Tennis: Double Martina on the rocks

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The young Hingis was named Martina after Martina Navrati- lova. Recently, the great former champion suggested it might be appropriate for the pair to team up to play doubles at Wimbledon and the three other Grand Slam tournaments in Australia, France and the United States, writes John Roberts.

It was a tempting idea, notwithstanding that Navratilova, 40, is a year older than Hingis's mother. Navratilova is one title short of Billie Jean King's Wimbledon record of 20 (singles, doubles and mixed), and last July Hingis became the youngest-ever All England Club champion (15 years and 282 days) after winning the doubles with Helena Sukova.

Hingis reluctantly declined. "Martina asked me last year at the US Open - not actually me, but through the agents - and I said it would be hard just to play the Grand Slams. I have to find some practice. You can't just play the big tournaments. You would get too nervous unless you started playing with that person a little bit more, even though she's a great player.

"It's such a thrill because it's her, you know. She was such a big hero for tennis, and she was a big idol and a big athlete, and she won Wimbledon so many times. It was a very hard decision for me, but I don't just want to play those four tournaments.

"All the press would be like, 'Oh, Martina/Martina, what really happened?'. For me, it's like she's a different generation than I am. She's a player who was great, especially at Wimbledon. But it's gone, and something new has to come in."

Hingis's relations with Sukova have soured since their partnership was dissolved at the end of last year. Sukova had heard that Hingis was planning to cut down on doubles play to keep herself fresh for singles, besides which her mother and coach, Melanie Molitor, was not entirely convinced that Sukova still had the game and the stamina to complement her daughter's play.

Stand by for Hingis and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, a partnership formed in unusual circumstances. Hingis was on stage to open the envelope when Sanchez Vicario and Jana Novotna were declared WTA Tour Doubles Team of the Year for 1996 at last month's awards gala in Miami.

There was no sign of Novotna as Sanchez Vicario stepped up to receive the trophy. "I'm alone - not for the first time," the Spaniard said. "Why don't you play with me?" Hingis ventured. There was laughter at the time, but the suggestion was genuine.

"I want Arantxa to be my partner because I think she's the best doubles player in the world," Hingis says. "And she speaks German."