Martina Hingis, thriving with Washington Kastles, readies for return to WTA doubles circuit


Martina Hingis, 32, won five Grand Slam singles titles and was No. 1 in the world before retiring in 2003 following a series of injuries. This year she has starred for the Washington Kastles of World Team Tennis and will play WTA Tour doubles. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

If you’re wondering whether Martina Hingis is ready for a successful comeback to the WTA tour, you’re not the only one.

“I can’t tell,” she said with a laugh when asked about her expectations. “I hope it goes well.”

Hingis, 32, a former world No. 1 in singles, plans to return to the tour to play doubles with Daniela Hantuchova at five events leading up to the U.S. Open in early September.

While she hasn’t played at a WTA event since 2007, Hingis hasn’t exactly been idle.

She recently was named World Team Tennis’s female MVP for the second straight season, propelling the Washington Kastles to Sunday evening’s league championship against the Andy Roddick-led Springfield Lasers at Kastles Stadium. She also has coached and played exhibition matches, all while contemplating a return to the sport’s top level.

“I’ve been thinking about it for the past five years,” Hingis said. “I didn’t have the courage, I would say.”

Such a statement might be hard to believe coming from a woman who first won a Grand Slam singles title at 16 and reached seven Grand Slam singles finals while she was still a teenager. She also won nine Grand Slam doubles titles from 1996 to 2002, including all four majors in 1998.

But Hingis always has been one to say what she means. Throughout her career, she could be as glib and raw with her words off the court as she was crafty and calculated with her shots on it.

Since her induction to the International Tennis Hall of Fame earlier this month, Hingis has given reflective interviews, spent time with some of tennis’s all-time greats and had a chance to look back with a video made to celebrate her induction.

“I’ve seen it three times now!” Hingis said with a laugh. “I like looking at it. It’s nice to go back in time and just through the changes that I’ve gone through. Even now I think, ‘Wow, I was really young!’ ”

She admits the combination of youth and fame had its pitfalls.

“When you’re 16, 17, 18, you’re like, ‘This is cool,’ right? You want to experience the other side of the world and life, too. . . . So many things that you’re invited to, events you can go to. You meet some amazing people and see unbelievable places,” Hingis said. “Sometimes it’s hard to just stay focused on what you have to do.”

The job of focusing Hingis often fell to her mother and coach, Melanie Molitor, who marked her daughter for tennis greatness when she named her after Martina Navratilova.

“Without [my mother], I would never have taken it that far,” Hingis said.

“We always tried to keep tennis and regular life separate,” Molitor said. “The attention that she got was because of her tennis, and I would tell Martina that her tennis life had little to do with her regular life.

. . . The fame that came with success was less important. Developing Martina into the best tennis player she could be was what mattered.”

Asked whether she could keep up with the stars of today, Hingis cited a World Team Tennis set she played against the Texas Wild’s 19-year-old Eugenie Bouchard, No. 55 in the world and as Hingis called her, “the future of tennis today.” Hingis dominated that set, 5-1.

“Well, I guess I did” keep up, she said with a confident smile and more than a touch of knowing sarcasm. “It’s different to play only one or two sets, but I think I hold myself above water.”

Still, Hingis is as realistic about her physical limitations as she is confident in her abilities and is quick to point out the difference between returning to the doubles circuit as opposed to singles competition.

“Doubles is not as physical than singles. It’s like two different worlds. You only have half court to cover,” she said.

“We’re just going to give it a try and see how far it’s going to take us. You never know. We could lose first round!”

Another knowing smile.

“I hope that’s not going to happen.”

Chelsea Janes covers the Nationals for The Washington Post.
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