Martina Hingis's game and personal life are suddenly in turmoil
Not long ago--has it been only three weeks?--Martina Hingis was
just a supremely talented and lighthearted No. 1, and her
relationship with her mother-coach, Melanie Molitor, was a model
of parent-child chemistry. Molitor may have grimly directed her
18-year-old daughter through regimented training sessions, but
she accommodated Hingis's horseback riding, various romances and
remarkable warmth toward her toughest rivals. But now, in the
wake of Hingis's jaw-dropping debacles in the French Open final
and the first round of Wimbledon, every aspect of her career,
especially her bond with her mother, is being questioned.
Has a tennis great ever suffered such a meltdown? Even after
Hingis publicly derided another player's sexual orientation at
the 1999 Australian Open and then behaved abominably in her
showdown with Steffi Graf in the French final, no one sensed
that there were holes in her game or personal life. Her tennis
seemed typically brilliant; her arrogance seemed typically
unshakable. But then, last week, came a 129th-ranked qualifier
named Jelena Dokic, an empty seat where Molitor always sat
during Hingis's matches, and a 6-2, 6-0 loss in the first round
at the All England Club--the biggest upset in women's tennis
history. "Has it all happened too fast for you, your career?"
someone asked Hingis in the postmatch press conference.
"Maybe," she said.
Coming from her, that was tantamount to a scream from a rooftop.
Hingis declared that she and Molitor, who had never been absent
from one of her matches since Hingis turned pro in the fall of
1994, had "decided to have a little bit of distance." Hingis
said she wanted to be "more independent to do my decisions, the
way I practice and the way I want to do things." She said she
didn't plan on hiring another coach. Then, citing a chronic heel
injury, she pulled out of the doubles competition and bolted.
"Things have happened too easily for Martina her whole career,"
says Chris Evert, who has been a mentor to Hingis. "She floated
through the juniors and her first year on tour, when Steffi and
Monica [Seles] were injured or out, and it was just wide open
for her to dominate. This is the first time she's faced
adversity. She's had an arrogance, and why shouldn't she? But
now she's lost a few matches, and she's panicking."
Those closest to Hingis dismiss rumors that the rift with her
mother had anything to do with Molitor's demand that Hingis
return for the French Open trophy presentation after she stormed
off the court following her loss to Graf, or that the break had
to do with Hingis's romantic relationship with Swiss player Ivo
Heuberger. A stickier issue is that Molitor has been mulling
over the idea of coaching other players. Dokic confirmed that
she and Molitor had discussed a possible coaching arrangement
when Dokic spent a week working out with Hingis at her home in
Switzerland before the French Open.
The root of the tension between Hingis and Molitor seems to be
"the natural progression of Martina coming of age," says Ivan
Brixi, Hingis's agent. Molitor, a former player who named her
daughter after Martina Navratilova, began training Hingis when
she was two, strung her daughter's rackets personally and
attended virtually every match from the time Hingis began
playing competitively at age four. The two women have been
inseparable, sharing hotel rooms and meals. "There comes a
time," says Wimbledon No. 3 seed Lindsay Davenport, "when it's
probably not cool for your mom to be your best friend."
No one expects Molitor to disappear entirely. Despite Hingis's
statement in London that she will take time off from tennis, she
plans to begin training next week for the U.S. hard-court
season, at her new home at the Saddlebrook resort in Florida.
Though mother and daughter are still ironing out the details of
their tennis relationship, according to Brixi, "there's no
question Melanie will be involved." There's also no doubt that
Hingis is not ready to distance herself from her mother. When
Hingis arrived home in Switzerland last week, she broke into
tears and said, "Mom, I need you."
ALL CHAUVINIST TENNIS CLUB
Ah, tradition. There's nothing to beat the All England Club:
tennis whites, grass courts, the bow to the royal box, the
insufferable sexism. It's astonishing, but here at century's end
sit the lords of Wimbledon, still harrumphing at the idea of
equal pay for men and women and dreaming of the days when women
knew their place. Last week Chris Gorringe, the chief executive
of the All England Club, set the tournament back a few decades
when he justified paying the women's champion $72,000 less than
the men's winner by saying that otherwise "we wouldn't have so
much to spend on the petunias." Petunias?
Britain's No. 1 player, Tim Henman, citing the disparity between
purses on the men's and women's tours, advised the women to
leave the Grand Slams alone and called them "greedy" for having
the gall even to raise the issue. After Henman took a sound
thrashing in the British press, Jim Courier begged to be asked
about the topic so he could chime in on Henman's side.
"Everything he said is true," Courier said.
Not content to let the matter rest, the All England Club issued
a press release noting that the prize money on the men's tour is
50% more than on the women's and pointing out that the four
women semifinalists at Wimbledon last year--Martina Hingis, Jana
Novotna, Nathalie Tauziat and Natasha Zvereva--took home more
prize money during the 1998 tournament than the men's
semifinalists, Tim Henman, Goran Ivanisevic, Richard Krajicek
and Pete Sampras. What the release didn't mention is that
Wimbledon has virtually never followed the example of the pro
tours when setting policies. Nor did the release acknowledge
that those four women also played doubles last year, while the
four men didn't.
So the All England Club proved itself not only cheap,
sanctimonious and chauvinistic, but deceitful too. All for the
sake of relative pocket change.
LOVE, AMERICAN STYLE
What with Andre Agassi loudly cheering on Jim Courier during his
second-round victory and Pete Sampras declaring that Courier's
Davis Cup heroics over England in April had rekindled his own
motivation, things have gotten unusually harmonious at the top
of U.S. men's tennis. Sampras's addition to the Davis Cup squad
as a doubles player for this month's tie against Australia in
Boston has caused no grumbling, and singles stalwart Todd Martin
has volunteered to step aside should captain Tom Gullikson want
Sampras to play singles. "There's a lot of love in the air,"
Sampras said facetiously. "I feel a love."
That kind of camaraderie has long been a hallmark of the
Australian program. But not this year. Aussie singles player
Mark Philippoussis has had a fractious history with coaches John
Newcombe and Tony Roche over his lack of commitment to Davis
Cup, and Philippoussis's relationships with fellow singles
player Pat Rafter and the doubles team of Todd Woodbridge and
Mark Woodforde are cool at best.
"We don't go to movies or dinner, but we see each other and say
hello," said Philippoussis after his second-round win over
Woodforde. "But there's no real friends on the tour, even if you
are Australian. I've got my friends and my life, and that's all
I'm worried about."
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG After behaving boorishly at the French, Hingis played pathetically at Wimbledon.
COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY Courier dived into Wimbledon's controversy by dissing women's demands for equal prize money.
by the numbers
123 Speed, in mph, of the fastest serve by women's No. 6 seed
Venus Williams during the first week of Wimbledon.
122 Speed of the fastest serve by men's No. 2 seed Patrick Rafter.
$95.98 Reported daily rate of London hotel room for qualifier
Jelena Dokic, who upset Martina Hingis in the first round in
$1,027.00 Daily rate of Hingis's rented house in Wimbledon.
8 Number of times Anna Kournikova said "No comment" to questions
about her romantic interests during one Wimbledon press
1 Number of times Andre Agassi mentioned that his relationship
with Jim Courier is "strictly platonic. Now."
595 Rank of Pete Sampras's third-round opponent, 30-year-old
qualifier Danny Sapsford of England, who retired after losing in