Martina Hingis: "I have always believed in myself".

Martina Hingis is one of the most successful tennis players in the history of the sport. Her key to success? Courage, ambition, fun and belief in herself.

(Illustration: Silvan Borer)

m&kMartina Hingis, tennis has accompanied you from an early age - there is a rumor that you were already leaning on a racket when you couldn't even walk properly. Is that true?

Martina Hingis Yes, probably so (laughs). I can't remember the very early years, of course, but I grew up on the tennis court: my mother was a professional player in Czechoslovakia and I was always there at practice. There are photos of me between the rackets and balls, on the edge of the court, with my toys. So I think the rumor is true.


What is your first conscious, own tennis memory?

My mother and I came to Switzerland from Czechoslovakia in 1988. Because I wanted to play as many tennis tournaments as possible, but there was no children's category here at that time, I was already on the court as a young girl with Swiss housewives (laughs) - ambitious amateur players, so to speak. They often said, "How cute!" or, "You're hardly visible behind the net!" and wanted to play me. But they quickly stopped when they realized that I always win.

At the age of eight or nine, did you already have the sporting ambition that later led you to the top of the tennis world?When I went on a court, I always wanted to win. That's why I loved playing matches and tournaments: I wanted to compete with others, and every victory gave me joy. You know, I always had a hard, very good training because my mother trained me according to professional standards. So most of the matches I played felt more relaxed than my regular training. So in the matches I could concentrate on trying out different strategies, adjusting to my opponents - or developing alternative plans if the original ideas didn't work. 

From this, I take away two life lessons: that you'd better be prepared for more than you might actually expect - and that you have not only a Plan A, but also a Plan B and a Plan C.

American track and field athlete Ed Moses once told me how he remained the undefeated world champion in the 400-meter hurdles for nine years, nine months, and nine days: he always trained, he said, for the 800-meter run! (laughs) Ed said, "You know, Martina, if I can do the 800 meters - then the 400 meters are a piece of cake!" And on the second point: Yes, I always had a Plan B or Plan C in addition to my Plan A. It was very important to my mother in training that I have a broad tactical and technical base. I often miss that a bit in current women's tennis - my generation put more emphasis on strategic skills and a broad technical repertoire. A big match is often also a feeling-out, a waiting game: You're facing one of the Williams sisters and have to catch the moment when she shows a weakness; have to be precise where she allows herself an inaccuracy; have to have an idea that she doesn't have.


Was it always clear to you that you wanted to be a professional tennis player? Or were there other career aspirations as well?

Because I was able to experience success so early, that - took on a life of its own. I won my first Swiss championships at the age of twelve, as well as the youth tournaments in Paris and Wimbledon. A steep, rapid ascent. And then I wanted more.


And you got more: In 1996, you became the youngest Grand Slam winner in the history of tennis when - just fifteen years and nine months old - you won the women's doubles at Wimbledon with Helena Suková. Didn't you feel incredible pressure in the context of such world tournaments?

No - that was actually the beauty of it! When I was young, I didn't deal with the pressure at all, for two reasons: One, I was lucky enough to have beaten most of my opponents in the big tournaments before elsewhere. So I thought, for example: Why shouldn't I beat them here in Miami, I already won against them in Hamburg!? And I was convinced that I had time: If I didn't win this or that tournament, then I could come back a year later and try again. That was my mindset.


I think that fits in perfectly with the motto of the event at which you will be the star guest in November - DirectDay is running under the title "Bold is Gold! And this is how you describe your career: You were ambitious, but you also had fun and believed in yourself very strongly.

Yes, I have always been able to rely on my game. Even in situations where I was behind or under stress, I knew that I could master the next shot and that I would deliver my performance. Self-doubt was not a problem I suffered from - especially in my "first career". Sure, nobody wins every game, always has a good day. But I acted at every moment with the conviction that I can - will - make the next point.


How do you protect the self-confidence you describe if you do suffer a defeat - perhaps in a match or tournament that was very important to you?

It has always helped me - and I think this can be applied to many areas of life - to analyze afterwards what didn't work or what external factors played into the result. If I lose to one of the Williams sisters, who are on the other side of the net with all their muscles and enormous size, then I know: I have to train my condition and my strength even better to compensate for the physical differences next time. And sometimes you just have to accept that everything is "too much": I once ran out of breath at the Australian Open when the outside temperature was fifty degrees, okay, that's ... to put it casually ... crappy, but then you have to tick that off.


As a very young player, you said earlier, things "took on a life of their own". Later in your career, however, you had to make very conscious, courageous decisions: The comebacks in 2006 and 2013 were conscious steps that were not without risk for your reputation and your "legacy" ...

When I made my first comeback in 2006, I asked myself, "If I don't try it again now, might I blame myself for the rest of my life?" So I did. But of course I was more afraid of failing now than before - after all, I didn't want to embarrass myself. Nobody forced me to return to the pitch after my first retirement in 2003. I knew that if I did that, people would understand that I wanted to do it myself. And then I have to deliver. Fortunately, I managed to do that (laughs). I had great matches, great tournament wins, before injury problems came up again in 2007. And the second comeback in 2013 ... to be honest, that wasn't planned at all! I actually only wanted to coach. But then first Daniela Hantuchová asked if I wanted to return to the WTA Tour with her in Carlsbad - and then I won the Sony Open tournament in doubles with Sabine Lisicki. We can't go into detail here now because the history of the matches that followed would take up too much space - but in January 2016, for the first time in almost sixteen years, I had the No. 1 position in the WTA doubles world rankings again, together with Sania Mirza. A nice encore for the second, totally unplanned comeback, right? (laughs)


Another learning for me: It can be worthwhile to surprise yourself sometimes.

