Martina Hingis is a Wimbledon champion once again, 17 years – exactly half her life – after the last time.
Already a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame on the merits of her “first” career in the sport, Hingis teamed with Sania Mirza to win the women’s doubles final at the All England Club by beating Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina 5-7, 7-6 (4), 7-5 on Saturday night.
The 34-year-old Hingis added to her collection of Wimbledon trophies that includes the singles title from 1997, plus the women’s doubles titles from 1996 and 1998. The latter was her last appearance in a final at Wimbledon.
“It feels like it was in another life,” Hingis said.
“Usually, you’re lucky to win it once or happy to be out here and play on the Wimbledon grounds,” Hingis said. “It’s above my expectations.”
She’ll get a chance to earn yet another trophy on Sunday, when she and Leander Paes face Timea Babos and Alexander Peya in the mixed doubles final.
And to think: A few years ago, Hingis was taking part in the Legends tournament for former players.
“I wouldn’t have thought (then) that I’ll be back, playing the finals here,” she said.
The No. 1-seeded Hingis and Mirza trailed 5-2 in the final set before taking the last five games against the second-seeded Makarova and Vesnina, who won last year’s US Open.
“It takes guts and courage being 5-2 down in the third set,” said Hingis, who held serve to win the match, then began leaping up and down on court. “Couldn’t have asked for more drama.”
Play was halted at 5-5 because it was getting too dark; after a break, action resumed with the Centre Court roof closed and artificial lights on.
“When we came out at 5-all, we had goosebumps. The energy on the court – we were getting a standing ovation – it was unbelievable,” said Mirza, the first woman from India to be ranked No. 1 in singles or doubles. “We both came out, and I said, ‘This is what we play for. This is what we work for'”.
Hingis, who reached No. 1 in the rankings and won five Grand Slam singles titles in the 1990s, initially quit tennis in 2002 because of foot and leg injuries, then rejoined the circuit full-time in 2006. She announced her retirement again in 2007, when she was given a two-year suspension for testing positive for cocaine at Wimbledon. At the time, she denied taking the drug but did not appeal the ruling.
The Swiss star returned to tennis in recent years as a coach and now is back playing, perhaps with an eye to competing at next year’s Rio Olympics.
Late Saturday evening, Hingis was asked whether during her time away from the game she ever thought this sort of success could again be possible.
“I always believed in it. Without that, you can’t come out here and play and compete at this level,” Hingis said. “I always felt like I had one of the best volleys in the world, one of the best backhands in the world, so you got to believe in something if you want to win.”