Inglorious end to Hingis's great career

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London, Nov 2: The career of Martina Hingis ended in disgrace and tears yesterday when she retired after testing positive for cocaine, an inglorious finale to a story that captivated world tennis for more than a decade.

From the moment her parents named her after the great Martina Navratilova she appeared destined for a journey that would change the face of women's tennis and make her rich beyond her wildest dreams, but also provide plenty of heartache.

Born in Slovakia, Hingis moved to Switzerland after her parents divorced and began ripping up the record books.

Despite not being a powerhouse like the prodigious Williams sisters who soon joined her on the road to stardom, Hingis grew out of junior tennis by the time she was 14.

At the 1995 Australian Open, already tipped as a future world number one, the 14-year-old became the youngest player to win a match at a grand slam.

The following year she became the youngest Wimbledon champion, aged 15, when teaming up with Helena Sukova to win the women's doubles.

SWISS MISS

A few months later she announced herself on New York by reaching the semi-finals of the U.S. Open singles. The Swiss Miss, as she was nicknamed, was clearly in a hurry.

In 1997 she appeared almost unbeatable, winning her first 37 matches on her way to 12 titles, including the Australian, Wimbledon and U.S. Open crowns.

Her victory in Melbourne at the start of the year made her the youngest grand slam champion of the century and by the end of it she was undisputed world number one.

She added the 1998 Australian Open title to her collection before the first storm clouds appeared on the Hingis horizon in 1999. By February 2003 she had hung up her rackets.

Her third consecutive Australian Open title in 1999 would prove to be her last grand slam singles crown.

Her gleaming smile was replaced by floods of tears and tantrums at the French Open the same year. She was booed during the final against Steffi Graf, the fans infuriated by her stalling tactics and underarm serves.

Hingis hardly endeared herself to the Parisians by labelling French player Amelie Mauresmo ''half man''.

At Wimbledon a month later she lost 6-2 6-0 in the first round to 129th-ranked qualifier Jelena Dokic, the cloak of invincibility now in tatters.

She still ended 1999 as number one but her U.S. Open defeat by Serena Williams was a taste of things to come as the slender Hingis began to struggle with the big baseline hitters.

RACIAL STORM

Off court she labelled Serena and Venus ''big mouths'' while in 2001 she stirred up a racial storm with comments about the sisters in Time magazine.

The years of physical punishment on tennis courts also began to take their toll.

She needed ankle surgery in 2001 and 2002 and in 2003, at the tender age of 22, Hingis decided that tennis was no longer for her, announcing her retirement from the sport.

Horse riding proved a touch tame for such a fierce competitor though and she could not stay away.

In 2005 she made a brief comeback at an obscure tournament in Thailand, losing in the first round. She then announced that she would return to full-time tennis in 2006.

Cynics thought the game had moved on, that her subtle skills and tactical wizardry would be no match for the powerhouse tennis of Maria Sharapova, Justine Henin and the Williams sisters.

However she reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open and took the mixed doubles title, her 15th career grand slam. Amazingly she ended the year back at number six in the world, having won trophies in Italy and India.

Hingis notched her 43rd career title this year in Tokyo but injuries returned. She missed the French Open and looked a pale shadow of her former self at Wimbledon where she almost lost to British qualifier Naomi Cavaday.

Her final match came in Beijing in September, losing to local player Shuai Peng. After all the highs it was a sad way to bow out.

Reuters
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