Martina Hingis: A Teenage Sensation Marred By A Doping Ban That Turned Into A Doubles Icon
If there was a film about Martina Hingis’ life, perhaps the most fitting title would be ‘the never-ending roller-coaster.’ Her career is one filled with records and achievements, but has also been overshadowed by some unwelcome factors.
It was evident that Hingis was going to be a star of the sport from a young age. In 1993 she defeated Laurence Courtois in the final of the junior French Open Championships to lift the title at the age of 12. Just over a year later she made her professional debut and amazed many be ending the season as the 87th best player in the world despite her age.
Hingis’ Grand slam titles began three months before her 16th birthday. At the 1996 Wimbledon championships, she claimed the women’s doubles title to become the youngest grand slam winner of all-time. It was the start of the Hingis era. From then on she became one of the most feared players on the tour due to the style of her play. Between 1997-1999 she achieved a win-loss record of 67-7 in major tournaments. 1997 was her most successful year as she reached the final of every grand slam and won three of them (except the French Open).
By the time she was 21 Hingis had already spent an astonishing 209 weeks as world No.1. She was at the pinnacle of the sport, but it didn’t come without its consequences as she underwent surgery on both of her ankles. Playing at such a high intensity so young took its toll as she explained in one infamous interview with L’equipe.
“A return to competition is unforeseeable, and I have no plans to ever return,” Hingis said in 2003 when she announced her first retirement.
“It’s over for me but life goes on. I am not capable anymore of doing what’s needed to be done to stay at the top.”
The return and fall
The dramatic retirement of the Swiss player was short lived. Hingis wanted to exit tennis on her own terms and not because of injury. A failed attempted comeback at the 2005 Pattaya Open didn’t derail her determination. At the 2006 Rome Open she won her first title in four years as an unseeded player. The ‘Swiss Miss’ was finally back and finished that season inside the world’s top-10. Once again, she was a danger to everybody on the tour before disaster struck and this time threatened to destroy her entire reputation.
In November 2007 the tennis world was notified that Hingis had failed a drugs test at Wimbledon. She tested positive for Benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine. She protested her innocence and argued that she unintentionally ingested it. The ITF declined to accept her appeal and slammed Hingis with a two-year suspension. It was shortly before that she retired from the sport for the second time.
“Since Martina has retired from competitive sports, it makes no sense for her to challenge the judgment.” Her manager said in 2007 following the ruling.
“She just isn’t going to play any more.”
Not over yet
Few have the ability to return from a doping ban and win the affection of the sports fans, but Hingis managed to do so. Her singles career was finished, but it paved way for her to dominate the doubles circuit.
After a brief coaching stint with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, she once again came out of retirement in 2013. A year later she was winning titles again and reaching the finals of major tournaments, but this time only in the doubles.
Hingis’ partnership with Sania Mirza ensured that she would rise back to the top. Together the pair was seemingly unstoppable on the tour between 2015-2016, winning 14 titles over a 14-month period.
Since 2014, Hingis has won 27 WTA titles in the women’s doubles. She is currently ranked world No.1 is the discipline, 19 years after she first held that position. Singapore will be the end of her journey after she announced her retirement on Thursday. This time stating that it was her final decision after ending things on her own terms.
Hingis finishes her 23-year career with a total of 43 singles titles, the 10th highest tally by a woman player in the Open era, and 64 in doubles. Her 209-week stint as world No.1 in singles remains the fifth longest period of all time. Hingis and Martina Navratilova are the only players in history to top both the doubles and singles rankings for over 70 weeks.
“I’ll be always part of the game of tennis. Somehow we will be connected.”