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Martina Hingis' youthful success served with Hall of Fame induction

The last of the teen phenom champions did it with style and guile, not power and swagger. She was bubbly, sassy, saucy and blunt, writes Ahmed Rizvi.
Don't be fooled by the awkward way Martina Hingis, left, had her Tennis Hall of Fame jacket is slipped on to her by fellow Hall of Famer Stan Smith, right. The Swiss was all grace and guile during her best years on the courts.
Don't be fooled by the awkward way Martina Hingis, left, had her Tennis Hall of Fame jacket is slipped on to her by fellow Hall of Famer Stan Smith, right. The Swiss was all grace and guile during her best years on the courts.

For most people, being compared to Tiger Woods would a compliment, even flattering, especially if it came during the latter part of 1990s when the sporting world could boast of no greater star than the American golf prodigy.

Martina Hingis hated those comparisons - and not for reasons of modesty.

"It's all the time, 'Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods'," she said in 1997. "I am better than he is. I've been on top longer and I am younger. I'm just better."

Bubbly, sassy, saucy and blunt – that was the Hingis fans loved.

Was she better than Woods? Who knows, but in 1997, she was certainly the best tennis player on the planet, man or woman.

She had reached the final of all four grand slams that year and won three of them – the Australian, Wimbledon and US Open. And she bagged all those trophies before her 17th birthday. Woods won his first major at the age of 21.

"She is the last of the great teenage phenom champions," Pam Shriver, who reached the 1978 US Open final as a 16-year-old amateur, said last week.

Need proof?

Hingis has slew of youngest-ever records by her name. She won the junior French Open title at 12, and at 15 years and nine months, became the youngest slam champion in history when she took the 1996 Wimbledon doubles crown alongside Helena Sukova.

The following January, when she defeated Mary Pierce in the 1997 Australian Open final, Hingis became the youngest female winner at a major since 1887, when 15-year-old Charlotte Dod won Wimbledon.

Before her 19th birthday, Hingis had five grand slam crowns. She reached the final in nine of the 12 majors between 1997 and 1999. Steffi Graf, Monica Seles and Lindsay Davenport were all present during that period.

The Williams sisters were there as well, and Hingis had an engrossing rivalry going with them.

Head-to-head, the Swiss was 6-7 against Serena and 11-10 against elder sister Venus, and all but two of those matches were played before Hingis first quit the sport in 2002, before her 22nd birthday.

The Williams sisters are still around. Venus, elder to Hingis by 15 weeks, has been struggling with illness in recent times, but she is not ready to walk away as yet. Serena, younger than Hingis by a year, is the undisputed world No 1.

Hingis, on the other hand, has just been inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. At 32 years and 10 months, she is the fourth-youngest to be bestowed this honour – behind Tracy Austin (30), Bjorn Borg (31), and Hana Mandlikova (32).

The Swiss deserves to be enshrined with game's greats, but fans would prefer that she was still frustrating the big hitters with cleverly carved angles, and all delivered with a devious smile that led many to call her "Chucky".

arizvi@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE

Updated: July 15, 2013 04:00 AM

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