First trophy in four years sets Hingis up for Paris

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The Independent Online

Martina Hingis won her first title since coming out of retirement and said her three years away from the game helped propel her to victory.

Hingis beat 16th-seeded Dinara Safina 6-2, 7-5 Sunday in the Italian Open final for the 41st title of her career, but first since winning in Tokyo more than four years ago.

After storming through the first set in 27 minutes and taking a 4-1 lead in the second, Hingis faced three break points that would have sent the second set to a tiebreaker before she gathered herself and served the match out.

"I lived a different life and experienced a lot of things, and that probably helps me today in those moments," Hingis said.

Hingis returned in January after nearly three years out of the game with foot and ankle injuries.

"If I could turn back time, of course I would have continued to play. But at that point it wasn't possible - the pain and the operations," she said. "Right now I'm very happy that my health is as good as it is."

When Safina's backhand return of serve sailed long on Hingis' fourth match point, the Swiss placed her hand on her chest and took a deep breath of relief.

"I know how life is after tennis, and that probably gives me a lot of joy at these moments. I want to save them as much as I can," Hingis said.

Hingis said the victory boosted her confidence entering the French Open, which starts next Sunday. The Italian Open is a key clay-court warmup for Roland Garros, the only Grand Slam that Hingis has not won.

"It's a great victory, but it doesn't end," Hingis said. "This is just the beginning of tough tournaments coming up - the French Open and Wimbledon."

In the meantime, Hingis plans to reward herself by reverting to her retirement lifestyle for a day or two.

She said she would probably have a glass of wine and not set her alarm clock for Monday morning, and maybe even skip her muesli breakfast.

"You know, I haven't been used to doing this for three years," she said. "Now you really have to have this solid life. That's probably my biggest joy for the next couple of days."

Hingis is projected to rise to No. 14 in the rankings Monday. She came back to beat Venus Williams in three sets in Saturday's semifinals.

It was Hingis' second Italian Open title. She beat Williams in the 1998 final.

Safina appeared tired from her 2-hour, 33-minute win over Svetlana Kuznetsova in Saturday's semifinals and Hingis was on form from the start.

The former top-ranked player broke Safina's serve in the opening game by hitting a sharply angled shot to Safina's backhand that the Russian - stretched far off the court - hit into the net post.

Hingis went on to take a 5-0 lead in the first set and made only four unforced errors. She won a series of points by picking on Safina's backhand, the Russian's weaker groundstroke.

To the crowd's delight, Safina managed to win two games, but Hingis promptly closed out the set when Safina missed another backhand.

Safina, the younger sister of two-time Grand Slam winner Marat Safin, was playing in her first final of one of the nine tournaments ranked just below the four Grand Slams.

Hingis also took a big lead in the second set, but Safina came back with a break in the sixth game and saved two match points with Hingis up 5-3. Safina hit an ace on the first match point and a service winner on the second.

Safina broke again to even the set at 5-5, but Hingis then came up with another break and served out the match on her second try after falling behind 0-40.

"I felt like I never really had the game out of my hands," Hingis said. "I almost feel like I won my first title. This is what you play for, what I came back for."