20 questions: Martina Hingis

Published by Barry Wood

Martina Hingis spoke about her passion for horses. Photo: Getty Images

Martina Hingis might still be a force on the doubles court (she won the women’s doubles title at Indian Wells with Yung-Jan Chan at the weekend), but it was as a singles player that she cemented her place in tennis history. The youngest ever Grand Slam champion (she picked up five titles in a glittering career) and the youngest ever world No.1, Martina was the definition of ‘phenom’. Barry Wood caught up with her to talk career, horses and who she would have around for dinner.

What is the greatest benefit of being famous?
Obviously a lot of doors are open for you. You get to meet some great people. When I started playing at first at about three years old you don’t think about that. It’s just about the joy of the sport. I don’t really remember when it happened but it all falls into place and comes naturally. I would say the money is not bad either. You can go anywhere. When I used to be a junior you look in the windows and think ‘I wish I could afford it’.

What quality do you most like in other people?
Loyalty.

What annoys or frustrates you the most?
Exactly the opposite, pretty much. You give your trust and then they start to lie, twist it and turn it.

What do you most like in yourself?
I think I’ve always been an honest and direct person. I think that is a quality that a lot of people appreciate about me.

What do you dislike in yourself?
That I’m too honest.

What has been your best moment on a tennis court?
There have been so many great moments and experiences that I was able to go through. Probably winning my first tournament, winning the Porsche (at Filderstadt in 1996). That was pretty cool. And winning the (1997) Australian Open (against Mary Pierce), my first Grand Slam, to prove I could do it on the big stage.

What has been your worst moment on a tennis court?
I think if I could have the chance to play that (1999) French Open final again I definitely would (against Steffi Graf). One of the Australian Open finals against Jennifer (Capriati – Hingis lost the 2001 and 2002 finals against her).

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you have given yourself when your career started?
The thing is that I didn’t have fear, which was a very good thing. I always looked at things positively and that was probably good when I first won Wimbledon because I didn’t know that factor of fear. Only when I came back, that’s when I started being nervous and had the fear of disappointment to let down.

What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Well, I always had my mum there so there’s been many things. Especially it’s more when you lose, she’d really believe in me and we’d go back and work harder. She was always my re-generator. She was always my engine and was always there for me. There are many things she did and she always supported me. So I couldn’t pick one particular piece of advice.

What would be your perfect day?
There are small things that can make you happy, and family, having a nice day. Sometimes there’s winning a tournament, your boyfriend watching you, the happiest moments. My parents, my mum being there, to prove myself to her that she put so much power and will into it and I made her happy. There are many factors that go into a perfect day.

But then a perfect day could be like the other day when I took my horse on the beach and had a photo shoot, and just riding her on the beach without the saddle, it was like, ‘Wow’. Pure happiness.

What talent, other than tennis, would you like to have?
I’d probably have been a very normal person. I was good in school though. I had a good memory and I think it helped me to know and speak four languages. I definitely wasn’t that great in math. I could memorise the things but I wasn’t a very logical person. I was more of a creative person. With the certificate that I have I could always be the receptionist at a hotel, right? Or a flight attendant. If you speak languages you can kind of get through in your life.

No, I would probably make my way. It depends where you grow up. In Switzerland, the banking system works pretty well, right? Or skiing?. I started skiing very early, but any sport I would have picked up at that time. Tennis was my priority, but I was good in any other sports because with my mum’s determination anything I’ve done it had to be done well.

What has been your most extravagant purchase?
Maybe some dresses sometimes, like for the Wimbledon party. Well, horses. I spent a lot of money on horses I guess. I have a pretty normal life. I try to do my job, I try to do my things. I love my horses and that’s the most important thing to me. There are one or two diamonds, because at the end of the day diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

Who do you most admire?
I think that the one meeting I had with Mohammed Ali. I was with adidas. All the top athletes were on stage. Mohammed Ali and his daughter Laila were there and that was the only time I got goose bumps.

What is your greatest fear?
I don’t really fear anything right now. I guess dying, but I hope that’s not going to happen anytime soon. I have no fears. I don’t like flying when it’s bumpy. No, I think if you live your life positively why have fear? From what?

What is your most treasured possession?
I have my horses that I really love. And if my mum would not be around anymore because even now she’s ‘Well done. Good match’. We’ve always been very close.

If you weren’t a tennis player what would you like to be?
We talked about that. Maybe a banker or any other sport.

Where is the best place you’ve ever been?
I’ve been pretty fortunate to go to many different places, but a vacation one year of The Maldives was pretty special. The water there was very exceptional. Postcard pictures.

Where would you most like to go that you haven’t been to yet?
The Seychelles. I’ve seen some of the movies and the water, Bora Bora. I’ve also never been to the Caribbean except the Cayman Islands. I’ve been invited a couple of times to go to (Richard Branson’s) Necker Island so hopefully this year it’s going to happen. That will be really nice, because everybody that’s been there says it’s a dream. I can’t wait to go there.

Who would you most like to have as a dinner guest – living or dead?
The people that I want to meet or admire, it’s happened. If I really want something I try to make it happen. Maybe Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie would be pretty cool. I saw Bradley Cooper at the US Open. A lot of people come because they love tennis so you meet a lot of these guys. That’s the lifestyle we have so you get to know and meet people. Like Sean Connery. I had him on the phone flirting.

How would you like to be remembered?
I think now people really come and enjoy to watch me and I get great comments like ‘Great to have me back’ and they enjoy my game, that I was missed. So it’s nice to hear that, that they really enjoyed my game, what I was playing like. The variety in my game, because it’s not around anymore.

Barry Wood has reported on the game for over 35 years, attending his first Australian Open at Kooyong before going on to interview almost every top player as well as many others for numerous publications.

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