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Final flourish fetches Hingis the title

The Swiss Miss bags the second title of her comeback year, subduing Olga Poutchkova 6-0, 6-4, writes Dhiman Sarkar.

india Updated: Sep 25, 2006 03:20 IST

No one yet knows whether the sequel to the story of a woman born to play tennis will be as rivetting as the original, but the start has been undeniably interesting.

If Martina Hingis is similarly successful after a three-year timeout, Kolkata may not be a future stop though she said she would love to come back and defend the title.

Even if she does not, the $175,000 Sunfeast Open will surely be an important reference point in the legend of a comeback queen. For it is here that Hingis won her second singles title in 2006 and the first in three months after Rome where she notched up five consecutive victories over top-20 players culminating in a 0-6, 6-3, 6-3 triumph over Dinara Safina.

It was a lot easier on Sunday where Olga Poutchkova was taken care of in 57 minutes — one less than what Hingis took to dismantle Sania Mirza in the semi-final — 6-0, 6-4.

For a woman whose career earnings read $19,314,952 going into this Tier-III tournament, the 120 ranking points Hingis earned would probably matter more than the $28,000 prize purse.

“Playing Sania (Mirza) here was really special because you could feel the energy around the place during the first few points. And then you win the tournament, which makes it even more special. There were times when I exceeded my expectations this year. Making the top-10 was something I had wanted to when I returned, so even that’s a plus. It will be a dream come true if I can now qualify for the Masters,” Hingis said.

It wasn’t till the second set that Poutchkova, who admitted she was nervous going into her first Tour final, finally regained a measure of composure. Her powerful ground strokes were hitting the right areas, though Hingis continued to surprise the goodly Sunday crowd by her ability to retrieve what seemed irretrievable.

Up by a break and leading 3-1, Poutchkova, Hingis said had surprised her by attacking the forehand. That suddenly made the fifth game a big one. But the double-fisted backhand, with which Poutchkova was asking Hingis a few uncomfortable questions, let her down twice after the Russian made it 15-15 with a down-the-line winner.

The game went to deuce twice, the second time because Hingis sent a backhand wide after a delectable slice that just had enough power to send the ball over the net. An ace handed the top seed the advantage and Hingis closed out the game with a service winner. The comeback had begun.

"I needed to step it up especially because the first seven games went boom, boom. Then I made a couple of errors with new balls and it gave her the chance to believe that she could get into the match,” Hingis said. Poutchkova, who had a picture taken with Hingis when she was 10, fired a forehand wide with the whole court open and, struggling to cope with the heavy spin on Hingis’s volley, handed her three break points in the next game.

A double-fault meant the players were on level terms at 3-3. The Russian passed Hingis once and fired another down the line backhand winner in the next game but Hingis held serve and moved ahead at 4-3. After two incredible returns at 30-30 in game eight, Poutchkova tried to win the point at the net and ended up being passed by a player who moves with agility that is almost feline.

Another backhand winner took Poutchkova to the brink of holding serve but again the backhand let her down when it really mattered. Hingis was now a break up and serving for the match but Poutchkova began with a forehand winner before Hingis loped in and sliced a return winner.

Ranked 85th in the world, Poutchkova showed the kind of mental strength that was invisible in the 18-minute long first set by converting her first break point.

At changeover, Hingis sat looking at the strings and taking her time to come back on court. A deep crosscourt backhand and a spin punch at the net made it 0-30 against Poutchkova and soon she had three match points.

The Russian saved the first with a flat forehand but then netted a backhand which ended the match where Poutchkova had a better first serve and more winners but lost because of 35 unforced errors to Hingis’s 15.

"When you are 17, tennis was more of a routine. It's different now. Tennis was such a part of my life and I am glad that I have got another chance now," Hingis said. Just what you wanted to hear from her.

First Published: Sep 24, 2006 00:00 IST