The year was 1994. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) had just been established. Groups like Weezer and Green Day dominated the airwaves. The Lion King was released and quickly became the highest grossing animated film of all time.
Oh, and a pair of 14 year olds, Martina Hingis and Venus Williams began their careers as professional tennis players.
Snuck onto the WTA Tour before the now infamous Jennifer Capriati Age Eligibility Rule was adopted, Hingis and Williams were the sport’s last prepubescent prodigies. In a class all their own, the two young women could not have been more different. Martina, named for compatriot and living legend Navratilova, was the Swiss Miss of the international junior circuit. At 12 years old, she won the French Open girls’ title, defending it a year later and picking up a Wimbledon title along the way. Thrashing opponents years her senior, Hingis played a grown up game within a child’s frame, one that barely scratched 5’7″. Far from a baseline aggressor, Martina preferred to light up the court with cunning variety and flawless shot selection.
Across the Atlantic was Williams, whose father Richard taught her and her sister, Serena (perhaps you’ve heard of her) the sport with thanks to instructional VHS tapes and gang-infested Compton courts. Making school a priority, Richard kept his daughters stateside and entered them solely in USTA events. Venus went undefeated in 63 matches, setting a precedent on a soil she would come to dominate as a senior. Where Martina represented a keen tennis brain and sharp instincts, Venus was raw talent and natural athleticism. Statuesque and 6’1″, she was known for possessing a powerful, well, everything. The young American was breaking records for serve speeds as a teenager, and helped usher in the era of Big Babe Tennis that persists to this day.
In the mid-90s, while Venus broke records with her serve, Martina wrote her name in the record books simply by winning. At 15, she became the youngest-ever Slam champion, taking the 1996 Wimbledon doubles crown with veteran Helena Sukova. A year later, she became the undisputed queen of the tour, falling one match shy of the Grand Slam and began a reign atop the rankings that was largely uninterrupted for the next four years.
Venus reached her first Slam final that same year, falling to Martina in Flushing. At the time, she was no match for her rival’s fully-developed game. But while the American made steady improvements, fine-tuning her power game to match the consistency of those ranked above her, injuries tended to derail her cause, most notably when she succumbed to cramps against Hingis at the same event two years later.
As she was getting her legs massaged by the trainer, Hingis put a towel on the ground so she could lie on the court with her feet up.
It is a scene that is just so Martina. Once quoted as saying she was a “player, not a worker,” the Swiss superstar was a young woman to whom much (perhaps too much) came easily. Her consistent style meant she could compensate for a powderpuff serve, the biggest weakness in her game, relatively speaking. While those around her got fitter and tougher, Martina laid back with her feet up, never losing that signature wry grin. And why shouldn’t she have? She was assured of a Hall of Fame career by the age of 18.
Sure enough, Hingis was elected to the illustrious Interantional Tennis Hall of Fame on Monday, a class of 2013 for which, once again, she seems too young. While her powerful, injury-prone contemporary once looked more likely to be the proverbial flash in the pan, it was Hingis herself who burned out at 22, made a comeback at 25 only to retire for good at 27. Even in her much anticipated mid-2000s comeback, it was apparent that she had failed to make the necessary changes to compete with what had become the game’s best. The comparative lack of success meant, for Hingis, an exponential decrease in desire.
By comparison, Venus has become the posterwoman for overcoming adversity. Over almost two decades on tour, she not only became a great champion (though her head-to-head with Hingis ended at 11-10 in the Swiss’ favor), but also an ambassador for her sport and an inspiration to all who have seen her battle and conquer Sjogren’s Syndrome, a debilitating autoimmune disease, to win a fourth Olympic gold medal last summer in London. Who could have predicted the way this story would end? Certainly no one in the 90s.
Though firmly entrenched among the game’s legends, what would Hingis give to go back?
After Wednesday’s sudden retirement press conference, TennisGrandstand.com gives you a look at the career of Justine Henin – as compiled by Bud Collins in his new book THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS in this exclusive excerpt. If you are interested in pre-ordering the book, click HERE to pre-order at a 39 percent off pre-sale price.
There’s not much there, as far as physique goes, but within that 5-foot-5, 126 pound frame churns a highly competitive heart and the flair of an artist who plays the game with superlative grace and style. Flitting across the court quickly, nimbly, Justine Henin is a model of complete greatness, at home anywhere in the rectangle, baseline or net.
A right-hander with a stunning one-handed backhand drive, she grasped No. 1 for a year (2003), then returned for 2006-07, and will be very difficult to unseat as she gains momentum.
