Hingis determined to live for the moment

John Roberts watches an awesome display signal a new era
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The Independent Online
Martina Hingis, who today becomes the youngest ever world No 1, aged 16 years, six months and one day, treats expressions of concern with an air of disdain not dissimilar to her method of dealing with loose shots by opponents. "Why should I be worried about the future?" she asks. "Right now, almost everything is perfect. I don't care about the future right now.''

Quite right, too. But the Swiss sensation is so breathtakingly good that it is natural for observers whose views have been conditioned by the woes which have befallen a variety of other prodigies to fear for her well-being.

Monica Seles, now the second youngest ever No 1, seemed capable of coping with just about everything until traumatised by a knife attack four years ago and is one of the few people who can empathise with the way Hingis feels today.

"She told me this is the best time of her life," Seles said before taking her leave of the interview room and going directly to a practice court in search of her game, which Hingis had picked to pieces in 44 minutes in Saturday's women's singles final at the Lipton Championships here, 6-2, 6-1.

"Looking at her and her personality, it does not seem to Martina its a burden at all," Seles said. "Everything is just happening very fast. She really is enjoying tennis so much. I think that shows through her game.''

Having been "creamed" in straight sets by Hingis on both a hard court here and an indoor carpet in Oakland, California last November (6-2, 6- 0), Seles made time to practise on a clay court similar to the ones on which she may have to face Hingis again this week at Hilton Head, South Carolina.

Serving was a priority. Seles's errors encouraged Hingis to display the full range of her all-court style. "She's good everywhere," Seles said. "She's very fast, gets back a lot of balls, and hides the ball really well. She creates some shots close to the line out of places you don't expect them. She's just a better player at this point than I am.''

An opinion is forming that Hingis might be a better player than anybody else at any point. Nit-picking, her second serve needs improving to the extent that her first delivery has been transformed. Asked how much this was due to the long-body racket she is using this year, her response was typical. "Nothing," she said. "Its just everything up here [indicating her temple].''

Her mental strength is complemented by a sureness of touch which enables her to control the ball beautifully, a feat beyond the capability of many players for whom modern racket technology means only power.

"It was very important for me to win here knowing I was going to be No 1 on Monday," she said. "I felt a kind of responsibility, as if everybody was expecting me to lose the first match. Now, with my will-power, or whatever, I just want to handle all this stuff and take pride in myself that I can really do it."

A $215,000 (pounds 134,000) winner's cheque made her the fastest player to earn $1m prize money in a season and put her well on the way to $3m for a career still in its infancy. "Wow!" she said, laughing, "the money is rolling, rolling. Well, life doesn't change because you just won $100,000 more or less. I still can't drive the car. I still can't go out, because I'm under age everywhere.''

Does she find it scary being expected to win every match? "Scary? Not at all. It's like a challenge.''

Today she intends to give her rivals a break, hosting a party for them at Hilton Head. "This is my third year on the Tour, and I really had a great welcome from all these players," she said. "I just want to give something back, you know.'' Enjoy, as they say.