Hingis: India needs role models like Leander and Sania

Martina Hingis is of the view that India can definitely become a destination where top players can come and train the younger crop, and events such as the Champions Tennis League provide the perfect platform.

Martina Hingis... “I was always good at both singles and doubles. Everyone talks about my singles, but I had won more titles in doubles and I had the calendar year slam in doubles."   -  R. Ragu

Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza with the trophy after defeating Garbine Muguruza and Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain in the WTA Finals in Singapore. Hingis says her partnership with Sania Mirza is working beyond expectations.   -  REUTERS

Serena Williams with the trophy after winning the women's singles title at Wimbledon. "To win another six or seven Grand Slam titles in the last two-three years, it is incredible. She had already reached her peak in 2004, when she won the ‘Serena Slam’. Now again, the last two years have been amazing," says Hingis about the American   -  AP

Leander Paes and Martina Hingis with the U.S. Open mixed doubles trophy.   -  AP

Once a teen sensation and winner of five Grand Slam singles titles, Martina Hingis, 35, has had an impressive season in 2015. Along with Sania Mirza (women’s doubles) and Leander Paes (mixed doubles), she went on to win five major doubles titles this year. And even when she is not playing her best tennis, the Swiss appears invincible in the company of Sania and Leander.

Ahead of the match against V Chennai Warriors in the Champions Tennis League, Hingis of Hyderabad Aces, refuses to accept that she is a lucky charm for both Sania and Leander.

“I don’t think you are just a lucky charm. You also have to work on it. Both are champions, it does not just happen, like they have fallen from heaven. There is a lot of hard work involved and it was really nice to play with them. They both come from India; they both are very unique in their own styles, and they are the best at what they do. So, it is nice that I can play with them and I really enjoy the time on and off the court with both of them and it has been working great. I am looking forward to the next season already,” she says.



Both (Sania and Leander) come from India; they both are very unique in their own styles, and they are the best at what they do. So, it is nice that I can play with them and I really enjoy the time on and off the court with both of them.


Hingis is of the view that the young tennis players in India need role models like Leander and Sania to inspire them.

“Here you really need role models like Leander and Sania because you need something to thrive on and feel like ‘somebody else did, so I have the chance to do it as well’. Sania is also helping. She has her own academy and is trying to help young and upcoming players to make it, which is very nice. It is very incredible that they were able to do it after having nothing at all during her time.

“The infrastructure here is incredible. When I came here last year, I saw the infrastructure that India has, like all the stadiums. Switzerland does not have one fixed stadium. I mean we can build it up, but here you have a tennis stadium in every big city, which is unbelievable,” Hingis says.

Talking about sharing a good rapport with Sania and Leander, Hingis recalls the last time she visited India. “For almost three days I was sitting and looking at the race track from the room and I was like, ‘that would be really cool to go there’, and Leander was able to arrange that. That was really nice,” she says.

“I was always good at both — singles and doubles. Everyone talks about the singles, but I had won more titles in doubles and I had the calendar year slam in doubles. I had won nine and now I got 11. I always said that I was a much better doubles players because you only have less court to cover and I always liked playing in a team. Now it has been working beyond my expectation with Sania. It is something incredible and something amazing. That is nice when you have each other and you can work on things and even get better,” Hingis adds.



I was always good at both — singles and doubles. Everyone talks about the singles, but I had won more titles in doubles and I had the calendar year slam in doubles. I had won nine and now I got 11. I always said that I was a much better doubles players because you only have less court to cover and I always liked playing in a team.


 

According to the Swiss, India can definitely become a destination where top players can come and train the younger crop, and events such as the Champions Tennis League provide the perfect platform.

“To come here and not only play well, but compete with the best, it is amazing. We were watching yesterday the match in Mumbai. You see the determination and everyone is fighting and trying. It is a great competition and people are enjoying. It is always nice if the home team wins but it did not happen. Everyone was complaining about the tournament being long but now they have the opportunity of playing with so many international players in the league or in exhibition matches. It is a great tournament. Like I said, I loved it last year and I am looking forward to playing my first match tonight.

“I would not say it is a warm-up to the Australian Open. By the time this is over, you still have a month. I did not play for three weeks. It is nice to come back and compete. I feel like I am missing it already; we have played so much and so many tournaments this year with Sania and Leander. I was like, I want to do something, like play. The CTL was a great experience for me last year and I am happy to be back,” Hingis explains.

