Tennis: Wimbledon 99 - Dokic's crushing blow for Hingis

Wimbledon 99: World No 1 is shattered by opening-round defeat at hands of 16-year-old Australian ranked No 129
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The Independent Online
WHEN MARTINA HINGIS'S mother was six months pregnant she won a tennis tournament. "So I was unborn, and already had that feeling for tennis," Martina recalls, smiling that big, toothy smile.

Until yesterday mother and prodigy (she was named Martina after Martina Navratilova) were rarely seen apart. After divorcing Karol Hingis, who still lives in Slovakia, Melanie Molitor took Martina to the Czech Republic, married a Swiss computer salesman, and the family moved to Switzerland.

Martina was seven years old, and had been coached by Melanie from the cradle. At the age of 12 she won the French Open junior title, and has not ceased to astonish the tennis world.

But there was no sign of mother at courtside as Hingis became only the third No 1 seed in Wimbledon history to lose the opening match in the women's singles, practically blown off the court 6-2, 6-0 after only 54 minutes, by Jelena Dokic, a 16-year-old Australian qualifier ranked No 129 in the world. Melanie had already left the country, at her daughter's request.

Their relationship, which had been under stress since the French Open final in Paris little more than a fortnight ago, when Melanie had to bring her tearful daughter back on the court for the presentations after her trantrums while losing to Steffi Graf, had finally cracked.

"We have decided to have a little bit of distance and work a little bit more on our private lives," Hingis said. "I want to be more independent, to make decisions about the way I practise, and the way I do things, not having somebody else telling me what do do."

The day was bound to come when Hingis would take the first steps towards organising her own life, but it was a pity that she should look as fragile as a foal on an occasion as important to her as this, when she was trying to re-establish herself, both as a player and a personality in the public glare on Wimbledon's No 1 court.

Hingis admitted she had struggled to keep her mind on tennis during the match. "At the beginning I thought I was really focused and felt in good shape but in a way I was away," she said. "Then you get distracted by other things when you are on court and things don't go your way. I was probably too nervous, not believing what I can do. She played a great match and they were clapping for her great shots, not against me."

Dokic, one of many young players who had been invited by Melanie to practise with her daughter on the courts at their home in Trubbach, Switzerland, took full advantage of Hingis's emotional vulnerability. The Belgrade- born Dokic drove Hingis further and further over the baseline with the speed and consistency of her serving and the power and accuracy of her groundstrokes. At times her forehand was reminiscent of Graf at her best.

Hingis was fortunate to rescue three break points in the opening game, and the match quickly went downhill for her after that. Dokic's shots became deeper and deeper, hurting Hingis more and more, and soon the only points the Australian was dropping were on her own erring drop-shots. Even those eventually began to land true, twisting the racket in Hingis's wounded pride.

Broken in the fifth game of the opening set, Hingis created just one chance to rectify the situation, only to miss with a backhand return before being broken a second time, for 2-5, as Dokic's fierce two-handed backhands began to look as effective as Monica Seles's used to be.

Dokic needed three set point to serve out the set after 31 minutes, punching a fist in the air after serving well enough to leave Hingis with little option but to net a couple of backhand returns.

Ominously, Hingis gradually began to look as if she was resigned to one of the beatings of her life. She even stopped herself from questioning one particularly close call, explaining afterwards that it did not matter because, unlike the clay courts of Paris, the ball does not leave a mark on the grass. The nearest Hingis came to a protest was a barely audible "What?" after the umpire decided that her backhand had landed long as she dropped her serve again in the opening game of the second set.

Hingis hit another backhand beyond the baseline in the second game, bidding farewell to her only break point in the second set, and was then broken for 0-3, Dokic consolidating her lead by holding to love with her first ace.

Dokic did not make the mistake of thinking that the match was won. "I thought she could always maybe come back, and I knew if I gave her a chance she would take it," she said. "I just tried to win every point, no matter if it was 15-0, or 30-30, or deuce."

Although confident enough to better Hingis's best shots, Dokic remained respectful of her opponent's ability, tapping her racket in admiration after Hingis saved a break point in the fifth game with a superb forehand cross-court pass. Hingis came through another crisis with a drop-shot, but had no answer to Dokic's backhand return down the line.

"Come on, Aussie," urged a voice from the crowd as Dokic served for the match. Two consecutive aces took her to 40-30, but Hingis managed to pull back to deuce before accepting the inevitable, taking a backhand swing at second serve on the second match point, but hitting it wide. The second set had lasted only 23 minutes.

Dokic now plays Slovakia's Katarina Studenikova in the second round.

"Just because I beat Hingis doesn't mean I have to come out and win the tournament," she said. "I'm going to try and do my best to go as far as I can but there are no easy matches, everyone's tough to play. There was no pressure on me today. No one expected me to beat the world No 1. Even if I lost the match it would have been good to get close."

Dokic added: "It's still hard to believe I've beaten Martina but I have to keep my feet on the ground because anything can happen in the next match."

FAMOUS FAILURES

There have only been four occasions when a No 1 seed has been beaten in the first round at Wimbledon

Men's singles

1967: Manuel Santana (Sp) lost to Charlie Pasarell (US) 10-8 6-3 2-6 8-6.

Women's singles

1962: Margaret Smith (Aus) lost to Billie Jean Moffitt (US) 1-6 6-3 7- 5.

1994: Steffi Graf (Ger) lost to Lori McNeil (US) 7-5 7-6.

1999: Martina Hingis (Swit) lost to Jelena Dokic (Aus) 6-2 6-0.

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