Hingis Makes Exhaustive (And Exhausting) Team Tennis Return
by Christopher Gerby
In November of 2007, five-time Grand Slam champion Martina Hingis officially retired from
tennis for the second time. It was an ignominious exit, hastened by an ITF suspension related
to a positive test for cocaine. (Hingis has always maintained her innocence without formally
contesting the result.) Perhaps eager to pen a happier final chapter for her storied career,
"the Swiss Miss" has recently dipped her toe back into the waters of competitive tennis.
A series of exhibition matches in England culiminated in a return to Wimbledon, where Hingis
looked very snappy playing "invitation doubles" with old friend-and-foe Anna Kournikova.
Next on Martina's agenda: a full season of World Team Tennis, representing the New York
Buzz in all fourteen of their matches. Hingis is quick to dismiss speculation that Team Tennis
could be the stepping stone for a full fledged WTA Tour comeback (as it did when she last
played WTT in 2005), but it's conceivable that a successful run with the Buzz might nudge
her in that direction, at least as a doubles specialist.
Having played in the Capital District as a member of the visiting New York Sportimes five
summers ago, Hingis was chipper about her return to the area. "When I played
for the Sportimes, we played at Schenectady and I liked it because I won! Obviously it was
successful. You always like to have good memories when you go back to places and I really
enjoy myself out here." Conditions would be different this time, however, as the Buzz now
play their home matches indoors at Albany's air-conditioned SEFCU Arena.
First set: men's doubles -- Domijan/Jenkins vs. Amritraj/Delgado
The fast-paced format of World Team Tennis -- no-ad scoring; first team to five games wins
each set -- doesn't allow the luxury of a slow start. Team Tennis rookie (and new member of
the Buzz) Scoville Jenkins found that out the hard way on Monday evening. Serving in the
first game of the match, Jenkins squandered game point with a double fault and was promptly
broken when he netted a forehand volley. From there, Prakash Amritraj and Ramon Delgado of
the visiting Philadelphia Freedoms wasted little time jumping out to a 3-1 lead.
WTT veteran Delgado used lanky 18-year-old Alex Domijan as target practice in Game 5.
A backhand volley snapped right at Domijan gave the Freedoms another round of break points
at 15-40. Delgado converted immediately by launching a backhand pass at Domijan, who
could only deflect the ball away in self-defense. Delgado raised his hand apologetically, but
the damage was done, a second break of Jenkins making it 4-1 Philadelphia.
If Vijay Amritraj's son Prakash felt any nerves serving out the set, they certainly didn't
show. He merrily grooved to House of Pain's "Jump Around" (playing on the PA system between points)
midway through a convincing love hold. His service winner closed out the 5-1 romp, leaving
the home fans a bit stunned.
OVERALL SCORE: FREEDOMS 5, BUZZ 1
Second set: men's singles -- Scoville Jenkins vs. Ramon Delgado
If there's any such thing as a "World Team Tennis specialist," Ramon Delgado fits the bill.
A journeyman on the ATP circuit, the 33-year-old Paraguayan is a perennial force to be
reckoned with in WTT. In seven previous seasons, he's led teams to the league's championship
match twice and taken home MVP honors once. Delgado's serve looked a tad shaky in the
doubles event, however, and those woes continued in the early stages of singles. In fact,
Delgado and talented-but-erratic American Scoville Jenkins traded four consecutive breaks
to open the set.
After matching holds took the score to 3-3, Delgado was broken yet again. Both players
were struggling to put first serves in play, but it looked as if Jenkins was taking control.
He used a drop shot to set up a delicate backhand pass that eluded Delgado and gave the
Buzz their first set point. Errant groundstrokes on the next two points betrayed Jenkins,
though, evening the set again and forcing a tiebreak. (Just as the sets go at a breakneck
pace in Team Tennis, so do the tiebreaks -- it's first to five points and you need only win
RD serving: Jenkins rips a forehand winner for the early mini-break -- 1-0 BUZZ
RD: Delgado pushes a defensive backhand into the net -- 2-0 BUZZ
SJ: Deep drive by Jenkins forces another Delgado error -- 3-0 BUZZ
SJ: Jenkins earns a fistful of set points with a service winner -- 4-0 BUZZ
RD: Good side-to-side rally ends with Jenkins weakly netting a forehand -- 4-1 BUZZ
RD: Delgado unleashes an unreturnable cross-court forehand -- 4-2 BUZZ
SJ: Jenkins punishes an inside-out forehand winner -- 5-2 BUZZ
Scoville Jenkins punctuated his set-clinching shot with a fist pump and got a hearty
ovation from the Buzz faithful. While a deficit in the overall score remained, momentum
was with the home team as its marquee player warmed up for her first action of the season.
