez, Deporte Total USA
“Everything starts to fall into place,” Hingis told a small group of journalists after she and Lisicki had defeated Anatasia Pavlychenkova and Sorana Cirstea, 62 61. “Things become more easy. We know what to rely upon.”
“We push each other,” Sabine added.
“The chemistry is great because we are completely different players,” Martina said, with a laugh. “She’s the one who kills the ball and I try to finish off the point.”
Lisicki is well know for her powerful serve, which has reached 126 M.P.H. Today she won 3 of 4 points with aces, in one game. They gave each other a lighthearted smile, slapped five and moved on to the next point.
“I think that’s the biggest weapon she has, the serve and just all her shots,” Martina began. She laughed, adding, “If you can’t get to a ball, you better get out of her way.”
The two have known each other for over ten years, so there’s really not much they don’t know about each other. But during one point today, they sprinted toward a short ball each on the same trajectory.
“I said go,” Hingis began. “But I was still running at the same time. I didn’t know she could get there, and I was there. Then she hits her powerful shot and I see the ball flying out … match point.”
Hingis closed the match with an ace.
So will the ‘real’ coach please stand up?
“It’s funny sometimes because now when I go to serve, I say to her what do you think? Where do you want the serve?,” Hingis said. “I want to do what’s more easy for her to react to. And, she knows the players better than I do now. It’s not my generation. Sabine knows the strengths and weaknesses of them.”
However, when they step off the doubles court Hingis’s roll transforms. She is Lisicki’s coach for singles. “In singles she’s my coach,” Lisicki stated. “In doubles we coach each other.”
Tennis has changed enormously since Martina retired in early 2000. She doesn’t see too much of herself or her game on court now.
“I had an offense/defense game, which is really not out there,” she began. “I think the last person was [Justine] Henin. She had all the shots and was a little girl. The [other] one that comes probably closet is Radwanska. But she is mostly a defensive player and a counter-puncher.”
Lisicki and Hingis stood one-up and one-back during their match today, which was not the norm for Hingis.
“I try to come in, but the returns come so fast,” she admitted. “You have to be Speedy Gonzalez. Sabine, though, with her kick serve, she could try to come in some time. But even in my time we had girls playing from the baseline.”
Lisicki and Hingis have moved into the quarterfinals and will meet Anabel Medina Garrigues and Yaroslava Shvedova next. Rumors are the match will be on Stadium Court.