Tennis Hall of Fame Induction 2013: What's Martina Hingis' Legacy?

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Tennis Hall of Fame Induction 2013: What's Martina Hingis' Legacy?
Michael Dodge/Getty Images

On Saturday, Martina Hingis will receive the highest honor that a retired tennis player can receive as she gets inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Earlier this week, her estranged husband caused a bit of a media firestorm when he blasted her in the press as a "serial adulterer."

Somehow, it seems fitting that we're celebrating the highs of Hingis' career while also muddling through a new wave of off-court controversy. After all, that's how most of her career went.

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Hingis with her first Grand Slam trophy at the 1997 Australian Open.

Hingis stormed onto the tennis scene as a precocious 14-year-old, and by the time she was 19, she had won all five of her Grand Slam titles and been No. 1 in both singles and doubles. She was the best, and most likely the last, teenage sensation of the WTA tour. 

But being in the spotlight at a young age comes with a few setbacks. Success and pressure didn't bother Hingis, but they did ensure that the television cameras and print media were around to capture all of the moments of youthful naiveté and attitude that came along with them.

After her first Grand Slam win at the 1997 Australian Open, Alexander Wolff wrote about Hingis for Sports Illustrated

If all this makes it seem that tennis was incidental to Hingis, it was. She didn't so much win her first Grand Slam singles title as toss it off. She never dropped a set in the fortnight, and she needed only 59 minutes to be done with Mary Pierce in the final last Saturday, 6-2, 6-2, to become the youngest female winner at a major since 1887, when 15-year-old Charlotte (Lottie) Dod won Wimbledon.

Lottie Dod, lah-dee-dah."It's just another record for me," Hingis said after being asked if the achievement meant anything to her. "I mean, I have so many records already."

"Next time I have to play mixed doubles," she said in her victory speech, after referring to the women's doubles title she and [Natasha] Zvereva ended up winning, "but I have to give someone else a chance to win an event."

That frankness and confidence came so naturally to Hingis that it was hard to fault her for it. Of course, it also helped that she always delivered her one-liners with a smile.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

From 1997-1999, what would have been her high school years, Hingis owned the WTA tour. She made it to nine Grand Slam finals, winning five of them, and won 22 other titles. And that was only in singles.

Hingis also won the calendar-year Grand Slam in doubles in 1998, something that only Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver have accomplished.

With her effortless, creative and versatile game, engaging smile and open-book persona, it seemed like Hingis could do no wrong, no matter how egotistical her quotes looked on paper.

But, as they often do, things eventually began to catch up with her. She couldn't hide from the controversy when, before the 1999 Australian Open final, she caused a stir with her comments about her openly gay opponent Amelie Mauresmo: 

Hingis was quoted as saying in a German-language news conference on Thursday: "She [Mauresmo] travels with her girlfriend, she is half a man."

German reporters said Hingis's exact words were: "Sie ist ein halber Mann" -- she is half man.

A few months later, as Hingis was up a set and a break in the French Open final over Steffi Graf, and seemingly on her way to completing a career Slam (all four majors, non-consecutively), she had a dispute with the umpire over a call and ended up having a complete meltdown.

Hingis actually stormed to Graf's side of the net to dispute the call, a move that is against the rules in tennis. She was one point away from being defaulted from the match and ended up losing in three sets. 

She was nearly inconsolable afterward. Melanie Molitor, her mother and coach, had to drag her on court for the trophy presentation. She even smacked a tournament official who was trying to comfort her in the process.

That was as close as Hingis would ever get to winning the French Open. 

Hingis retired for the first time in 2002 at the strikingly young age of 22. Her ankles were giving her problems, and her motivation and love for the sport was no longer a driving force.

As many athletes do, she returned to the grind after a few surgeries and a few years of the regular life.

In 2006, she came back to the WTA older, wiser and with a bit of nostalgia under her belt. The 16-year-old Hingis who took the tennis world by storm didn't know adversity, but the 25-year-old Hingis certainly did. She was a crowd favorite.

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She reached No. 6 in the world and added three more singles titles to her mantle, but, ultimately, her days at the top of the game were gone. 

Her second and final retirement was a bizarre one. After a 2007 season where she'd run into injury problems again, she announced that she was done playing tennis when the results of a doping test from Wimbledon, revealing trace amounts of cocaine, were made public.

The amount of cocaine is said to have been minimal, not even detectable in military testing, and Hingis denied that she had ever taken the drug. However, she didn't appeal the charges, and, therefore, floated quietly, and, to some, suspiciously off into the sunset.

These days, Hingis stays active in the tennis community by playing World Team Tennis, doubles at Legends Events at the Grand Slams and even occasionally coaches. She's been enjoying the spotlight brought upon her by the Hall of Fame induction and hasn't created any controversial headlines herself this time around—at least not directly.

As we look back over her tennis career, it's clear that Hingis deserves to be enshrined with the game's best players, even if her period of dominance was brief. She epitomized the perks and pitfalls that come with greatness at a young age.

Her playing style—her mixture of pace, her improvisational skills, her ability to turn offensive when need be and her laser-like precision—were downright groundbreaking in an era that had seemingly abandoned all attempts at creativity.

Overall, her career can be viewed as both successful and a cautionary tale, both controversial and wholesome and both innovative and throwback. She is, and likely will remain, a smiling bundle of contradictions. 

But one thing is certain: There will never be another Martina Hingis. 

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