Betting scandals and Murray woe but Hingis hogs headlines
Cocaine sensation surrounding Swiss Miss tops off an explosive end to the season
This is the time of year when tennis normally applies the brakes and prepares for brief hibernation. There remain just this week's WTA end-of-season jamboree in Madrid, immediately followed by the men's Masters Cup in Shanghai, with that, in turn, succeeded by six weeks of rest and recuperation before the circus goes back into the big tent with the new year's arrival.
Instead, we are witnessing an explosive culmination to the season, with the heart-warming resurgence of Andy Murray from his wrist injury, fingers pointed at the men's game over betting scandals, the world No 4 Nikolay Davydenko being told by the umpire he was not trying hard enough in a Paris match four days ago and, off court, the former LTA coach Claire Lyte jailed over an affair with a 13-year-old girl pupil.
It needed something special to oust these as the tennis yarn of the moment, but Martina Hingis effortlessly managed it with her announcement that she had tested positive for cocaine at this summer's Wimbledon.
Headline hogging is something Hingis has habitually managed for most of her two-tier career, from the moment she won the 1993 junior title at Roland Garros, with its upper age limit of 18, when she was merely 12 and then followed up by becoming the Wimbledon junior champion at 13, the first of a string of records to set alongside her news-making skills.
Having witnessed this journey of peaks and troughs from those days of junior triumph, I can testify that, if Hingis was not the best-ever in the women's game (that was Martina Navratilova, after whom shewas named by her ambitious mother), there was nobody more capable of securing a headline on a regular basis, frequentlyfor reasons not noticeablyconnected with her forehand.
The adjectives Hingis trotted out – "horrendous", "monstrous" – to a media gathering in Switzerland expecting nothing more than a formal confirmation of her second retirement and being confronted instead with a drugs sensation, ratcheted up the occasion like no other contemporary is capable of. Even when events controlled her, rather than the other way round, Hingis generated more ink than anyone, the prime example being the Roland Garros final of 1999. SteffiGraf won that match, the sixth and last French Open of her career, but the acclaim was submerged by Hingis, the wronged diva, losing control at 6-4 2-0 over a line call, marching off court in tears at the moment of her three-set defeat, slugging a WTA communications lady who was attempting to alert her abouther interview schedule andbeing physically dragged back on court by mother Melanie for the prizegiving.
Hingis won five Grand Slams, including the 1997 Wimbledon, and could have had all four majors that year had she not lost Roland Garros to the little-known Iva Majoli while not fully recovered from falling off a horse. That did not halt her love of riding, or Rollerblading, or relentless headline-gathering – she was stalked by a Croatian eccentric, and when she opted out of tennis for the first time at the age of 22 with foot problems she went on her way by suing her shoe sponsors, Tacchini.
Chris Evert, a 5ft 6in superstar of her day, opined that Hingis was "the last 5ft 7in champion", driven out by having to face the power of what Hingis herself called "one Williams too many". Time, and the 5ft 5in Justine Henin, have proved Evert wrong on that one, but Hingis was never a serious, lasting threat to the tour's top talent on her return to tennis in January 2006.
Now she is gone again, declaring she is too old at 27 to play the game. But not too old to keep on hogging the headlines over the curious cocaine charge.
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