Thursday, June 29, 2006

Martina Hingis wins over Savchuk

Trash-talking Hingis set for next step

Matthew Cronin /

"Matthew Cronin says while her opponents probably aren't thrilled that the highly opinionated Hingis is back, she's a legit contender to recapture her Wimbledon glory of 1997."

WIMBLEDON - On the day that Roger Federer broke Bjorn Borg's grass court match win streak with his 42nd consecutive win, another beloved champion from Switzerland, Martina Hingis, had fans singing her praises.

Hingis, the 1997 champion, is playing her first Wimbledon since her desultory first-round exit in 2001, and is hoping that she's a real contender here.

She's had a fine, yet unspectacular, comeback to the tour this season after taking more than three years off due to injury and burnout.

She's gradually improved month after month, but has convinced no one that her legs and lungs are strong enough yet to contend with the other elite players in two-week long Grand Slams.

But Wimbledon could be different, because the points on grass are much shorter and she won't have to go sideline to sideline chasing down sizzling bombs like she did at the Australian and French Opens when she was beaten up by the stronger and faster Kim Clijsters in the quarterfinals.

At Wimbledon, she's hoping that her quick hands, sound volleys and intelligent overall play will be good enough against any other main contender.

"It's mentally more intense," she said, after scoring a 6-2, 6-2 win over Olga Savchuk, "You have to bend your knees, that's for sure. If you're not going to do that, you're nowhere. I've been practicing that (indoors). But indoors, still you're not forced to do it as much as probably here on grass, to just really be that low. It's so much up in the head, the mental focus is so important as well. It can just turn against you, like in an instant. If you're not watching, one or two shots, you lose a break, it's hard to come back from that here."

Hingis has always had a quick wit and sharp tongue. She's says she matured a lot since she was a teenager trading barbs with the Williams sisters, but given a chance to criticize others, she rarely backs off when she feels that someone else is severely wrong.

After her win on Tuesday, she was asked why there are so many players out there with who only bring out sheer power, rather than great technique, like she and fellow five-time Grand Slam champion Justine Henin-Hardenne bring to the table.

"Myself, I do not respect many of the coaches who are out there because I don't think they're doing the right thing with the girls," said Hingis, who is coached by her mother, Melanie. "I don't know what the reason is, whether they're not watching or why they do things that are technically incorrect. But everyone has their own way how they got there. They don't teach the girls the right things, what's played today. If you watch Federer, who's playing really the top notch tennis out there, I think you always have to learn from the best. He is the best, so you better watch him and try to learn from that."

It was an amazing criticism from Hingis, who despite the questioner's fawning praise, is not a completely technically correct player. The way she hits both her forehand and serve leaves a lot to be desired in the technical department. For example, why did her mother insist on teaching her an open-stance forehand when she's too small and is therefore lacking in enough upper body strength to be able to properly deliver sufficient power on the shot?

But that aside, exactly who is Hingis referring to when she says that others are badly coached. The Williams sisters, who are coached by their parents and own 12 Grand Slam titles between them? Maria Sharapova, who strikes a very clean ball and like another former student of coach Robert Lansdorp, Lindsay Davenport, has also won Wimbledon? Was it Clijsters, who does have her share of technical glitches, but who did win the 2005 U.S. Open and just dusted Hingis twice?

No matter, because once the rest of the tour finds out what she said, Hingis will be topical enemy No. 1 when the coaches sit down for lunch, and maybe in the top five amongst the sensitive players.

But that's OK for Hingis, who lives for confrontation, which is why she came back to the tour in the first place. She loves to face off, on court and off.

The 25-year-old also loves to be loved and for the first time in her career, she's being wildly applauded. Playing Savchuk on Court 2 (the so-called graveyard) she was thrilled when fans began to sing the theme song from Top Gun, "Danger Zone."

"They were pretty good, too," she said. "It was special. I don't think that happens all the time. It happened to me for the first time, especially here at Wimbledon."

Anyone who knows Hingis, including her hard-driving mother, knows that Martina won't be satisfied with being a secondary player. She's not tooting her own horn with regards to how far she can go in England, only saying that she's "wishing for more and better."

She's got a terrific draw to the quarterfinals, where she'll likely have to face the red-hot Henin-Hardenne, one of the top three favorites with Venus and Sharapova.

She's lost to her already this year, but on a great day, if the Belgian is feeling a little put out, Hingis has a legend's chance to pull off an upset.

Just ask Federer, who is as smitten with her as she is with him.

"I'm very impressed," he said. "Here she is, in the top 15 already. She breaks all the records she sets herself. She doesn't just say it, she does it, too."


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