OVERALL SCORE: FREEDOMS 9, BUZZ 6
Third set: women's doubles -- Borwell/Hingis vs. Lertcheewakarn/Nagle
Martina Hingis was obviously Monday night's main attraction, but her unheralded British
teammate earned the first oohs and ahhs in women's doubles. Sarah Borwell rocketed two
aces in a row to close out a love hold in the opening game. After Courtney Nagle scratched
out a hold of her own for Philadelphia, Hingis stepped to the service line. Arguably the
best doubles player of her generation, she looked in vintage form here. Game 3 opened with
Hingis deftly putting away an overhead and ended with her smacking an unreturnable serve.
Borwell and Hingis slapped hands enthusiastically, leading 2-1.
Last year's juniors champion at Wimbledon, Noppawan Lertcheewakarn is an up-and-comer with
serious potential. She emerged as a weak link in this set, however, and was
targeted just as ruthlessly as fellow 18-year-old Alex Domijan had been in men's doubles. A
break of the Thai teen and another tidy hold by Borwell gave the Buzz a 4-1 lead in the
set and brought parity to the overall match score.
Lertcheewakarn's partner, Denver-born redhead Courtney Nagle, wasn't going down without a
fight. While her highlight-worthy attempt at a "Sabatweenie" trick shot midway through
Game 6 landed just long, Nagle did manage to hold serve for 2-4. It was merely prolonging
the inevitable, however, as Borwell continued her hefty serving for the Buzz to close it
Asked after the match about playing with Borwell for the first time, Hingis sounded
understandably pleased. "I thought it was great. I felt
really good. She started off big serving and we just had the chemistry right away.
Hopefully we keep going like today."
OVERALL SCORE: BUZZ 11, FREEDOMS 11
Fourth set: mixed doubles -- Hingis/Jenkins vs. Nagle/Amritraj
All four mixed doubles participants won their opening service games, the only notable
hiccup coming when Martina Hingis took an admittedly lucky stab at a Prakash Amritraj serve
and came away with a clean return winner. Amritraj would save a couple break points in
Game 5 with huge first serves, but he couldn't fend off a third. Courtney Nagle's awkward
looking overhead sailed long, giving the Buzz a critical break and a 3-2 lead.
Already a winner in men's singles, Scoville Jenkins was really feeling his oats now.
He thumped an ace in a love hold for 4-2 and ripped some eye-popping forehands early in Game 7.
Not to be outdone, Amritraj athletically knifed away a backhand volley to clinch Nagle's
hold for 3-4. The set was now officially on Hingis's racquet...and for the first time in
her 2010 World Team Tennis campaign, the Swiss faltered. She missed a smash to fall
behind 0-30, double faulted to 15-40, and netted a low backhand volley on break point.
Mixed doubles would end in a tiebreak.
PA serving: Nagle dumps a backhand volley into the net -- 1-0 BUZZ
PA: Hingis gets a look at a second serve, but her backhand return sails long -- 1-1
SJ: Amritraj spanks a winning forehand volley -- 2-1 FREEDOMS
SJ: Jenkins responds with a service winner -- 2-2
CN: Jenkins splits the Freedoms with a sizzling backhand pass down the middle -- 3-2 BUZZ
CN: Hingis pulls a clutch backhand return cross-court for a clean winner -- 4-2 BUZZ
MH: A lunging backhand volley by Amritraj floats well long to end it -- 5-2 BUZZ
OVERALL SCORE: BUZZ 16, FREEDOMS 15
Fifth set: women's singles -- Martina Hingis vs. Noppawan Lertcheewakarn
It was all going according to plan for the New York Buzz, who'd saved Martina Hingis for
the final three sets and were watching her lead the team's stirring comeback. The seemingly
overwhelmed teenager on the other side of the net in the final event of the night was also
following the Buzz's dream script, spraying errors and struggling with her serve.
held at love, broke for 2-0, and jumped out to a 40-0 lead with the help of a flukey ace
off the net cord. (Yes, they do play lets in World Team Tennis). Flashing the kind of
insouciance that marked her game back in the '90s, Hingis wrapped up Game 3 with a daring
serve-and-volley attempt. Lertcheewakarn had no answer for the old school tactic -- the
Thai's errant pass made it 3-0 Buzz.
