I Never Liked Martina Hingis, But I Learned To Appreciate Her Work - UBITENNIS
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I Never Liked Martina Hingis, But I Learned To Appreciate Her Work

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When I first got interested (now addicted) to tennis, the player I liked the most was Venus Williams. She looked like me and was beginning to utterly dominate her opponents. Except Martina Hingis. Whom I did not like.

My first memory about Hingis involved Venus’ beads. You might recall that Venus was having a bit of trouble with the hair situation back in the ‘90s. Her beads would fall out, which would lead to point penalties. This happened against Hingis at a tournament in 1997, and she (get this) walks into the press conference with one of Venus’ beads and tossed it out to reporters. As a present, she said. So I did not like Martina Hingis.

As a side note, you know who else I didn’t like was Lindsay Davenport. Lindsay Davenport is an American, like the Williams sisters, and she was out there in the media talking about how she and Hingis have formed a united front against one of my all-time favorite players. (Hingis is from another country. Hi, Lindsay!)

You know, I only started liking Martina Hingis when the sisters Williams, especially Venus, were able to turn the tide and beat Hingis. I liked watching Serena Williams win her first U.S. Open title against Hingis. Didn’t mind too much when she’d have to pull out of a tournament with injury. (That sounds mean, but so does throwing out my favorite player’s beads at a press conference to mock her.) It was quite satisfying to watch Hingis leave the court in tears when she lost the French Open.

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I liked making fun of her as she played as often as possible, trying to gather up enough points to hold on to her No. 1 ranking. That was because she was falling more often to the power players of the time.

If my petty levels were set just a bit higher back then, I might have noticed that Hingis was actually a very good player. She was smart and survived on guile against players who relied on power far more than she should have. She used all of the court. She was three moves ahead of her opponent for most of her early career and it would have been amazing to watch.

If I had liked her. And I did not.
The first time she retired in 2003, due to injury, I was good with it. Didn’t miss her for a second. My girl Venus had finally started winning Grand Slams. Then Hingis came back a couple of years later and it was time for a new round of fun for me, watching her lose to my new favorites – Kim Clijsters and Victoria Azarenka.

I admit I tittered a little bit when she retired yet again, prompted by a two-year drug suspension. Even still, it was too bad, I thought, that her career might be defined by such a black mark. But c’est la vie, correct? Don’t do the line if you don’t want to do the time.

By the time, she had returned to the game in 2013 (the year she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame), she was focused on playing doubles, a game I had begun to enjoy myself as a recreational player. I preferred singles, but any pickup match I played at my local courts was usually doubles. No one wanted to play singles except me, so I played doubles.

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Doubles, in case you don’t play tennis, isn’t like singles. In singles, it’s all on you, which seems easy enough. You set the strategy and considering who my favorite player was at the time, my plan usually involved hitting the ball as hard as I could. That didn’t always go well. But I did not like doubles at first. You can hit the hardest, but it doesn’t always mean you’ll win. Now, instead of one person, you have to navigate the court with two people, plus another person on your side whose job, it appears, is really to get in your way. But I also didn’t understand doubles. So I lost at doubles a lot and I was trying to figure out how to play it. I was tired of losing in doubles to the same people.

So anyway, Martina Hingis. She returned again in 2013 and I assumed she was doomed to fail. How could it go any other way? I mean, she still had her same powderpuff serve!

She didn’t fail. She taught Sania Mirza how to play doubles. That’s my opinion. But I think I can back it up. Just watch Mirza in doubles before Martina and watch her now. They were utterly dominant – in 2015, they started a run of three straight doubles titles, starting with Wimbledon. I know because I watched all of it.

Right now, in fact, as I write, I’m watching Hingis’ last match again – her alleged last match. I don’t quite believe she’s quitting, because I don’t like that she is.

I know. I know.
But things change. People change. For instance, I really enjoy doubles now. It’s a lot more challenging than singles. So many angles, strategies, options. Did you know you can win a match without trying to hit the cover off the ball? You can lob, use drop shots (even off of service returns. Sorry) and vary ball pace to keep your opponent off-balance. It’s actually more fun than singles, I think. I’m not totally sure. I haven’t played singles in at least a year.

People change. And when you change, you start to appreciate some things more than you used to. For example, you note how difficult it must be to return to a public stage after a degree of humiliation after a failed drug test. It must be harder still to do that and come back to cement your status and make even more history than you did when you were 15. You appreciate just how boss it is to end your career among the best players in your game – with you on top as No. 1. Again.

