Martina Hingis. She's back!
She still has that captivating smile along with an engaging personality that makes you feel as if you and she are the only two people in the room, but before we could really catch up, the rain-delay was lifted and it was time for Martina Hingis to get back to the office—the tennis court.
Our conversation was to be continued, and hoping that I was patient, Hingis warmly expressed, “You’re going to have to wait a while, because I don’t play until the fourth and fifth matches.”
I’m thought to myself: Because it's Hingis, I’ll wait.
The Slovakian-born and Switzerland-raised tennis prodigy was the former World No. 1 in singles and doubles, and after a six-year absence since her retirement from the WTA in 2007, she is making a highly anticipated comeback in doubles at the Southern California Open this Monday.
Hingis also just headed the 2013 class of Hall of Fame inductees, so how else would I reply to her quip about waiting until the bitter end of her World TeamTennis (WTT) match?
I did so the only way I knew how when a former World No. 1 and Hall of Famer asks you to wait—“OK, talk to you after,” I said as she transformed back into player mode.
Done seeking shelter from the rain inside the $20 million hallways of the Randall’s Island tennis center—New York City’s largest tennis facility and home to the John McEnroe Tennis Academy—Hingis, myself and the hundreds of fans made our way back to the show court.
Tuesday night featured a WTT match between the hometown New York Sportimes and Hingis’ first-place, playoff-bound Washington Kastles.
Hingis alongside Kastles teammate Frederik Nielsen notched a 5-3 mixed doubles win over New York's Kveta Peschke and Robert Kendrick. Peschke then teamed up with Anna-Lena Groenefeld, and they stunned Hingis and Anastasia Rodionova in women's doubles 5-2, but Hingis and Rodionova regrouped to beat them in the deciding overtime match.
With the baseball fields at Randall's Island right behind the court and the Acela train going back and forth in the distant background, it wasn't quite the same stage as when Hingis accumulated her nine Grand Slams in women’s doubles and one in mixed doubles, but that unmistakable all-court game by the "Swiss Miss" was on display.
Her sassy, headstrong personality still percolates with every strike and putaway.
As promised, the woman who has youngest player in tennis history to ascend to World No. 1 and youngest ever Grand Slam champion on her resume spoke to me after the match, and it was evident she's still very competitive.
"Except for my second serves in that final game, I was OK until 3-0 (WTT scoring system differs from the ATP and WTA) and then I was like come on, get that serve going."
Hingis explained the timing and inspiration for returning to play in the upcoming WTA tour premier event with doubles partner Daniela Hantuchova.
"I was thinking about it the past five years," Hingis said with that familiar twinkle in her eye. "I never really had the courage until now. I've been playing a lot more, and it's a good time to do it after playing TeamTennis.
"I've just been playing a lot in the last two years, and also coaching and helping the young up-and-coming players with the academy—it's been pretty cool to see what's happening and be so close to that world again."
Hingis looked to be in the best shape of her career—her secret: just a lot of tennis with some running and biking mixed in.
The now-32-year-old Hingis exhibits the same unabashed confidence as she had in the late 1990s when she was dominating the tennis landscape.
"Doubles is different since a lot of the top girls don't usually play, like [Maria] Sharapova and [Victoria] Azarenka. And Serena [Williams] now says her partner is injured or something, so it can be interesting. It's wide open right now."
Hingis dispels any skeptics who think that her doubles comeback is not to be taken seriously, as she goes into Monday's event with her eyes wide open and aware of who the top team is.
"Right now there is [Sara] Errani and [Roberta] Vinci at No. 1, but I feel pretty good about my game, so we'll see."
I had to pry and ask what every fan really wants to know—whether she is considering entering her name into any singles tournaments in the future, but a chuckling Hingis said "no."
She and controversy have always been a dynamic duo throughout her career, so it'll be interesting to see what Hingis has in store for fans this time around.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.