Tennis: Hingis on course

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The Independent Online
WHEN MARTINA HINGIS won the Family Circle Cup in South Carolina two years ago, she was way ahead of the field. Now, her dominance is less clear cut.

"Everybody has improved so much," said Hingis, the tournament's top seed who beat Sylvia Plischke 6-3, 7-5 in her first match on Wednesday. "The Williams sisters, Lindsay [Davenport] took over No 1 for a while. There are so many more dangerous players to watch out for."

However, as many of them have decided to pass on the event, Hingis seems to have the inside track to the tournament title with Serena Williams and Davenport out with injuries, and Venus Williams' decision not to compete.

However, Hingis may be challenged by Monica Seles, the second-seed, No 6, Patty Schnyder and No 10 Conchita Martinez. They all advanced into the third round, as did Silvia Farina and the No 14 seed, Elena Likhovtseva. Iva Majoli defeated the No 9 seed, Irina Spirlea, 1-6, 6-4, 6-2 in Wednesday's evening match.

Hingis rose to No 1 at this tournament in 1997 and, when it was over, had extended her streak to 31 straight match victories and six straight championships.

She was 16 years old, won three of the four Grand Slams that year and finished with a tour-best 75 match wins.

Last year, Hingis learned it wasn't that easy to stay on top. She won five times, down from her 12 titles a year earlier, and took only one major, the Australian Open.