You also realize that you’re actually older by a few years than Hingis, which means that yes, tossing beads to mock someone is childish, but she was a child. You also realize that there is at least one person willing to forgive that transgression, so maybe you could get over it, too.

Still, it would be a stretch to say that I like Martina Hingis. But I learned a lot while hate-watching her matches – that the serve isn’t everything (but honestly, girl, you could have worked on that serve. Look at Justine Henin), that although tennis is a physical sport, it is also 99.962 percent mental, that doubles tennis is not inferior to singles, that one stumble doesn’t have to define a career, or a life. That’s all up to you.

So thanks, Martina. Happy retirement. Please, please go do something about that serve.

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Of Novak Djokovic, A Champion And Above All A Great Man

The Serbian donated one million euros to the hospitals in Bergamo, and did so without publicity. This is a great example of the great person he is, despite the crowd abuse he had to endure at Wimbledon against Federer. His authenticity has always been there, all the way since those Players Parties in Monte Carlo.

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Novak Djokovic did something amazing, and the unprompted nature of his act did all but magnify his gallantry.

 

I’ve met him a few times, for instance when I was invited to the Players Party in Monte Carlo as either a comedic advisor or even as an actor, and I have to say that, whether one can like his brand of tennis which is – perfunctory to say – extraordinary, to be able to witness the charm, the spontaneity, and the effort he put in his duties as dancer, singer, and all-around showman, reinforced my first impression of him as a genuinely decent guy, not a conceited persona. This is why I always thought the attitude of the crowd during the last Wimbledon final against Federer to be utterly disgraceful to say the least. It’s one thing to choose a champion to cheer for, and another to disrespect his opponent, to the point of taking away from him the joys of victory and celebration. And as a matter of fact, Nole barely acknowledged his success. Sure, he will have thoroughly enjoyed it in his heart, but some bitterness must have crept in – and this is just unfair.

Many have said that Novak is constantly hurt by the greater popularity of Federer and Nadal, who had a head start in seizing the love of tennis fans, and then could live off it as with a trust fund. I don’t think Nole is jealous of his rivals. However, it is only human that he wishes for his humane side to be acknowledged a little more, as it happens in Serbia, where he is second to none in the estimation of his people. This happens in Italy as well, for the most part, thanks to his fluency in the language that allows him to fully be himself wherever he goes, be it in stand-up comedy skits, at music festivals, or simply among the crowd. When he says that Italy is his second home, he says it sincerely, and that is true for his wife Jelena too, since she studied in Milan. When he says it, he’s not pandering to Roger and Rafa’s fans, he knows that they won’t switch sides. He has no obligation to say it, he does because he means it. Every single tournament winner thanks the organisers and the crowd, claiming that it’s the best event that could possibly be, we know it, it’s part of the game. But Djokovic, who loves Rome and its tournament, and is loved by the city in return, doesn’t mince words when he says that some things could and should be improved, especially in terms of court maintenance – his honesty should be appreciated.

We should also be more accepting of the diplomacy that his political role in the ATP Council entails at times, leading him to leave some questions unanswered. I don’t always agree with what Novak says, such as during the Gimelstob affair, at least initially. At the same time, though, it can’t be easy for a man in his position to pick a side during a quarrel like the one happening between the ATP Cup (backed by Tennis Australia) and the Davis Cup, a competition he has an unbreakable bond with, because of what it meant for him and for Serbia when they won it in 2010, changing the trajectory of his career for good, and for the better.

He’s stated publicly that he’s in favour of the creation of a single team event, but he knows very well that the interests at stake – involving multi-year contracts signed by Tennis Australia on one side, and by the ITF, Piqué, and Rakuten on the other – are not easily reconcilable, and thus he knows very well that his statement might sound hypocritical or utopian. However, being a “politician” of tennis, he’s aware that what he said is what the fans who do not have any economic agendas wish for, namely one competition that wouldn’t betray too much the storied past of the Davis Cup.

Well, I got caught up in the writing as usual, even if I was doing it on my phone with the idea of putting on paper just a couple lines (!) to commend Novak on his incredible gesture, and this is even more noticeable since I can only use one finger while writing on my phone (my children write at supersonic speed, and I have no idea how). All I wanted to do was to thank Novak Djokovic for being such a great champion, and even more for being such a great man. All that’s left to say is… NOT TOO BAD! To Nole,

Ubaldo

P.S. I’ll always regret missing the chance to play with him in Australia, when he told me, “Bring your racquet tomorrow!” Just one minute of that heinous spectacle of personal embarrassment would have been enough for me to be contented with myself! Alas, the temperature reached 40 degrees and the humidity was such that all outdoors play was suspended, and naturally I had no way to get onto the indoors ones between matches. That night Nole all but apologized and said: “We’ll do it in Rome then!”

