Martina Hingis became the youngest No. 1 player in tennis history Monday, making her the teen to beat.
The 16-year-old Swiss sensation likes her new role, and she’s unconcerned about any pitfalls or pressure that may await her.
“Everyone is expecting you to beat every player in the world right now,” Hingis said Monday at Hilton Head Island, S.C., where she’ll compete this week in the Family Circle Cup.
“But if you don’t make it, it doesn’t matter. In tennis you have so many chances. When you don’t play well in one tournament, the next week it’s another one.”
Hingis, who claimed her fifth title of 1997 at the Lipton Championships on Saturday, supplanted Steffi Graf in the WTA Tour rankings released Monday.
Because Graf has been sidelined for two months with a knee injury, Hingis was assured of No. 1 even if she lost her opening match at the Lipton. Instead she won the tournament, blitzing Monica Seles 6-2, 6-1 in the final.
“I am unbeatable in this year right now,” Hingis said.
Her record in 1997 is 26-0, and her dominance has been deceptive. She lacks the power of Graf or Seles, but anticipates well and mixes her shots with an intelligence uncommon for one so young.
Hingis left Key Biscayne with a crystal trophy, $215,000 and plenty of testimonials from those she beat.
“She’s very fast, and she gets back a lot of balls,” Seles said. “She creates shots out of places you don’t expect them.”
“When she’s playing well, you have to play almost perfect tennis to beat her,” Mary Joe Fernandez said.
“I think there is once in awhile, once in a hundred years, this kind of player,” Jana Novotna said.
Melanie Molitor, Hingis’ mother and coach, clearly is doing something right - although the child prodigy might be reluctant to admit it.
“You don’t want to really listen to somebody else,” said Hingis, sounding like a typical teen, “because you have to be on the court by yourself anyway.”
Molitor named her daughter after Martina Navratilova and entered her in tournaments in Czechoslovakia at age 4. She became the youngest French Open junior champion at 12, and the youngest Grand Slam champion in this century at the Australian Open in January.
Her ranking fuels anticipation of her next meeting with Graf. Hingis has lost five of six matches to Graf, but they have yet to play this year. Graf will be sidelined at least four more weeks.
“Steffi at her best and Martina at her best is a great match,” Fernandez said.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: NO. 1 Players who have been ranked No. 1 by the WTA, with date they first reached No. 1 and number of weeks in parentheses: Chris Evert, Nov. 1975 (262) M. Navratilova, July 1978 (331) Tracy Austin, April 1980 (22) Steffi Graf, Aug. 1987 (374) Monica Seles, March 1991 (178) A. Sanchez Vicario, Feb. 1995 (12) Martina Hingis, March 31, 1997 (1)
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