Tennis: Hingis refreshed and aiming for top again

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MARTINA HINGIS is determined to use the Hopman Cup mixed teams event in Perth as a means to regain her top ranking in women's tennis.

The 18-year-old lost the top ranking to the American, Lindsay Davenport, in October but later beat her to take the Chase title in New York. Now refreshed after a six-week break, she is anxious to recover lost ground. "Of course! Who wouldn't be," she said. "I've been there at the top and want to have the feeling back again. I want to be the best again. My other aims for this year are to win a Grand Slam, to have fun and take it as it comes, and be well prepared for every match."

Hingis does not have much time to settle in the Hopman Cup team event. After playing against the defending champions, the Slovak Republic, on Tuesday, she faces Davenport on Thursday as Switzerland takes on the United States.

"It's going to be a good match for sure, with the number one and two players in the world," she said. "I had a great finish to '98 (by beating Davenport), so we'll see what's going to happen."

Hingis remains unbeaten in singles on her two previous visits to the Hopman Cup, with seven wins. Last year she missed the event and feels that was a mistake.

"I played Sydney and won Melbourne last year, but I came to Australia too late," Hingis admitted. "The Hopman Cup is great preparation for the Australian Open."

Hingis partners the newcomer Ivo Heuberger in the mixed doubles. When the German-speaking Hingis previously partnered the French-speaking Marc Rosset they had to converse in English, and that sometimes led to misunderstandings. "We don't have any language problems," Hingis said. "We know each other very well from juniors."

Play in the only international team competition to feature a mixed doubles combination gets under way today when France and Zimbabwe meet in a qualifying match.

Teams are split into two groups. Group A has Spain - featuring the French Open champions, Carlos Moya and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario - South Africa, Australia and either France or Zimbabwe. Group B is made up of the United States, Switzerland, Sweden and the Slovak Republic.

After a two-month break from tennis, Michael Chang is back in action at the Australian men's hardcourt championship.

Knee and wrist injuries caused Chang's ranking to slump to 29 by the end of 1998, the first time he finished a year outside the top 10 since 1991.

"My off-season has been a little bit longer, I have had a couple of months off now," Chang said. "I took some weeks off just to rest and recuperate. I struggled a lot injury-wise last year. I think injuries hurt me more than anything else."

Chang is seeded sixth in the tournament that starts on Monday in Adelaide. The top seed is the US Open champion, Patrick Rafter, who is followed by Thomas Enqvist and Gustavo Kuerten.