Article translated from ubitennis.com by Tommaso Villa

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Tennis In The Time Of Covid-19

There will be tennis again, but along the way there should be memories of triumphs that rise above the challenges that these times engender. Existence can hinge on more than tennis, but the game will survive a pandemic with a lot of patience and ingenuity.

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By Cheryl Jones

It’s April. Tennis hasn’t been cancelled, but it’s been sidelined by something much bigger than the sport itself. The Covid-19 virus has taken center stage. It’s doubtful that Rafael Nadal will be taking his yearly bite out of the Coupe des Mousquetaires, even though Roland Garros has merely been rescheduled for September. Paris’ delay could eventually lead to cancellation, gauging the way things are now. Roger Federer is likely having mixed feelings about the cancellation of most major events that he was planning to skip anyway, having had knee surgery quite recently. Andy Murray has probably been weighing the events of the day, trying to decide if he should retire and become an expert on the rare species of bats that have taken up residence on his property – or maybe not.

 

There’s a likelihood that the stars of the tennis world are doing just what everyone else is doing – sheltering in place, reading that book that’s been on the shelf gathering dust, or maybe like Federer trying to hit balls against a wall to get back into condition. Of course it is snowing and windy and cold in Switzerland this time of year, but as Chaucer once said – time waits for no man. Evidently, not even Roger Federer.

Having a good deal of time on my hands, having read three of those dusty books and missing tennis, my mind began to wander. I thought about others that were confined to their homes, much as I am here in Southern California. Because this was a rather unplanned sequestering, most folks have had to make-do with what they have on hand.

Last week, ESPN, hungry for sports news, where thanks to the virus, none exists, showed Federer hitting balls against a backboard on his private court. I imagined that he had to make sure there were no gut strings involved that would grow gummy in the wet and wild weather. Then I thought, what if his supply of synthetic strings ran low? A crafty guy like Federer would have something on hand. He would have known that he needed to rehab and there should have been a way to make that happen. What better way to get in shape for tennis than with tennis?

I imagined that he called his good friend Rafa and the two of them surely would have chatted about the dilemma Roger was having. He needed to rehab, but he had way too much gut and not enough synthetic string. As problems go, this should have been inconsequential, in the scheme of things, but it wasn’t. They both knew that their livelihood should not depend on the lack of suitable manmade product. The chitchat that the two greats exchanged would have been light and airy – How are the kids? How about the newlyweds? How’s the fishing going? Kids are fine; marriage is fine; fishing isn’t what it once was, but life is good. Wait – fishing… Rafa might have remembered that he left a tackle box in Roger’s huge garage. Recalling the contents, he would have said, “Check the stash of fishing line, No?”

A glimmer of hope would have painted a smile on Roger’s face and off he would go to check the garage for the tackle box. Looking in every crevice of the space that was carefully catalogued and organized for convenience, he might finally have spotted the box. It was filled with hooks and lures. Not much in the way of fishing line, but when he moved the top drawer, there under it all, was a supply of fishing line. It would have been cold out there. Roger would have stuffed his pockets with spools of various test weights. (Fishing line is gauged by the size of fish it could be strong enough to reel in.)

He would have jogged back into the house, thrilled with his find. After all, the sporting goods stores were all on hiatus because the places had been declared non-essential businesses. The thought of that had left him muttering about who made those decisions? But, he would have headed for his stringing machine, hoping all the while for a miracle.

He would have tried the 16-pound test line first. It was easy to evenly string the test racquet he had selected. But when he struck a ball, it nearly sliced the little green orb into pieces. By then, his wife, Mirka would have entered the picture and procured the strangely strung racquet for slicing hardboiled eggs to make uniquely cubed egg salad sandwiches. With those snacks, their four kids would have memories to share with their own children, someday. Who but a child of the father of an invention could have been so lucky?

A determined Roger would have moved on to another test case (or test racquet) then. He would next have tried the 40-pound test. The curly string would have been a clear example of over-kill, but he persevered. After it had seemed satisfactory, the excited Federer would have swiftly donned his outside clothing and ambled to the soggy court. In mere seconds, his racquet would have been immune to the wet, icy air. He would have swatted ball after ball toward his anxious opponent – the wall. Satisfied to having solved his pressing issues, at least for the day, he would have again dialed up his Spanish friend. The line would have crackled and a friendly voice would have answered, No?