That's just it. Sometimes there are situations, turning points in life, at which many things are decided - and whose significance you could not have foreseen. You simply have to dare.


How important were your competitors for you, actually? David Coulthard, who appeared on DirectDay two years ago, once told me that dueling with Michael Schumacher made him a better race car driver. Did you have rivals who improved your game?

I'm the same age as Venus Williams and a year older than Serena Williams. I was better as a junior and at a much higher level, but then they both caught up - and when we met, those were matches where I took a lot away for myself. The first US Open match against Venus - I admit that honestly - was probably also the first time I didn't sleep that well before a match (laughs). But I won. You don't lose to your peers, I thought to myself at the time.


So sporting excellence pushes and reinforces each other?

It's not really fun to play regularly against people like that, because it takes an insane amount of energy. But they were certainly the best matches I played back then. The effect you're talking about has also been seen in men's tennis in recent years: Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have been working off each other - and whenever one was better, the others trained to catch up. And the matches became more and more incredible.


Roger Federer has just retired, Nadal and Djokovic are flirting with a similar move for 2023 or 2024, according to the relevant media. If you yourself were part of a "tennis generation", as you were, is it strange to see such a generation retire?

I don't want to sound arrogant at all, but women's tennis in the peak years of my career, that was a really great time, a great generation of players. Venus and Serena, who represented the USA. Mary Pierce from France. Conchita Martínez from Spain. I could list several more people now. What I want to say is: all of them brought their fans, their special style, were ... unique. And when that ends, it is of course associated with a certain melancholy.


How did you experience the transformation from top-level sport back to a "normal" everyday life?

Oh, I think - every person who has done a job that was important to them, whether as a manager, a lawyer or even as a tennis player, feels a break after their career ends. Then you have to find something new that fulfills you. In my case, it's certainly my family: I have a little daughter who is the most important thing in the world to me. The best gift tennis has given me is the time I can now spend with her. And I regularly go to my mom's tennis gym and teach the kids there. We currently have a 14-year-old player with us who is the world number one in her age group and whose progress I have been watching for five years. It's a different feeling of happiness than when I played myself, but it's also wonderful.


If one day your daughter expressed the desire to become a professional tennis player ... would you support that?

Yes well, if it were her wish, then I would support that for sure. But I would also do that for all the other wishes and plans she has. Maybe we should give her a little more time to decide, she's only three and a half years old (laughs).


You appear incredibly likeable and down-to-earth. Nevertheless, I would like to emphasize something and thus introduce my last question: You are one of the most successful tennis players in the history of your sport. You have achieved everything that can be achieved in your discipline. What advice would you give to people who, like you, have big dreams and want to realize them?

You just have to live out your passions and then consistently pursue the goal or plans you have. It's very easy to say, but we all know how life plays out sometimes. How you can lose sight of goals or get off track. That you sacrifice dreams because reality seems to throw a wrench in your plans. But I say: You have to hold on to your dreams, with all your might. And you have to create an environment that supports you: a family, friends who accompany you for part of the way. And, perhaps finally, it helps to be realistic. I wanted to win the cantonal championships in Switzerland, then the national championships ... That was my first goal. Wimbledon came later.

Direct Day 2022: The interview with Martina Hingis took place during the run-up to Direct Day 2022. There, on November 15, she will talk about the highlights of her career, in keeping with the motto "Bold is Gold". Every year, Post Advertising organizes this leading event for the dialog marketing industry; this time, for the first time, at the Kongresshaus Zurich. Secure yourself now last remaining tickets

Martina Hingis (born September 30, 1980) is a former Swiss tennis player. Born in Czechoslovakia as the child of two tennis professionals, she came into contact with the sport at an early age - and after her mother moved to Switzerland with her in 1988, quickly celebrated cantonal and national success. A spectacular rise to the global tennis Olympus followed, which only ended in 2017 after several comebacks. Martina Hingis now works as a junior coach and is the happy mother of a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter.

Hingis won 38 titles at WTA tournaments in singles and 42 in doubles. She also won five Grand Slam titles in singles - the Australian Open three times and Wimbledon and the US Open once each - as well as thirteen Grand Slam titles in doubles and seven in mixed. In 1998, she managed to win all Grand Slam tournaments in the same year with different partners. Between 1997 and 2001, she spent 209 weeks at the top of the world rankings. She is the youngest player ever to top the singles rankings. At 16 years and three months, she was also the youngest winner in the 20th century of a Grand Slam tournament in singles. After retiring at the age of just 22, she decided to make a comeback in 2006, which took her once again to No. 6 in the world rankings. On November 1, 2007, she said goodbye to professional sports for a second time. She returned to the WTA Tour again in 2013, this time only for the doubles competition. Hingis is one of seven players who have topped the world rankings in both singles and doubles. Only she, Martina Navratilova and Arantxa Sánchez Vicario even managed to do so at the same time.

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