NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two matches. Two full houses. Two losses. Martina Hingis proved she could still put backsides on seats in her return to the U.S. Open on Friday, even if her service game recalled more the struggles of the past than the triumphs.
Hundreds of spectators were shut out of Court 17 for the 32-year-old’s cameo in the women’s doubles but her return to grand slam tennis, also incorporating an appearance in the mixed event, was blighted by a pair of defeats.
Sixteen years after winning her only U.S. Open singles title, the woman once known as the “Swiss Miss” made two appearances at Flushing Meadows.
In the first, she partnered Slovakia’s Daniela Hantuchova against the top-seeded Italian pairing of Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci.
The match ended in underwhelming fashion for Hingis, who served up consecutive double faults to seal a 6-3 7-5 loss.
Hingis was crestfallen.
She had received a massive cheer when introduced to the crowd and been the focus of all attention. The roars and groans from the bleachers matched her own fluctuating fortunes.
Hingis beamed whenever the old magic returned but this was no hit and giggle.
The former world number one argued with the umpire, bounced her racquet in frustration and clenched her fists throughout a determined effort.
Hingis dropped her opening service game in a tentative beginning. A hint of what would come.
There were flashes of the craftiness that landed her five major titles but her serve lacked punch.
Her physical fitness was evident to everyone who saw her. Walking through the crowd to her first match, a large man stood in front of her and said: ‘Jeez, you’re looking good!’
Hingis later returned for a mixed doubles match under the Court Four floodlights with India’s Mahesh Bhupathi against Sweden’s Robert Lindstedt and Taiwan’s Chan Yung-January
Again she served to stay in the match at 5-6 in the second set. She held.
Another defeat was on its way, however, when Hingis conceded two mini-breaks in the tie-breaker en route to a 7-6(5) 7-6(5) reverse.
She admitted nerves and relative poor fitness had contributed to her losses.
“My calf was killing me,” she said. “I couldn’t get up on my serve any more. And definitely the nerves. Not playing at a grand slam for six years doesn’t help, either.
“I think it’s because I just played a lot and my body’s not used to it. I feel like I’m playing well but my body is screaming, ‘What are you doing to me?’”
Hingis first retired in 2002, aged 22. She launched a full-scale comeback in 2006, but retired again in 2007. That same year, she admitted to having tested positive for cocaine.
By then, her finesse-based game and lack of serving penetration were proving ineffective against a powerful new generation led by Serena and Venus Williams.
She said she would continue playing with Hantuchova in tournaments in Asia, but dismissed out of hand a return to singles.
“God, give me a break,” she said. “No, I haven’t given any more thought to it. I have a hard enough time trying to cover half the court. Full court is a completely different ball game.
“But I always enjoyed the big stage, and you saw the people that came today. You don’t see such a crowd in women’s doubles, normally.”
Editing by Nick Mulvenney