‘Roger is a living legend’

Martina believes that Roger Federer still has the capability to win another Grand Slam title. “If time and everything works out, of course it is possible. He has had an incredible year. He has reached semis and finals of most of the slams. He was one of the three players who were able to beat Novak Djokovic. Yes, it is tough to play a very good Djokovic like now, but who knows, things can always happen. People had written him off three years ago and now he is No. 2 in the world. He is a champion. He is a living legend.



“He (Federer) was always a great player. He was probably not a teenage champ; he was more of a late bloomer but I always said that I taught him how to win tournaments. It was his first event that he won. (Laughs) He made it to three finals before and then we won the Hopman Cup, the first big title he won and then we won Sydney together and from there he went on to win few more titles, right?” (Laughs)

Speaking of the possibility of playing mixed doubles in the Olympics with Stan Wawrinka or Federer – whom she would prefer playing with – Hingis says, “Of course, we have talked. They want to make decisions at the end of the year. And I don’t think it is the right question, right here, right now. I am just looking forward to playing, going to the Olympics.”



He (Federer) was always a great player. He was probably not a teenage champ; he was more of a late bloomer but I always said that I taught him how to win tournaments. It was his first event that he won. (Laughs)


On teen champions in men’s singles, Hingis says, “For me it will be hard to talk about men’s but you had Michael Chang and Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras back in those days. I think it is how they train and how they prepare themselves; it is little bit different. But now you have Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis. However, for them to breakthrough right now, to be one of the top four guys, to be World No. 2 or 3, or win a Grand Slam title is very difficult. It is pretty much impossible.”

Hingis is set to face Heather Watson of Great Britain (V Chennai Warriors) in the CTL match on Wednesday evening. In September, when Heather won the U.S. Open junior girls’ title, Nigel Sears, the head of women’s coaching at the Lawn Tennis Association, said he was reminded of Martina Hingis at that age. Reacting to that comment, months later, Hingis says, “I only played her once in doubles, last year in China. I never faced her obviously in singles; she is too young for me to compete against. I followed her career little bit. I am not completely familiar. I also had to Google her yesterday, like YouTube her. (Laughs) I always do that, like what will be my strategy. She is a great runner and all-around court player. I don’t want to say everything because that is strategy for tonight. I was looking her up definitely. She’s got great talent. I hope I can take advantage of her weakness tonight, if there is one.” (Laughs)

‘I am proud of my achievements’

Hingis is of the view that it is very difficult being a teen champion. “At my time, everyday was young. You had Steffi Graf, Arantxa Sanchez, Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati, we all were in our teens and champions. Monica was only a year older when she became No. 1. Steffi, may be, was two years older. Of course, I am proud of being the youngest and having all the records. When you look back, it is incredible of what I achieved. Now it is very hard to do the same things. I would say it is impossible. Most of the girls may be physically ready but mentally to breakthrough at 16 and participate at that level and have the standards of winning tournaments, over and over again, is not that easy. They might win once or twice here and there but to have a steady full year is not easy and also the rules have changed. Yes, I am proud of my achievements and it has been a great career that I can look back to,” she says.

“I talk to Lindsay (Davenport) one day and she is like ‘I won my first Grand Slam title when I was 21 or 22’ and everyone was putting pressure on her because she was past 20s and everyone was like ‘she is so old you know’. She said that the pressure was mounting because she was one of the late bloomers but she ended up winning three Grand Slams titles and she was also World No. 1,” Hingis says.

She adds: “I was able to play tournaments when I was 14 and everything happened early and then they put rules that you have to play more as a junior and most of the girls then lose two-four years. Belinda (Bencic) is one of the few to have made it right now and she is No. 14 in the world but it is also because she is not free to decide. At 15-16, if we were playing at the women’s level, we were allowed to be free to decide. Yes, I was also allowed to play only a few tournaments, but these girls have to continue to play a certain number of tournaments and they lose couple of years in between. At one point they are No. 1 in juniors and then they have to start again at the senior level.

“It is that time that you progress the most — from 16s to your 20s — this is like the time that you can learn and learn from mistakes as well.”



I am proud of being the youngest and having all the records. When you look back, it is incredible of what I achieved. Now it is very hard to do the same things. I would say it is impossible. Most of the girls may be physically ready but mentally to breakthrough at 16 and participate at that level and have the standards of winning tournaments, over and over again, is not that easy.


