Hingis' delicacy a joy to behold

It was not the sort of exchange you expect to see at the top level of modern women's tennis. Martina Hingis played the craftiest of drop shots, followed it with a perfectly judged lob volley and rounded off the point with a clean winner at the net. The 25-year-old appeared as cool as a Swiss mountain stream, while her opponent looked as if she needed to jump in one.

You had to feel sympathy for Anastasia Myskina, the world No 12, after her second-round defeat at the Dubai Duty Free Women's Open here yesterday. The former French Open champion thought she had played well but it was Hingis who went through, winning 6-4, 6-3 to earn a tantalising quarter-final against Maria Sharapova, whom she beat in Tokyo a fortnight ago.

In an age when female players tend to use a battering ram rather than a key to get through any door, Hingis' return after a three-year absence is a joy. Myskina was shown the Swiss player's full repertoire as the Russian chased around the court trying, often in vain, to guess where to run.

"It's very hard to play against a player with a game like Martina's," Myskina said afterwards. "It's much easier to play against someone who just hits the ball, because you know what to expect. Against Martina you don't know what's going to happen. The next ball might be a drop shot or a high lob."

Just five tournaments and 17 matches into her comeback, Hingis is back to No 50 in the world. What did Myskina think was a more realistic ranking? " Top 20 for sure, maybe top 10, but she needs more matches because I don't think she's played her best so far."

Hingis was too tentative at times, too bold at others and made more unforced errors than when she was at her peak, but she feels she has improved with every tournament during her comeback.

The top three seeds all made fine starts to their campaigns here. Lindsay Davenport recorded the fourth whitewash in her 700 career wins in beating Elena Likhovtseva, Sharapova dropped only one game against Vera Dushevina and Amélie Mauresmo made up for a slow start by winning nine of her last 10 games against Henrieta Nagyova.

* The women's world No 1, Kim Clijsters, will not defend her title at the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells next month after aggravating an ankle injury.

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