It’s not often you see a player transition from the US Open Champions Invitational to the main draws of the tournament, but that’s exactly what Martina Hingis has done.
The former world No. 1 and US Open women’s singles (1997) and doubles (1998) champion competed in the 2011 Champions Invitational alongside former greats of the game like Tracy Austin and Mats Wilander. But after continuing to dominate in the legends events at the Grand Slams, she decided to return to the doubles court in a brief appearance last summer before coming back full time this spring.
The 33-year-old has been enjoying success in her new partnership with Flavia Pennetta of Italy. The pair has dropped just 16 games in their four matches so far, with Hingis putting on a volleying clinic in their 6-4, 6-3 quarterfinal victory Tuesday in the Grandstand over No. 5 seeds Kveta Peschke of Czech Republic and Katarina Srebotnik of Slovenia.
The win marked the first time in 12 years that Hingis has reached the semifinals at a Grand Slam, the last one coming in singles at the 2002 Australian Open.
“It’s a dream coming true right now,” said Hingis. “It’s something that I was hoping for in this comeback and now it’s becoming a reality. I’m just really enjoying the moment.”
After retiring from the tour in 2003 and again in 2007, Hingis continued to remain active by competing in exhibition matches and World TeamTennis. She also began coaching WTA players like Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, but found that her game still matched up with the top players on tour in doubles.
“We played a practice set against (No. 4 seeds) Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova in Madrid and won,” said Hingis. “I thought maybe I still had some matches in me and should try that.”
She paired up with Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia last summer for the Emirates Airline US Open Series. But when she compiled a 3-5 record and suffered her first-ever opening-round defeat at the US Open, then lost in the first round of Indian Wells this March with Sabine Lisicki of Germany, the former world No. 1 considered pulling the plug on her career for a third time.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to put myself out there like this and lose in the first round, second round,” she admitted.
In her next tournament, the following week, Hingis found her top form out of nowhere and won the Sony Open with Lisicki, prompting a committed return. She’s still playing a relatively reduced schedule compared to her peers, focusing mainly on the Grand Slams and other major tournaments, but she plans to play in several events in Asia this fall with Pennetta.
Most importantly, it looks like Hingis is now determined to make the most of her second comeback and said she is back on the tour for the foreseeable future.
“The chemistry is the most important thing in doubles because at the end of the day, you’re never out there alone,” said Hingis. “I feel like I’ve finally found that with Flavia.”