Hingis feels that the game has undergone changes, but not too much. She says: “The game has not changed too much. The Williams have been there for almost 20 years now. They have been there when I played. Serena is tough, and neither can you say Monica Seles was a soft hitter. Even Steffi was the best athlete during her time.

“Today you see everyone progressing, the racquets, the balls, the surfaces, everything has had an evolution. Probably we all play better today than we did then but it was a different time. You have to try to go with the time.”

 

On comparing Serena Williams with Steffi Graf, Hingis says it is very difficult. “First of all, it is a different generation. If they would have played against each other, I don’t know what would have been the head-to-head results, but I think both of them have completely different games. Serena definitely is unbelievable. To win another six or seven Grand Slam titles in the last two-three years, it is incredible. She had already reached her peak in 2004, when she won the ‘Serena Slam’. Now again, the last two years have been amazing. For me it was hard to play both of them. One was like a physical player and the other was tough mentally. They are both two different champions,” she says.

‘Radwanska and Halep can win Grand Slam titles’

Speaking about having a woman power-player on the tour, and being World No. 1 for more than 200 weeks, Hingis says, “We had Justine after me who was a great player and winning Grand Slams and who was able to beat the power-players. Now, someone who will probably be similar is Agnieszka Radwanska and Simona Halep and she is World No. 2 and not bad either. It is always tough to play when you have someone like Serena opposite you in the semis or finals of a Grand Slam. I have always said, to beat someone like them, it is easier to beat them in the first three rounds of the tournament but not later in the tournament because sometimes you struggle in the initial phase of a tournament.

“These two girls still have opportunities and they can win a Grand Slam and everything clicks. Radwanska was able to win the WTA Tour Championships Finals in Singapore, her biggest win so far. We will see what happens next year.”

Martina says she regrets not winning the 1999 French Open final more than not winning the calendar Grand Slam in 1997. “You cannot always turn back time. Who knows what would have happened. Had I won French Open, may be I would have been too tired for Wimbledon. I will have more regrets of losing in 1999 because in 1997, I came back after a knee surgery. So five-six weeks later, I was back on court playing at Roland Garros. I was not even quite sure whether I could play at all but I reached the final. It was almost like winning the Grand Slam for me at that time to come back after missing out six weeks of tournament, so making the final was a big relief.”

Talking of the infamous underhand serve against Stefi Graff in the 1999 French Open final, Hingis says: “Why not? Sometimes you try to work with all the weapons you have, right? Chang has done it too and he ended up winning. I was down match points, so, nothing to lose anymore.”

 

Hingis surely does not have plans to play for long like Martina Navratilova. “I don’t think so. You never say never, but depends. I always liked the coaching part. I always enjoyed spending time on court, so who knows? I might be on the tour but in a different way.”

Beating Williams sisters one of my career highlights’

Speaking of her favourite memories, Hingis says, “There are many great memories. You can play great matches and still lose. Some of the greatest matches I have played at the Australian Open and beating the Williams sisters back-to-back, that is probably one of my highlights because I was only able to do it once or twice. I had to beat Serena first and then beat Venus. That was easier because if I beat Venus first and then face Serena, she would seek revenge and that would not be easy.”



I admire her (Amelie Mauresmo). How she accepted and she was able to do it (become Andy Murray's coach). I don’t think I can. I did help a few when I was in the academy, but to be touring on the men’s tour, I don’t think I would want to do that.


While admiring Amelie Mauresmo for taking up the job of coaching Andy Murray, the former World No. 1 says she does not feel she will ever get into coaching men. “I admire her. How she accepted and she was able to do it. I don’t think I can. I did help a few when I was in the academy. Jeremy (Chardy) came up to me and asked whether I could help him on the backhand or something, but to be touring on the men’s tour, I don’t think I would want to do that. If someone comes up to me and asks me for help, then I am willing to help and the gender does not matter. I think I pretty well know about some of the things in tennis and that is what made me strong and that is why I am still there. I think technique is one of the priorities and I always had a very good technique and so if anyone is asking for help, I am willing to help.”

Talking of India, Hingis says the country has a lot to offer. “You have to go out shopping. It was really nice wearing a saree for the opening night. It is a beautiful country to visit and not just the cities, but the nature outside. This is my first time here in Chennai and I am really enjoying my time here.

Hingis’ must buy: “Pashmina shawls.”

Hingis’ must visit: “I still have not been to the Taj Mahal. So that is one of the places I would love to visit.”