Being named after a tennis icon can be a huge burden for any player, but Martina Hingis never felt so. In her own words, it has "not really been a case of excess baggage for me to have been named after Navratilova. Maybe it is because I started playing so young (at four) that I didn’t have to worry about it."
In a freewheeling chat with HT, the 25-year-old Swiss Miss spoke of her remarkable comeback to the game after a three-year break, that infectious smile never leaving her face.
Your parents named you after Martina Navratilova. Did it affect you in any way?
From the time I first started playing, I have always lived up to expectations, so I never felt any pressure in that sense.
A lot has been written about your childhood, when you moved from Czechoslovakia to Switzerland with your mother Melanie. What do you recall of those days?
The first thing is that when we moved out, it was not as if I was playing on the streets. Then, I have been very close to my mom since my childhood. I cannot talk much about my father because my mom re-married shortly after she separated from him.
How would you describe your relations with your mother?
(Shrugs) I cannot explain in one sentence what she means to me. She has been with me all the time - as a mother, a coach and almost everything.
In the mid-90s, the FHM magazine twice voted you as one of the 100 sexiest women in the world and you were talked of as one of the “Spice Girl” of tennis. How do you look back on that time?
Anna was a glamourous player. We played a lot of doubles together, but these tags don’t really matter.
If you were to compare that time with the Spice Girls of today?
Who are the Spice Girls today? One cannot compare two different times at all.
What does it mean to be No. 1 once and then having to make a comeback?
Three years is a long time to be away. When I again started playing and went for the Australian Open, I did not know what to expect. I always believe that even if you have talent, you have to back it up with results.
Could you tell something more?
When I started, it was like I had entered singles and doubles in a tournament. I had to train very hard after the ankle injuries, so I did not know what to expect. And yes, I then went on to win the mixed doubles title with Mahesh Bhupathi at the Australian Open this year.
You were a natural player, not one who pumped iron and was seen in the gym day in, day out…
I have had to work much harder on my return after the layoff. Earlier, I was not the sort who spent long hours in the gym. But yes, I did a lot of training last year. Well, if you close me in a gym for a week, I will die! For me, working on fitness is easier if I go outdoors and run.
How important is discipline in competitive sport?
If you are not disciplined, it’s tough to succeed. If I am successful, it has a lot to do with my discipline.
What went through your mind when you played the Australian Open this year?
I did not know if I would last the matches when I made the comeback. I was playing against much fitter players. But with each match after that, after beating some of the big names, I felt really good.
How would you rate yourself on a one to ten scale in terms of what you have achieved in 2006?
I would put it at eight.
Talk of Indian tennis and Sania Mirza is the name on everyone’s lips. But you must have seen more of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi.
They were the best when they played together and played amazing volleys. For me, winning the mixed doubles with Mahesh is special. In 2004, when Leander was making a comeback after his brain tumour treatment, I did see him. Everyone was curious to see him, more so since he was playing with Martina Navratilova.
Kolkata has a variety of cuisine to offer. Have you sampled any of it?
I love Indian food, though I have to be careful with the spices! But I am enjoying it.