Tennis

Former world No. 1 Martina Hingis returns to the WTA Tour

 

mkaufman@MiamiHerald.com

Martina is back. Martina Hingis, that is. And her return is a welcome storyline in an otherwise dull downtime between Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

The 32-year-old former world No. 1 is returning to the WTA Tour to play doubles in five tournaments, including the U.S. Open. She was scheduled to make her return Wednesday night with partner and close friend Daniela Hantuchova at the Southern California Open. She is also entered in tournaments in Toronto, Cincinnati, New Haven and the U.S. Open, which begins Aug. 26.

“The Swiss Miss,” as she was nicknamed in her heyday, won five Grand Slam tournaments between 1997 and 1999 — three Australian Opens, one Wimbledon and one U.S. Open. She was ranked No. 1 for 209 weeks and retired prematurely at age 22 in 2002 because of foot and ankle injuries.

She made a singles comeback in 2006 and did quite well, reaching the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, winning two WTA events and getting as high as No. 6 in the world rankings. But she quit a year later after it was announced that traces of cocaine had been found in her Wimbledon drug test. Rather than fight the suspension, she retired.

Although Hingis has not played a tour-level match in six years, she stayed in shape and played World Team Tennis the past three years. Last week, she led the Washington Kastles to the WTT title over the Springfield Lasers, who feature Andy Roddick. Hingis was also recently inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Roddick told The New York Times he has no doubt that Hingis can still keep up with today’s players, particularly in doubles, where her ability to hit from all angles will be critical.

“She has probably the best racket skills of any female player I’ve seen, maybe her and Justine,” Roddick said, referring to the retired former No. 1 Justine Henin. “If she’s playing doubles and the ball comes to her, she doesn’t miss many. She’s going to be the smartest one out there. Yeah, I’m not worried about her chances.”

•  Local juniors in U.S. Open: Stefan Kozlov, 15, of Pembroke Pines is the youngest player in the top 20 world junior rankings at No. 15 and was invited to play in the U.S. Open Junior Championships from Sept. 1-8 in Flushing, N.Y.

Kozlov reached the junior quarterfinals at Wimbledon and played his first ATP Tour match in July in Newport, R.I., where he battled No. 113 Michal Przysiezy, a man twice his age, to three sets. He is the No. 3 seed in the USTA Boys 18s National Championships on Aug. 2-11 in Kalamazoo, Mich. Kozlov trains at the USTA center in Boca Raton and also with his father, Andrei, who runs an academy in Pembroke Pines.

The other local teen in the Junior U.S. Open main draw is Sachia Vickery, 18, of Miramar. Johnnise Renaud, 17, of North Miami, and Alicia Black, 15, of Boca Raton will play in the qualifying rounds.

Vickery is the top seed in the USTA Girls 18s National Championships on Aug. 3-11 in San Diego. Allie Kiick of Plantation is the No. 2 seed, and defending champion Victoria Duval, who splits time between South Florida and Bradenton, is the No. 3 seed. Taylor Townsend and Jan Abaza, who train in Boca Raton, are seeded fourth and fifth, respectively. Katerina Stewart of Miami is the No. 3 seed in the 16s.

•  Prize money rises: The men’s and women’s winners of the U.S. Open will win $2.6 million, a big increase over the $1.9 million awarded to last year’s champions, Serena Williams and Andy Murray. A first-round loser will make $32,000, compared to $23,000 last year. And a player eliminated in the second round will go home with $53,000.

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