Yes! Would surely have been Roger’s reply. The two friends would have marveled at their ability to think outside the box, even though the solution had been in the tackle box all along.

There will be tennis again, but along the way there should be memories of triumphs that rise above the challenges that these times engender. Existence can hinge on more than tennis, but the game will survive a pandemic with a lot of patience and ingenuity.

 

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The Corona Impasse: What Effect Will It Have On The Careers Of Federer, Williams, The Bryans, Nadal, and Djokovic?

We’ve witnessed the retirement of several players over the last two years (Berdych, Ferrer, Almagro, Baghdatis, …). Many thought that the same would have happened in 2020, but that might not be the case any more.

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Roger Federer e Rafa Nadal - Wimbledon 2019 (foto via Twitter, @wimbledon)
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Caveat lector. All those who, after reading the title, are about to accuse me, to accuse us of click-baiting, those are invited to refrain from reading.

 

We are simply trying to discuss themes that we notice to be in the minds of the fans, and we are trying to relieve them from the more or less catastrophic updates they are bombarded with on a daily basis, at a time when actual tennis will be off limits for God knows how long.

I also warn those who are still reading, out of intellectual honesty, that I have no evidence to support the hypotheses I’m going to make in the few lines – however, I’m relying on predictions coming from inside the tennis microcosm. Most of these were made very recently, I might add, up until the cancellation of Indian Wells (feels like a century ago already!), and they appeared extremely reliable. Said predictions obviously don’t apply anymore, but I still think that some friendly and useful debate might spring, starting from a few considerations floating in my brain.

I’d like to begin by reminding the readers that, between 2019 and the dawn of the 2020 season, the unexpected Kim Clijsters comeback was counterpointed by many retirements of noted players, starting with a pair of perennial Top Tenners, David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych, joined in tennis Benidorm by Nicolas Almagro, Marcos Baghdatis (all former Top 10 players), but also Victor Estrella Burgos and Max Mirnyi, and that’s just on the men’s side.

As for females, the obvious star is Maria Sharapova, but also Sweet Caroline Wozniacki and Dominika Cibulkova. In 2018, we said goodbye to Tommy Haas, Francesca Schiavone, Roberta Vince, Karin Knapp, Nadia Petrova, Gilles Muller, Florian Mayer, Mikhail Youzhny, and I’m probably forgetting more and more.

But what was going to happen over the rest of the 2020 season and beyond? How many would have ridden off into the sunset this year?

Well, the twin rulers of doubles, Bob and Mike Bryan (119 and 124 titles, respectively) announced that they would stop after the US Open, after spending 438 weeks, as joint leaders of the ATP Rankings (although Mike actually spent 506 weeks at the top), with a streak of 139 consecutive weeks – record on record. Bonus one: they also concluded ten seasons as the world’s best. We know what’s going on in New York, and so the US Open might not take place, even if postponed.

Pedalling backwards, after the 41 years of age of the Bryans (they’ll turn 42 on April 29) we find Venus Ebony Williams, who turns 40 on June 17.

Despite winning 7 Slams out of 16 finals (5 at Wimbledon), Venus reached the N.1 spot on three different occasions but for a meagre total of 11 weeks, a chasm between her and Serena, who’s been on the throne for 319 weeks (nine more than Federer!) and has surely prevented her from doing it herself on more than one occasion.

A year ago, Venus implied to me that her goal was to play in the Olympics once more. Having already bagged four gold medals (like her sister), once in singles and thrice as a pair (with a mixed doubles silver medal on the side), Venus is the only tennis player who can boast a medal at four different Olympics (from Sydney onwards), and if she’d gotten one in Tokyo her record would have probably become even more unbreakable – let’s remember that she and Serena never lost a Slam final in the doubles.

Her spirit wasn’t broken by two defeats she suffered against a girl who might be her daughter (Coco Gauff beat her at the Championships and in Australia), at least not to the point of declaring herself ready to hang her racquet. However, even if the rankings are frozen by the virus, she’s now stuck at the 67th spot, and I’d be extremely surprised if the postponement of the Tokyo Games hasn’t made her call it a career.

Speaking of Tokyo, we know that the Olympics are now delayed till 2021 (even though the Japanese don’t want the 2020 branding to end up in a waste-bin), but we don’t know exactly when they’ll take place. Some think they might happen in June (when the UEFA Euros will also be played); some say March, when the simultaneous progress of the Sunshine Double would effectively behead the tennis event in Japan or spell a second doom for at least one event; some say they will happen in the same dates that were slated this year.

PAGE 2: WILL ROGER FEDERER AND SERENA STILL BE PLAYING IN 2021?

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