Tennis: Hingis saddled with a new test

John Roberts talks to the youngest women's tennis No 1 in history about her recent injury and the possibility of playing doubles with her great namesake
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The Independent Online
Winning tennis titles and establishing records is child's play for Martina Hingis, the youngest-ever world No 1, who usually devotes much of her spare time to horse riding, rollerblading, swimming, fitness boxing and skiing. Nursing an injury is nobody's idea of fun, and inactivity has proved a major challenge.

The 16-year-old Swiss prodigy's boredom has been alleviated to a certain extent now that she is allowed back on a court after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn ligament in her left knee. The damage was caused by a fall from a horse on 21 April.

So far, Hingis's practice sessions have amounted to little more than hitting balls fed to her by her mother, Melanie Molitor, who is also her coach. The gentle exercise is important, none the less, enabling Hingis, who has never been injured before, to stay in touch with the game.

According to her mother, the Australian Open champion will be able to engage in serious practice next Monday, leaving her with only a week to prepare for the next Grand Slam tournament, the French Open, which starts on 26 May. Wimbledon follows one month later.

The timescale of Hingis's rehabilitation is subject to the approval of Dr Christian Schenk, a specialist in sports injuries, whose clinic in Schrunz, Austria, is a 45-minute drive from the player's home in Trubbach, Switzerland. Hingis travels each day for three hours' treatment.

Although Hingis has a horse of her own, Montana, in Trubbach, the one from which she took a tumble belongs to a friend. It was the first time Hingis had ridden the horse, and her concentration may have been impaired by tiredness after tennis practice in the afternoon following a long walk in the morning.

Her reaction was to pick herself up and smile, just as she did after falling off a horse named Magic Girl in Melbourne during the Australian Open in January. The difference this time was that Hingis was hurt.

Older tennis followers will recall Maureen Connolly, the brilliant American whose career was ended by a riding accident soon after her third Wimbledon success in 1954, aged 20. "Little Mo" received a severe leg injury when her horse, Colonel Merryboy - a gift from a group in her home city, San Diego, after her initial Wimbledon triumph in 1952 - was struck by a truck.

"My right leg was slashed to the bone," Connolly recounted in her autobiography. "All the calf muscles were severed and the fibula broken. Eventually, I got on court again but I was aware that I could never play tournament tennis."

Hingis and her mother incline towards the philosophy of living for the moment, Melanie acknowledging that exposure to a range of sporting activities is fundamental to her daughter's happiness and success.

Martina subscribes to the view expressed by Tim Henman, Britain's No 1, whose participation in pursuits such as golf and football has been called into question - "being careful is one thing, but you can't wrap yourself in cotton wool."

However, while Henman confines his sporting versatility to rounds of golf with fellow tennis pros and friends and keeping goal for the Lawn Tennis Association's football team, Hingis has taken her involvement a stage further by competing in a show jumping tournament.

The event was held in March in Roznov, her mother's birthplace in the Czech Republic, soon after Hingis had inspired Switzerland to a Fed Cup victory in Kosice, Slovakia, where she was born. Riding Sorrenta, her other horse, Hingis finished fifth out of 15 on her debut. She would have been placed higher but for neglecting to jump one of the fences.

"I went the wrong way," Hingis said. "The horse didn't make a mistake. That was my mistake. I was just so nervous out there making my first show jumping tournament. The horse was perfect. I was very surprised about her, how she went through with me without any mistakes."

Overall, the experience was "fun". Whether it is likely be repeated in view of last week's mishap remains to be seen. "I will go horseback riding again, but probably I'm not as good as I thought," she says. "I have to be more careful."

Sorrenta's original name was Sylvia. Hingis decided to change it. "Sylvia's like a usual girl's name, not a horse's name, I think," she explains. "I was looking through the Yellow Pages and there was a restaurant, Sorrento. I also know the city, Sorrento, in Italy, and I just made it feminine, Sorrenta."