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Hingis Aces Wimbledon Final

By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 6, 1997; Page D1

WIMBLEDON, England, July 5—Martina Hingis may not have arrived here with the fondest of feelings for Wimbledon—for its rain, or its grass, or its insistence that she play a style of tennis she doesn't much like. That did not stop her from claiming it for herself this afternoon.

Martina Hingis
Seed, ranking: 1, 1
Age: 16
Hits: Right-handed
Home town: Trubbach, Switzerland
Data: Has won three of five meetings with Novotna. . . . Reached first Wimbledon final without losing a set in six matches. . . . This is her 10th consecutive appearance in a final, having won seven tournaments. . . . Won first Grand Slam singles title at 1997 Australian Open, becoming the youngest woman in the 20th century to win a Grand Slam singles title at 16 years 3 months 26 days. . . . Became the youngest Wimbledon champion when, at 15 years 282 days, she won the 1996 doubles title with Helena Sukova, breaking the record Charlotte "Lottie" Dodd set by winning the Wimbledon singles title in 1887 at 15 years 285 days. . . . Coach is mother, Melanie Molitor.

Jana Novotna
Seed, ranking: 3, 3
Age: 28
Hits: Right-handed
Home town: Brno, Czech Republic
Data: Has lost three sets in six matches en route to final. . . . Has won 16 career singles titles. . . . Lost to Steffi Graf in 1993 Wimbledon final in three sets, later dissolving into tears during the trophy presentation. . . . Has won 64 career doubles titles. . . . Won 1996 Olympic bronze medal in singles. . . . Coached by former tour player Hana Mandlikova since 1990.
Still too young to know how to celebrate tennis's most prestigious title—at least not without studying Steffi Graf—the 16-year-old Hingis proved that she clearly is old enough to win it with her 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Jana Novotna. Faced with Hingis's smart and versatile game, Novotna failed to dull her emotional loss to Graf in the 1993 final here, and instead became the foil for the youngest Wimbledon champion this century.

A novice to All England club decorum, Switzerland's Hingis accepted the Rosewater Dish from the Duke and Duchess of Kent, then did what she had seen Graf, a seven-time champion, do—she took it for a lap around Centre Court.

"I saw that a couple of times Steffi was doing it on TV when I watched her, so I was just trying to do the same thing," said Hingis, who lost to Graf in her first Wimbledon, last summer. "All the people, they stood up and I almost felt like crying because it really happened to me."

Hingis admitted today that when Graf beat her, she thought about winning here once the German wasn't around. It was the third-seeded Novotna, though, who really fantasized about what would happen now that Graf—her chief nemesis, and the game's best current grass-court player—is in Austria, hobbled by a bad knee that might end her career. Novotna, after all, is the one who loves Wimbledon, loves grass, and loves to play the serve-and-volley game that flourishes here.

But Graf's former ladies-in-waiting (Novotna and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario chief among them) are unhappily learning that there is a 16-year-old princess who already has staked claim to the throne Graf has vacated. And she cares not a whit whether they think she's too young for the job.

"When she is not on the court she is acting very much like a normal teenager, but on the other hand she knows very much what she's doing," Novotna said. "I think that when she's out there she wants to win." There were no tears for Novotna, no repeat of the crying jag she had on the Duchess's shoulder after she lost a 4-1 third-set lead to Graf in 1993. And, for one who seemed to show so little enthusiasm for the Wimbledon mystique, Hingis reacted to her match-point success like a teenager who had just been handed the keys to her first car.

Of course, that car happens to be of Rolls Royce quality, and, at 16 years 9 months, Hingis is the youngest woman to win it since Charlotte "Lottie" Dodd did so well before even the Model T was invented—in 1887. "Maybe I'm too young to win this title," Hingis said, as she groped for words to describe her feelings. "I think when I stood there, there was this great atmosphere, the crowd was just unbelievable, and I felt this was one of my biggest chances to win this tournament."

Always sublimely self-confident, and often smilingly smug, Hingis today walked around the court in the first set like she had no interest in the much-coveted platter the Duchess was waiting to present. Novotna taught Hingis a few grass-court lessons in the first eight games, and seemed ready to burst with excitement when she closed out the first set, 6-2.

"I felt like a beginner out there in the first set," Hingis said. "She just was the leader in this match."

What makes Hingis the world's best player, though, is how well she learns her lessons, and how she she maintains her poise. Perhaps she doesn't feel comfortable playing serve-and-volley tennis—baseline is her game—but that doesn't mean she does not play it well. And when she started mixing her down-the-line backhands with cross-court volley winners, Novotna found herself facing more weapons than she could handle.

Still, it took Hingis five set points before she closed the door on the second set—and she had to fend off three break points in the process—and after she got broken to go down 0-2 in the third, she bounced her racket off the ground in a teenage pout.

The match turned, though, when Novotna had a point to go up 3-0 and Hingis ran down a backhand and hit a tremendous passing shot. She went on to break Novotna on a forehand pass, and ran off four more games to take a 5-2 lead.

Novotna seemed to fade in the seventh game, when she lost her service at love, the final point on a double fault. But she summoned the strength to break Hingis in the next game, and survived one match point before Hingis broke her with a cross-court passing shot to claim her second Grand Slam title.

"It had a lot to do with the injury," said Novotna, who retired from the women's doubles because of a pulled stomach muscle and was attended to during changeovers today. "I was coming into this match injured and I wasn't really sure how long I would last out there."

Novotna may have used her injury as an excuse, but she also made a point of heaping compliments on Hingis. And Hingis, in turn, gushed about how Novotna—a three-time Grand Slam runner-up—"deserved" to win Wimbledon one day.

Those words were almost an echo of what the Duchess said to Novotna, when she awarded her the runner-up platter on Centre Court. Fond of Novotna ever since her loss to Graf in 1993, the Duchess told the Czech today that she should come back to the final next summer, because the third time's the charm.

"She was really nice," said Novotna, 28, "but I told her that you have to realize that I'm getting a little bit old."

That was something of an odd statement coming from a woman known for her strength and fitness. Then again, on this particular day, against this particular opponent, who can blame Novotna if she was feeling her age?

Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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