Tennis: Hingis's hot streak is too much for Novotna

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The Independent Online
Martina Hingis won her 25th consecutive singles match of the year yesterday to advance to the final of the Lipton Championships here. Win or lose tomorrow, she will become the youngest ever world No 1 on Monday, aged 16 years, six months and one day.

It was touch and go yesterday whether the top-seeded Hingis would keep her unbeaten record in the semi-final against Jana Novotna, a match played in temperatures which reached 105F.

A contest of brilliant shot-making turned in Hingis's favour when the Czech double-faulted to offer the young Swiss a break point at 4-4 in the third set. Hingis took advantage of the opportunity, luring her opponent into dumping a backhand in the net, and in the next game she served an ace on match point to complete a 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 victory.

Asked her opinion about the new Tour leader, Novotna said: ``Once in a while, or once in a 100 years, there is a player. It used to Martina Navratilova. Now it is Martina Hingis.''

Helena Sukova, who partnered Hingis when the prodigy became the youngest ever Wimbledon champion (15 years, 282 days), says she has never seen another player who can place shots better from anywhere on the court, "not even Martina Navratilova".

The towering Czech speaks from experience. At 32 (the combined ages of Hingis and the precocious American Venus Williams), she has competed against the best since joining the professional tour 14 years ago.

Although failing to win a major singles title in four finals, she was responsible for ending Navratilova's record 74-match winning streak, at the same time denying the great one a traditional calendar-year Grand Slam at the 1984 Australian Open.

In common with the Slovakian-born Hingis, Sukova is the daughter of a tennis player. Her late mother, Vera Sukova, was a Wimbledon singles finalist in 1962. Hingis's mother and coach, Melanie Molitor, while not aspiring to such heights, was respected back home for her scurrying baseline retrieving.

Sukova would like to have continued playing doubles with Hingis, but the pair are now barely on speaking terms after dissolving their partnership at the end of last year. Sukova had heard that Hingis was planning to cut down on doubles play to keep herself fresh for the singles, besides which Melanie was not entirely convinced that Sukova still had the game and stamina to complement her daughter's play.

Hingis has been playing doubles at the Lipton with the American Mary Joe Fernandez (they are in the semi-finals), another experienced campaigner, whose steady game was picked apart by the youngster in the singles quarter- finals on Wednesday night.

"I knew after the first point I was in trouble," said Fernandez, who was defeated, 6-4, 6-1. "She always knows where the ball is going. She knows how to read the point. The thing that she does so well is she hits the ball early. I've seen her play against the hard hitters and use their power. She hits early, opens up the court. The next thing you know, you're the one running around. She plays every point like it's a big point. She doesn't really give you an inch.

"I was talking to her the other day about her match against Venus [Williams]. `How did you play?' `I played OK, I made her play bad'. She's thinking out there. She's not like a robot hitting to the corners. Mentally, she's very strong. All the No 1's have that mental edge. She has it at a very young age.

"I can't remember the last time I saw someone so young play so well in doubles. I've been playing doubles with her for the first time this week, and she's very smart at finding out the other person's weaknesses, taking advantage of her strengths.

"She knows she doesn't have a huge serve and she doesn't have maybe the power that a Seles or Davenport has, but she's very smart and uses what she has to the best that I've seen.

"She's also a lot of fun. She has a good sense of humour. Like when we played our first round, I said, `Where should we start?' Martina said, `Serve to that girl's forehand, her forehand is worse than mine'. I'm like, `Oh, yeah, you have a bad forehand!' ''

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