It is not that far from the National Tennis Center, but next week a very happy and well adjusted Martina Hingis will be playing tennis back in a city she loves, New York.
The youngest-ever world number one—now a cagey veteran at age 32—will be the key member of the New York Sportimes, the defending Eastern Conference champions of Billie Jean King’s World TeamTennis, when play starts this coming Tuesday in Boston and Wednesday in N.Y.
But for Hingis, the game is now about the fun and the people much more so than winning and touring, so Randall’s Island is a great substitute for Flushing Meadows.
“I love my life now, playing legends tennis, World TeamTennis, doing work in fashion, and travelling when I want," Hingis said recently on a WTT conference call."It’s very different and much more enjoyable. I love the game, but don’t miss being on the road all the time, so this is a great fit.”
The fit is mutual for WTT, which Hingis has called home for the past several years. The short sets and team atmosphere fit her game, and the adoring fans who turn out are much more into the sport and the enjoyment of all aspects of the game than those who may be on hand for a Grand Slam event.
It is an atmosphere of minor league baseball with some major league talent, and rules that best suit those on the court.
WTT is also a unique mix of younger players looking for some extra experience, some household names (like Hingis and other WTT mainstays Andy Roddick and Serena Williams), and some very in-shape veterans like John McEnroe (the Sportimes captain and Hingis’s mixed doubles partner) and Jimmy Connors (who will face McEnroe on July 14 as part of the Philadelphia Freedoms when they travel to New York).
“I have always loved playing with John—he is such a competitor and a great personality,” said Hingis. “Now when I have to play Serena at the end of the month, that will be another challenge!"
The challenge of Serena Williams is minor in comparison to all the other obstacles Hingis has overcome in recent years. These ranged from injury to a positive drug test, both of which appeared to fit the model for the downfall of the modern athlete.
But the Swiss star seems to have turned the corner and has returned to playing, at least WTT style, with a ferocity and panache that helped bring her to the top of the tennis world during the ‘90s.
“I am not interested in playing full-time any more, but this works well and I love the game again,” she added.
And with a little hope, the game and its fans in New York will love her back again, not too far from where their dalliance began back in the day.
World TeamTennis continues through July.