Hingis makes spectacular return

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The Independent Online

Playing as if she had paused only to draw breath, Martina Hingis returned to Melbourne Park yesterday and effortlessly dispatched the No 30 seed, Vera Zvonareva.

It was a spectacular comeback to Grand Slam tennis for the former No 1, who won three consecutive Australian Open titles as well as Wimbledon and the US Open before chronic foot and ankle injuries forced her to retire three years ago.

Hingis did some television commentary and developed interests outside tennis, but the lure of the game proved too much. She returned to the circuit late last year, reaching the semi-finals of the Australian Hardcourt Championships on the Gold Coast, then losing in the first round of the Sydney International to Justine Henin-Hardenne.

Hingis' 6-1, 6-2 victory over Zvonareva yesterday on Rod Laver Arena - scene of her greatest Grand Slam triumphs - demonstrated that she is still a formidable player. She showed no sign of nerves, and was delighted to be back. "It just feels great," she said after the match, which took little over an hour.

The Swiss became the youngest Grand Slam champion of the 20th century when she won the Australian Open in 1997, aged 16 years and three months. She played in six consecutive finals at Melbourne Park, losing to Jennifer Capriati in 2002 in a match played in scorching heat.

Some had questioned Hingis' fitness at the warm-up tournaments, but yesterday her form could not be criticised. She broke the Russian's serve four times and was never seriously challenged after opening up a 3-0 lead in the first set.

Hingis will meet Emma Laine, of Finland, in the second round and, if she wins, could then face a rejuvenated Mary Pierce. Ahead of her would lie the big hitters who gave the slightly built Swiss so much difficulty before she retired.

While she smiled yesterday, Zvonareva looked sick. She must have been horrified to draw Hingis in the first round. France's Nathalie Dechy, the No 11, was the only other women's seed eliminated yesterday.

In the men's draw, Lleyton Hewitt, the No 3 seed and runner-up last year, took five sets to defeat Robin Vik of the Czech Republic. Richard Gasquet, the French 14th seed, was knocked out, as were his compatriot Gaël Monfils, the No 22, and Italy's Filippo Volandri, the No 29.