Tennis: Hingis has debut to remember: A 14-year-old prodigy's first appearance on women's tour overshadows veteran champion's farewell to Switzerland

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The Independent Online
AT 10.33 last night - 33 minutes after her normal bedtime - Martina Hingis completed a victory in the opening match of her professional tour debut four days after her 14th birthday. The Czech-born Swiss defeated Patty Fendick, a 29-year-old Californian ranked No 45 in the world 6-4, 6-3.

First impressions, it must be admitted, were favourable. The newcomer displayed poise and toughness as well as the skill evident in her junior Grand Slam triumphs at Wimbledon and in Paris, to overcome an aggressive if error-prone opponent. Hingis, broken in the opening game of the match, and 0-2 down before she had got into her stride, worked her way into the contest with a compact performance of strokeplay combined with coolness under pressure.

'I didn't have anything to lose, and I enjoyed it in the end,' Hingis said, adding with a touch of arrogance, 'I've already beaten better players, so I wasn't too surprised I won.'

Having recovered the first break of serve to level at 2-2, she again fought back after being broken for 3-4, winning the subsequent eight games to lead by a set and 5-0. It was then that the first signs of nerves began to show. After Fendick ended her despairing sequence by holding serve, Hingis became decidedly edgy when serving for the match at 5-2. Fendick, with little to lose, began to hit the ball with greater venom and Hingis was broken, double-faulting on the concluding point.

When Fendick then held for 5-3 it seemed that the match may have been about to turn against Hingis. She dispelled apprehension among home support by serving out the match after 72 minutes.

Fendick was disappointed with her display, and she undoubtedly handed the youngster the initiative by double- faulting on the second set point of the opening set. She then failed to convert any of the three break points in the first game of the second set, querying line calls and beginning to unravel when Hingis broke her to 15 in the second game. Fendick's prospects dwindled when she double- faulted twice to be broken for 4-0.

'I'd like to have played better to see what she would do under a little more pressure,' Fendick said, though she did not dispute the right of a player so young to compete on the tour. 'If you're good enough to play then you should be allowed, whatever the age,' she said, 'but I would not advocate players receiving wild cards into top tournaments. But she (Hingis) is certainly one player that would earn her way up.'

It had been thought that the fast indoor court used for the dollars 750,000 ( pounds 500,000) European Indoor Championships would suit Fendick's style rather more than Hingis's predominantly baseline play. Encouragingly, the youngster adapted commendably on the night. She also was almost imperturbable in her demeanour, her approach reminiscent of Chris Evert.

In the second round, Hingis will play either Mary Pierce, the No 2 seed from France, or Larisa Neiland, of Latvia.

Hingis was named Martina after the great Navratilova, and it seemed appropriate that she should mark her debut by following the nine- times Wimbledon champion on court. Navratilova, who will be 38 on 18 October, is playing here as part of her farewell tour, also won her opening-round match, defeating a fellow American Ann Grossman, 7-5, 4-6, 6-1.

To avoid confusion, the WTA Tour staff here are referring to Navratilova and Hingis as Martina I and Martina II, though it must come as something of an embarrassment for the great champion to be upstaged by one so young at an event where the only three players ranked above her (Steffi Graff, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Conchita Martinez) are absent. To make matters worse yesterday, a heavy scheduling of matches delayed Navratilova's attendance at a Board meeting at which she was required as the recently elected president of the WTA Tour Players' Association.

It was considered too churlish to mention that Hingis is only eight months older than Navratilova's dog, KD, a guest at the tournament.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 31

(Photograph omitted)

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