Tennis: Williams sisters force Hingis to change plans

THE DEMANDS of competing against overpowering rivals, notably the Williams family - Venus, Serena and Richard, their voluble father - have prompted Martina Hingis to give up playing doubles at the four Grand Slam championships.

"Playing doubles as well as singles is just too tough," said Hingis, whose attention this week is focused on the Compaq Grand Slam Cup here. "Sometimes you lose energy - and waste energy, too."

Her decision is likely to come as a disappointment to Anna Kournikova, who won her only Grand Slam title with Hingis at the Australian Open, and also to tennis followers, who have watched the 18-year-old Swiss triumph at each of the majors with a variety of partners, starting with the Czech Helena Sukova at Wimbledon in 1996. That success made Hingis, who was 15 at the time, the youngest player to win one of Wimbledon's principal championships. Last year Hingis completed a Grand Slam of doubles championships. In April this year she told Jana Novotna, with whom she had enjoyed most success, that she wanted to play doubles with Kournikova.

Hingis's first round defeat by Australia's Jelena Dokic in the Wimbledon singles ended her participation in the championships, and Kournikova withdrew from the United States Open because of injury.

At Flushing Meadows, Hingis spoiled Richard Williams's prediction that his daughters would meet in the final, but the physical and emotional effort Hingis used in defeating Venus in the semi-finals drained her for the final, in which she was beaten by the strong, confident Serena. The Williams sisters went on to win the doubles, ending the tournament a total of $1.2m (pounds 750,000) richer.

"Playing doubles means there's too much waiting around," Hingis said. "I'd rather play doubles than practise too much, but I've changed my mind about that. Practice is better. You get your practice times, and then you just leave the stadium. It's not like sitting around and waiting for a doubles match."

Since Wimbledon Hingis has spent more time in the gym, strengthening her body for the challenge of the bigger-hitting youngsters on the WTA Tour. Some consider that she risks sacrificing improvement in her all- round game, particularly the volleying, by abandoning doubles play.

"Playing doubles helped my singles game for a while," she acknowledged. "But I gained confidence, and everybody knew I was able to hit some volleys, too. But I would never really use them in my singles matches, so I'll just try to evolve that.

"With the competition, it became so much effort to play all the tournaments with the doubles, so it just makes no sense any more; not for me, right now."

Hingis may have to face Venus and Serena Williams again in the same order if she is to win the women's singles title here. The tournament starts today with Serena playing Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, of Spain, in the first round.

Seeded No 1, Hingis is due to meet Venus Williams, the No 4 seed, in the semi-finals, provided Hingis overcomes Amelie Mauresmo, whom she defeated in the Australian Open singles final.

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