January 31, 1998 in Sports

And Still Champion Hingis, 17, Youngest To Defend A Grand Slam Title

Associated Press
 
Tags:tennis

Martina Hingis, wearing a smile on the court, became the youngest player in the Open era to defend a Grand Slam title Saturday when she captured her second Australian Open.

Hingis, 17, crafted her fourth major championship in elegant fashion, running former Wimbledon champ Conchita Martinez ragged in long rallies and tapping her out with volleys or soft, angled approach shots for a 6-3, 6-3 victory.

“To defend the title is much harder than coming here for the first time (when) nobody expected me to win,” said Hingis, named after Martina Navratilova and raised since birth to be a champion. “There was so much pressure … I’m very happy to have continued to do this again in singles and doubles.”

Unlike a year ago, her mother and coach, Melanie Molitor, stayed in the stands at the end instead of leaping down to embrace her daughter.

“My mom promised me before the match she wouldn’t jump down again,” Hingis told the crowd. Then, addressing her mother, she added, “I want to say thank you for being with me, through all the good times and bad times.”

If the match lacked tension or suspense on a gorgeous 77-degree afternoon, it was because the light-footed Hingis so thoroughly kept control in her fifth consecutive Grand Slam final.

From the first point, a 23-stroke rally that Hingis ended with a deft backhand drop, to a 35-stroke rally that wore down Martinez in the second set, it was clear that Hingis was the more resilient player.

Though broken in the first game of the opening set after a couple of deuces, Hingis streaked through the next four games, capitalizing on Martinez’s erratic groundstrokes, and never yielded the lead in taking the set in 40 minutes.

Hingis ruled the second set as easily, breaking Martinez three times. Martinez’s biggest chance of coming back evaporated in the fourth game when she squared off with Hingis in their longest rally, 35 strokes.

But Hingis won that exhausting duel with a forehand crosscourt.

Hingis held that game, then broke Martinez at love for a 3-2 lead. Hingis pocketed a $383,200 winner’s check, giving her more than $5 million in her brief career. Martinez earned $191,600.

Hingis also split $159,000 with 15-year-old partner Mirjana Lucid for winning the women’s doubles.

© Copyright 1998 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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