Tennis: Hingis ready to resist McEnroe syndrome

The world's No 1 woman player believes she can now control her temper and her tears
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The Independent Online
LOOKING A million dollars yesterday, which is only a fraction of her worth, Martina Hingis calmly addressed the question of her tantrum and tears at the French Open, and came within an ace of making an apology.

"It wasn't the best behaviour, of course," the 18-year-old world No1 said. "I wasn't allowed to go on the other side [of the court], and other things. But things happen. I probably believed too much in winning that final. I lost control of my feelings and my temper in a big way out there. But it definitely won't happen again."

Hingis was leading Steffi Graf by a set and 2-0 when a dispute about a line call resulted in the young Swiss incurring a penalty for crossing the net and pointing to the place where she contended the ball had landed.

One more misdemeanour and Hingis would have been disqualified. Instead, as her game collapsed, she served underarm to save one match point and fled the court after losing. Her mother and coach, Melanie Molitor, brought her back in tears for the presentation.

"It was just the stress of a two-week tournament," Hingis said during an interview at Eastbourne, where she is preparing for Wimbledon by playing doubles with Anna Kournikova at the Direct Line Championships. "It was not a breakdown. I think everybody has in their life one day when things don't go the way they want them to.

"In a way, I think it was a good show - the tennis spectators had someone to boo and cheer for. But the rule is there for a reason, and you have to respect it." Hingis was fined $1,500 (pounds 930) for unsporting conduct.

Famous for her competitive, if stubborn nature and perceived arrogance, Hingis was hardly contrite about the episode. Asked if she had any regrets, she said: "Jesus! I just go on with life. Regretting things doesn't do any good. I wish I had won. When I came back to my mum in the locker room I was saying: 'I could have won the Grand Slam!'"

She did, however, rule out the prospect of a further outburst at Wimbledon.

"Oh, no - no way," she said. "Wimbledon is different. The rules are much tighter and the crowd does not affect the players as much as in Paris. In Paris, they really kept Steffi in the match. I didn't think she was better than me. The crowd made her stronger. But for the crowd I think I would have won."

Crowds do tend to be sympathetic towards an older champion. "Yes, I think they are," Hingis agreed. "I'll just have to wait until my time comes. But in Australia the crowd has been good to me, and in London, and at the US Open."

Hingis is also aware that the Wimbledon crowd loves Graf. "Yes, of course, Steffi has been the champion of Wimbledon seven times." So what if Hingis and Graf meet in the final, as they are seeded to do, and the crowd is on Graf's side? "I don't think that would affect me, not two times in a row."

She said she had not been wounded by the criticism following her performance in Paris (she has been described as a spoiled brat, the women's game's answer to John McEnroe). "I went to the Czech Republic and went horse riding in the forest for two or three days, and that was the best recovery I could have had. I didn't read any newspapers. "

Had her mother been upset by the events in Paris? "You can't be happy with what I did," Hingis said. "But my mum understands me the best. I was raised that way, not liking to lose." And what would she say to British tennis enthusiasts if they were to ask her if her behaviour in Paris was a true reflection of her personality? "Do I look aggressive?" Hingis reiterated that people did not understand her type of game. "It looks too easy when I'm playing well. But I'm little, I'm beating big girls."

Not all Hingis's opponents appreciate her manner. Jana Novotna, for example, says that when Hingis ended their doubles partnership in March she told her she was "getting too old and slow". Hingis denies saying that. "We had a good relationship on court. We were the best doubles team last year. Why would I say something like that? I saw Jana the other day, and she was laughing and smiling."

Told that Novotna had confirmed to reporters that Hingis had told her she was "too old and slow", Hingis responded: "She didn't confirm that to me."

Last weekend Steffi Graf expressed her gratitude to the Paris crowd by placing a half-page advertisement in L'Equipe, the French sports daily. It would have cost about pounds 20,000, but L'Equipe published it free: "Thank you to all my French friends for the many years of support and those unforgettable times I had the opportunity to share with you. From the bottom of my heart - Steffi Graf."

Would Hingis consider sending a similar message in different circumstances? She giggled. "No," she said. "I already thanked them at the presentation."