Martina Hingis And Latisha Chan On The End Of An Era
It should have been a long, drawn-out battle. Legendary Swiss tennis player Martina Hingis and her doubles partner, Taiwanese star Latisha Chan, were up against Czech duo Katerina Siniakova and Lucie Hradecka in the final of the US Open in September. Both pairs had performed consistently well all season and were desperate to win the prestigious title.
But Hingis and Chan made it look easy. They won the first set 6-3, then triumphed 6-2 in the second. It was all over in an hour and five minutes. That was only one of the duo’s many victories last year. They also won the China Open and the Mutua Madrid Open. It was an astonishing run for the pair, who only began playing together in February last year.
“We quickly found we had very good chemistry,” Chan explains. “We’ve spent a lot of time together both on and off court.”
But just as suddenly as their partnership began, it came to an end. Hingis, who won her first Grand Slam title at the age of 15, is now 37 and recently retired. With 25 major titles under her belt and cabinets filled to bursting with trophies, she decided to call it a day.
“I think it’s perfect timing [to retire],” she announced during the WTA Finals Singapore last year. “You know, you want to stop on top.”
We meet her and Chan in Taiwan to discuss Hingis’s plans and to find out how Chan intends to continue the winning streak she enjoyed with her retiring doubles partner.
When did you decide you would retire?
Martina: The whole of last year I was saying to Latisha, “This probably will be my last year [playing professionally].” I went into the season knowing it would be the last time I’m going [to places] as a professional player.
You’ve retired twice before. Is it for real this time?
Martina: That’s my plan (laughs). But tennis will always stay part of me. As a past Wimbledon champion, I get tickets and I may go in the future just to watch tennis and play the Legends Circuit. I’ve been invited to Saint Petersburg by my friend Iva Majoli in February, and in April we have the Swiss WTA women’s tennis tournament in Lugano.
I’m the ambassador there, so I’ll be there for the week. My mum has a tennis school, so I can join her for a bit and play with the children. I also have my horses. I have plenty of things to do—I definitely won’t be sitting on the couch just doing nothing.
You started in tennis at the age of 12. How do you feel when you look back over your career?
Martina: I’m very proud, obviously, to have reached what I’ve reached. I was the world’s youngest number one and stayed there for four years. That was the same time that the Williams sisters were playing, and we played each other at least 25 times.
It was a great time and we pushed each other to get better and to play those great matches. I’m happy with the way things went and I don’t think I would do anything differently. I’m happy with where and who I am. I think this is a great time of my life, whether professionally or privately.
How much of your success comes from natural talent and how much from hard work?
Martina: I do think it’s mostly hard work. I played five to six hours per day as a kid. My mum was a professional tennis player and had a tennis school. The hour with my mum was hard because it was a lot of drills and discipline, but for three to four hours I played doubles with other kids—that’s why I’m such a good doubles player today.
It’s not like the six hours of drilling that you see at the academies today. I wanted to play with the kids. I had good friends who were older and better than me. We played girls against the boys—there were five tennis courts and 40 kids, so if a spot opened up I was happy to jump on the court. You had to fight for your place.
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How did it feel when you won last year’s US Open?
Latisha: It was my first Grand Slam victory. What surprises me is that although I had reached the Grand Slam finals several times in the past, I had never won. I was actually very relaxed in last year’s final, and I enjoyed the match so much. I was surprised that I could ever enjoy myself in the final of such a big tournament.
Are you disappointed that Martina Hingis has retired?
Latisha: I just feel honoured and blessed to have been her partner. She’s been my idol since I was little. A few years ago, when I was still playing doubles with my sister, Angel, we had matches with Martina. When the announcement was made that I’d be her partner, I tried very hard to be professional.
But after two days, it suddenly hit me, I thought, “OMG, it’s Martina Hingis! I’m teaming up with my idol. I better get myself together and give the best I can.”
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How do you choose a new partner?
Latisha: I consider them both tactically and physically. It’s also important to think: when facing the critical moment in a match, how would this person react? Would we be on the same page? If two players are equally talented but one insists on her way of playing, that would lead to a bad performance. I want to have consistency and communication, which is key for success in doubles matches.
How do you build a relationship with a doubles partner?
Latisha: When you want to get to know someone you need to spend time with them, but it’s important to understand that people need some space. In Martina’s case, she texts me all the time, asking where I am, if we should have dinner together and what I’m up to after training.
After training, we usually eat together and chat. Even after we part, we’ll often keep texting. She’s like a good friend, and having a good friend as your partner is a bonus.
Latisha recently announced that her new partner will be Andrea Hlavackova of the Czech Republic