Wimbledon encore is burden for Hingis Still, defending champ wins opening match


WIMBLEDON, England -- Welcome back to Wimbledon, Martina Hingis.

The player you met -- Lisa Raymond -- said you looked "a little apprehensive."

The legends in the broadcast booth -- Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King -- questioned your fitness and attitude.

About the only thing that went right with your 1998 Wimbledon debut yesterday was that you beat the rain and won your match over Raymond, 7-5, 6-3, to open defense of the women's title.

At 17, Hingis is learning that it's hard to be No. 1 and harder still to try to regain the most precious trophy in tennis.

The ever-present smile that enchanted everyone last year now grates on some. The ground strokes that once captivated the audience are viewed as ordinary weapons. And after Hingis became the youngest champion at Wimbledon in the Open era, it's tough to come up with an encore.

Even Hingis seems to realize that she and the game she loves are going through rapid changes. She is growing up and facing tougher opponents in a sport overflowing with new talent and tenacious stars.

"Well, last year I was still kind of the underdog," she said.

This year, she's the betting favorite for the title, but no longer the sure crowd favorite. She is burdened by expectations. And the cheers that once came her way will understandably be for the new underdogs.

Still, Hingis had her brief moment of glory at Centre Court on what is traditionally Ladies' Day at Wimbledon. She walked onto the turf as defending champion, receiving cheers from the crowd. Then she had to face Raymond, No. 19 in the world, as tough an opening-round opponent as a champion could face.

Raymond is quick and agile, commands one of the top backhands in the game and is unafraid of the top tier of players. But in the end, it was Hingis who was stronger from the baseline, who used guile to put away a difficult opponent.

Hingis was also more shrewd in dealing with a 90-minute rain delay at the start of the second set. While Raymond sat around and talked with other players in the locker room, Hingis plopped down, read some magazines and then watched an exhilarating World Cup soccer match between Italy and Austria.

When she came back out on the court, Hingis was ready to win.

She was also eager to put aside the painful memory of her semifinal loss to Monica Seles at the French Open. After that disappointment, Hingis took two weeks off and even spent a few days climbing mountains, discovering that "nobody was there on the top."

Already, she needs peace and quiet away from the tour. Being No. 1 means she's marked, her flaws picked apart by friends and foes.

Raymond said the loss at the French Open "probably affected" Hingis. "I think she feels like she's got something to prove again," Raymond said.

Meanwhile, King and Navratilova were taking their shots at Hingis on Home Box Office.

"Sometimes, Martina Hingis seems to be unmotivated," King said. "Last year at the French Open, she was flat. This year, again, looking around kind of lackadaisical. She needs to step it up a gear. She needs to lift weights. She's 5 feet, 6 inches tall, and she plays these giants. Lindsay Davenport and Venus Williams are both over 6 feet.

"She needs to train much harder, keep her intensity up every single tournament."

Navratilova added to the fireworks. She said of Hingis: "I thought she was not only a bit dismissive during tournaments, but also a bit dismissive of her opponents. At the French Open, playing against Venus Williams, they're 2-and-2, and Martina says: 'There is no rivalry. I'm No. 1,' forgetting that she lost to Venus twice last year."

Navratilova added that, on grass, she would take Steffi Graf over Hingis.

"So, she better shape up emotionally and physically," Navratilova said. "She's No. 1, but she needs to step it up."

In her post-match comments, Hingis matter-of-factly noted that Venus and Serena Williams hadn't done well in a grass-court tuneup at Eastbourne.

Venus Williams, who beat Jana Nejedly, 6-3, 6-3, for her first victory at Wimbledon, shrugged off Hingis' remarks.

"I think going into the tournament, your chances are one out of 128," Williams said. "So, 127 other people are probably going for the title, or at least trying to get a couple of wins here or there. So, everyone's in the running, and there are a few who are really serious, and then there's only one who will win."

But in this tournament, one thing is certain: Everyone wants the title Hingis holds. She may no longer be the kid, but at Wimbledon she's still the champ.


Men's singles, first round

Nicolas Kiefer, Germany, def. Julian Alonso, Spain, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3. Magnus Larsson, Sweden, def. Marcelo Filippini, Uruguay, 7-5, 6-1, 6-4. Sargis Sargsian, Armenia, def. Albert Portas, Spain, 6-0, 7-5, 6-2.

Todd Woodbridge, Australia, def. Galo Blanco, Spain, 6-1, 6-2, 6-1. Patrick Rafter (6), Australia, def. Ivo Heuberger, Switzerland, 6-1, 6-2, 4-6, 6-1. Sebastien Grosjean, France, def. Martin Damm, Czech Republic, 6-3, 7-6 (10-8), 6-3.

Women's singles, first round

Martina Hingis (1), Switzerland, def. Lisa Raymond, Wayne, Pa., 7-5, 6-3. Jana Novotna (3), Czech Republic, def. Sandra Kleinova, Czech Republic, 6-2, 6-2. Sandrine Testud (14), France, def. Rennae Stubbs, Australia, 7-6 (7-5), 6-0. Venus Williams (7), Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., def. Jana Nejedly, Canada, 6-2, 6-2.

Nathalie Tauziat (16), France, def. Haruka Inoue, Japan, 2-6, 6-1, 6-3. Miriam Oremans, Netherlands, def. Elena Wagner, Germany, 6-3, 6-2. Naoko Kijimuta, Japan, def. Karin Miller, Bradenton, Fla., 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. Virginia Ruano-Pascual, Spain, def. Andrea Glass, Germany, 6-1, 6-7 (4-7), 6-3.

Featured matches


Pete Sampras (1), U.S., vs. Mikael Tillstrom, Sweden

Francisco Clavet, Spain, vs. Marcelo Rios (2), Chile

Mark Draper, Australia, vs. Greg Rusedski (4), Britain


Larisa Neiland, Latvia, vs. Lindsay Davenport (2), U.S.

Henrieta Nagyova, Slovakia, vs. Steffi Graf (4), Germany

Monica Seles (6), U.S., vs. Alexandra Fusai, France

Pub Date: 6/24/98

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