Just as quickly as the match seemed to slip away from Philadelphia, the tide turned.
Finding the range with two-fisted strokes off both wings, Lertcheewakarn suddenly won
eight points in a row. When Lertcheewakarn (or simply "Nok" according to the nickname on
the back of her jersey) held for 3-all, the battle was well and truly joined. The rallies
became longer, the crowd's cries of support grew more insistent, and the perma-grin on
Hingis's face gave way to a visage of steely resolve.
Hingis outlasted the girl eleven years her junior in some testing exchanges late in Game 7,
pumping her fist as she held for 4-3. Lertcheewakarn, now very much living up to her
star-of-the-future billing, held at love for 4-all. New York had prevailed in the night's first
two tiebreaks -- would the third time be the charm for Philadelphia?
MH serving: Forehand approach by Hingis finds the net -- 1-0 FREEDOMS
MH: Lertcheewakarn makes a rare dash forward, but blocks a forehand volley wide -- 1-1
NL: Hingis groans loudly after burying a backhand in the net -- 2-1 FREEDOMS
NL: A laser forehand pass from Lertcheewakarn, who shouts "come on!" -- 3-1 FREEDOMS
MH: A fading Hingis badly misfires with a backhand -- 4-1 FREEDOMS
MH: An even wilder backhand error by Hingis ends the set -- 5-1 FREEDOMS
OVERALL SCORE: BUZZ 20, FREEDOMS 20
Without a doubt, Martina Hingis had been welcomed back to the wild and wacky world of
Team Tennis. When her plane touched down in Albany at 2 A.M. the previous night, could she have
imagined that her New York Buzz debut would stretch into overtime? When a WTT match is
tied at the end of regulation, the players who contested the fifth set continue on in a
first-to-seven-points "super tiebreak." Hingis had the mystique, but Lertcheewakarn had
the fresher legs and momentum. Philadelphia won the coin toss and elected to receive.
MH serving: Hingis draws a defensive error from Lertcheewakarn -- 1-0 BUZZ
MH: Lertcheewakarn is well long with a backhand, to the crowd's delight -- 2-0 BUZZ
NL: Deep-hitting rally ends with the umpire ruling a Hingis backhand long -- 2-1 BUZZ
NL: Backhand pass by the Thai youngster catches the baseline -- 2-2
MH: Another uncharacteristic backhand error by Hingis -- 3-2 FREEDOMS
MH: Lertcheewarkan is long with a backhand of her own -- 3-3
NL: Best rally of the night ends with Hingis lining up a forehand on the run...and netting it -- 4-3 FREEDOMS
NL: Hingis keeps hitting to Lertcheewakarn's backhand until she draws an error -- 4-4
MH: Hingis steers a forehand wide; attempts to kick the ball in frustration as it comes back -- 5-4 FREEDOMS
MH: Hingis tries a drop volley, but Lertcheewakarn tracks it down and guides a forehand winner up the line -- 6-4 FREEDOMS
NL: Facing match point, Hingis sends a backhand return wide -- 7-4 FREEDOMS
FINAL SCORE: FREEDOMS 21, BUZZ 20
It was a heartbreaking way to open the 2010 season for the New York Buzz. Martina Hingis
had pulled the team out of its early deficit, only to see talented youngster Noppawan
Lertcheewakarn turn the tables by authoring a comeback of her own. Drenched in sweat after
the match, Hingis stated the obvious when she said, "In my singles, the longer the match
went on, I was getting more and more tired." So tired, in fact, that Hingis considered
making use of WTT's substiution rule and letting teammate Sarah Borwell take over. "I have
to get the rules straight next time. I didn't know at what point she could jump in for me.
But it's still difficult when you haven't played and she definitely is a doubles player, so
to jump in at that stage for the singles, it's not easy. You have all the hopes of
the team and all the weight on your shoulders."
Hingis concedes that Borwell may see some mixed doubles action before the end of the
season, but her general intention is still to play three sets per night. "I really
enjoyed it today. We'll see how I feel tomorrow... I was getting out of breath, so
hopefully after the first week I'll get into match shape."
Light-hearted though World Team
Tennis can be, it was obvious that a competitive
fire still burns within Hingis. "You still want to win at the end of the day, so I'm still
a bit bummed. It would have been better for the team to get the first one." Nevertheless,
Martina could manage a smile as she reflected on the one that got away. "It was a great
match. I hope the spectators liked it. It definitely was a drama, right?"