Moving Forward: Martina Hingis Talks About Her Future
The tennis world was rocked in 2007 when it became public that Martina Hingis, one of the most distinguished players in women’s tennis, had tested positive for cocaine use at the 2007 Wimbledon Championships.
No one, though, was more shocked than the fifteen-time Grand Slam champion.
As a woman who prided herself on her fitness, her form and her mental game, recreational drug use was a reprehensible idea. During the course of her career, Hingis had taken dozens of drug tests, both during and away from competition. None prior to Wimbledon ever returned positive.
“I said from the start that I was innocent,” Hingis said. “I have never used cocaine or any recreational drug. I have always been outspoken and have always told the truth, even when it was sometimes politically incorrect. If I had ever taken cocaine, I would have said so.”
She even voluntarily took a hair follicle test, which showed she had nothing in her system for the 90 days following Wimbledon. According to the International Tennis Federation, 42 nanograms per milliliter of a cocaine metabolite were found in Hingis’ system, a tiny trace amount that would have produced a negative result on a military drug test in the United States.
Unfortunately, for Hingis, the very locale where the drug test was administered has become a cocaine residue breeding ground. The UK’s Telegraph reported in 2005 that London’s Thames River was awash in cocaine, as over 150,000 lines of the recreational drug were smoked each day. Cross contamination has permeated through the water, restrooms and even bank notes.
Immediately after the ITF’s findings were publicized, Hingis launched a campaign to prove her innocence. The Swiss Miss spent $500,000 in legal costs to present her case to the ITF’s tribunal, which incidentally is composed of three members appointed and paid by the ITF, who ultimately dealt down a two-year suspension.
An appeal would have been expensive—and worthless—because the ITF requires players to identify the source of contamination, as in the recent case of Richard Gasquet’s cocaine-contaminated kissing spree. The amount of cocaine cited in Hingis’ case was so small that it was impossible to trace back to its source. Ironically, while Hingis was given the maximum penalty of two years, the rule has since been changed, as players may now receive a zero to two-year suspension for similar offenses.
Hingis’ only recourse? End her career for the second time and attempt to rebuild her life. Despite her immediate retirement, Hingis was still given a two-year ban that prevented her from even setting foot on the grounds of the four tournaments where she had experienced fifteen memorable victories.
Last month, On the Baseline’s Aaress Lawless reached Hingis for an exclusive interview about her future plans.
Do you feel as though you have a new lease on life as you start this next phase of your retirement?
“Well, I retired once before so I am quite used to it! Tennis has been and always will be a big part of my life. The difference now is that I can get to live a normal life and enjoy the type of life that I would not have been able to have if it wasn’t for tennis.”
“Because I have more flexibility now, I am able to make the most of some opportunities outside of tennis. For instance, recently I was a contestant on the BBC TV show ‘Strictly Come Dancing’. I agreed to be on the show because I have always wanted to learn how to dance and how else would I get the chance to dance with a professional dancer for four hours per day, seven days per week – it was a fun experience, I only wish that I’d have stayed on the show longer!”
You have mentioned that your love for tennis remains strong. Do you have any plans for a future in the sport, perhaps by starting an academy or working as a consultant?
“Currently I play in exhibition matches and being a perfectionist, I always want to play my best so I play regularly. My mother has an academy in Switzerland, I practice a lot with her young players and give them encouragement and advice where I can. I don’t know what the future holds but I am confident that tennis will always be a big part of it.”
During your career, you were known for your sharp mental and tactical game. How would you hope to pass along this approach to the next generation of players?
“Being tactically aware is a huge advantage but in order to play a tactical game you must have mastered the basics. If you don’t have the foundation i.e. correct technique then you will never be able to play a smart tactical game. Having a smart tactical game will give you choices. This is how my mother coached me and how she continues to coach her pupils at the academy. It’s essential.”
“A coach must teach the correct technique and footwork, once this is in place then comes the strategy. It’s the same with all sports and I know this very well through my horse riding. With Dressage for instance, I know that I must get the basics right else I won’t be able to make the jump, it’s that simple and it certainly doesn’t come from luck, it comes from quality training, persistence and hard work. But then this is what all success is built from, right?!”
Persistence and hard work helped Hingis reign as the number one player in the world for four years, and although she would never want to repeat the past twenty-four months, she has remained resilient.
A flawed system may have banned her from the sport, but nothing can take away her love for the game—a love that one hopes will keep her legacy alive as one of the finest tennis tacticians of all time.