A brilliant 2007 contained nine titles – among them a fourth French, second U.S. – and new zest based on heightened happiness in her personal life. Reconnecting with her family after a period of estrangement, and unconnecting with husband Pierre-Yves Hardenne (as Henin-Hardenne she won five of her seven majors), gave Justine an emotional lift. Her dash to the 2007 U.S. title was particularly satisfying since she had to erase the Williams family in succession, Serena in the quarterfinals, 7-6 (7-3), 6-1, and Venus in the semifinals, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4, before a 6-1, 6-3, crushing of Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia, her 6-4, 6-4, victim in the 2006 French final.
Born June 1, 1982, Liege, Belgium, she turned pro 1999, coached by Carlos Rodriguez throughout. She played Federation Cup for six years, 1999 – 03, 06, played 11 ties with a 15-3 singles, 0-2 doubles record. She helped win Cup for Belgium in 2001 and reach a final in 2006. She won the 2004 Olympic singles gold, defeating Amelie Mauresmo 6-3, 6-3.
She won seven major singles titles – Australian, 2004, defeating countrywomen Kim Clijsters, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3; French, 2003, defeating Clijsters again, 6-0, 6-4; 2005, defeating Mary Pierce of France, 6-1, 6-1; 2006, defeating Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia, 6-4, 6-4; 2007, defeating Ana Ivanovic of Serbia, 6-1, 6-2; U.S., 2003, defeating Clijsters, 7-5, 6-1; 2007, defeating Kuznetsova, 6-1, 6-3. She lost four major singles finals: Australian, 2006, to Amelie Mauresmo of France, 6-1, 2-0, ret; Wimbledon, 2001, to Venus Williams of the United States, 6-1, 3-6, 6-0; 2006, to Mauresmo, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4; U.S., 2006, to Maria Sharapova of Russia, 6-4, 6-4.
Henin also made the semifinals of the Australian, 2003, French, 2001, Wimbledon, 2002-03, 07; the quarterfinals of the Australian, 2002 and 2008. From 2001, she has spent seven straight years in the Top 10: Nos. 7, 5, 1, 8, 6, 1, 1.
She has overcome numerous injuries and illnesses, and the negative publicity that accompanied her quitting the 2006 Australian final to Mauresmo, behind, 6-1, 2-0, claiming a stomach ache. But she showed her spunk during the 2003 U.S. Open. Somehow she beat Jennifer Capriati, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7-4) in the semifinals in 3:03 (ending 12:27AM Saturday morning), even though Capriati was two points from victory 11 times, and served for it at 5-3 in the 2nd and 3rd sets. Justine, cramping in the third set, needed IV attention following the match. Yet later in the day took the championship, beating Clijsters, 7-5, 6-1, avoiding two set points at 4-5, 15-40.
As the first to win three straight French since Monica Seles, 1990-92, Justine revels in the Parisian earth, thrilled as a little girl brought to Roland Garros by her mother. She won two season-ending WTA Tour Championships – 2006 defeating Amelie Mauresmo 6-4, 6-3; 2007 defeating Maria Sharapova (3hrs 24min) 5-7, 7-5, 6-3. In 2007, she was the first woman to end a season with more than $5 million in prize money in a season – $5,367,086.
Other prominent singles titles won include the German Open three times – 2002, defeating S. Williams, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 2003, defeating Clijsters, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, 2005, defeating Nadia Petrova, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. She also won the Canadian Open in 2003, defeating. Lina Krasnoroutskaya, 6-1, 6-0 and Indian Wells in 2004, defeating Lindsay Davenport, 6-1, 6-4.
During her career, she won 41 singles (489-105 matches), two doubles pro titles. $19,461,375 prize money. She unexpectedly announced her immediate retirement from the game, the first No.1 to do so, on May 14, 2008.
By Agence France Presse
WASHINGTON (AFP) – US star Andy Roddick will skip the Beijing Olympics in August to defend his crown at the ATP Washington Classic two weeks before the US Open. Roddick will bring star power to the only event on the men’s tennis tour that conflicts with the high-profile showdown for Olympic gold in China.
Roddick has decided to remain in the United States to better preapre for the US Open, the year’s final Grand Slam tournament that starts in New York on August 25, the day after the Olympics conclude in Beijing.
“My goal every summer is to win the US Open,” said Roddick. “I have won the Legg Mason Tennis Classic three times and feel defending my title in Washington best prepares me for another Grand Slam title.”
Sixth-ranked Roddick captured the ATP title in Dubai last weekend with victories over Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic and reigning French Open champion Rafael Nadal in the run.
Roddick defeated big-serving US wild card John Isner in last year’s Washington final.
The Olympic tournament and Washington’s event are both set to be played on the week starting Monday, August 11.
With Roddick’s absence, ninth-ranked James Blake is the top-rated American in line to play for Beijing Olympic singles gold.