Martina Hingis' creative court sense, flair for finesse and ability to create absurd angles were elements of the distinctive style that made her the youngest world No. 1 in tennis history. These days, the 31-year-old Swiss is designing a stylistic return to the sport with a new partner.
Hingis has teamed with Canadian design house Tonic Lifestyle Apparel to create Tonic Tennis by Martina Hingis, a high-end line of women's tennis apparel. The inaugural collection will debut in March 2012.
"The range of the line is going to be small, but very high quality—that's important to us," says Hingis, who wore Tonic in the Wimbledon doubles exhibition. "When you go out to play tennis, you want to feel nice. You want to feel like a woman and know that your clothes won't let you down. What's so great about this line is its versatility and comfort."
The five-time Grand Slam champion danced into design. While preparing for the British edition of “Dancing With the Stars”, Hingis was window-shopping in London when she discovered the Vancouver-based brand’s yoga clothes. She bought a few pieces for dance rehearsals, contacted Tonic and eventually began a long-distance collaboration with head designer Jenny Grad.
“This isn’t a name-only athletic endorsement; Martina is behind this line 100 percent," says Aleksa Havelaar, Tonic's business development executive. "We’re a yoga-specific brand and yoga is pretty low impact. Martina offered amazing insight into how the body moves in a match, what needs to be supported and how the clothing should fit. That was invaluable."
Hingis wore a few pieces from the new line last July while playing World TeamTennis. The 2012 line, which incorporates Merino wool and supplex fabrics, includes tennis dresses, tank tops and skirts, compression shorts and a warm-up suit. Prices have not yet been set; the brand expects the collection to sell “at premium price points comparable to some of the Stella McCartney apparel prices."
Though she spends some of her spare time pursuing her passion for horseback riding (Hingis married French show jumper Thibault Hutin last December), ask Hingis her most satisfying post WTA-experience and she replies, "playing tennis." And she does so with the chuckle of someone who still enjoys the game she made look like child’s play in a historic 1997 season, during which she registered a 75-5 record and won three of the four majors.
"What I miss is probably the winning moments—when you hold up the trophy and you know you are the best in the world and a Grand Slam champion. That is probably the moment an athlete is most happy," Hingis says. "You miss that, but you know that getting to that point takes a lot of years, a lot of hard work, a lot of practice. It doesn't come from heaven. You never forget how much work, how much pain, you go through to get there."
Hingis answered some more of our questions for this latest edition of Gear Talk.
TENNIS.com: Novak Djokovic's year is reminiscent of your amazing 1997 season. When you look at Djokovic’s season, do you see any similarities? How did you feel on court when you were on that run?
Martina Hingis: You feel invincible. You go on court and basically you don’t have a single thought that you will leave the court as a loser—it’s not gonna happen. In your mind, you won’t lose. You play very free and everything seems to go your way. You even get lucky at times because you’re so confident on the court. You find yourself riding this wave where you feel you can do exactly what you want to do on court. It’s amazing and amazing to see Novak doing it. I watch him and it’s like “Wow!”
I can feel a little bit of how he must be feeling but it doesn’t happen that many times in history that a player plays to the level Novak is playing right now. I mean, Roger was there doing it for a while as well, but what we’re seeing now is obviously very, very rare in history. If you’re patient enough and confident enough then eventually you wait for the time when you can go for the winner. That was probably Djokovic’s weakness in the past—that he did not have the patience all the time. He learned that over the course of time, and that’s one reason why he’s having so much success right now: he learned to be patient and you have to give him credit.
TENNIS.com: Monica Seles told me you were the best player she ever faced in thinking and playing one or two shots ahead. How much of that do you think was instinct—that you were blessed with a high tennis IQ—and how much of that was your ability to analyze opponents and break down tendencies?
Martina Hingis: I think once you know your opponent there are certain trademark shots that you know they like to hit and there are certain shots that you know they don’t like to hit. So you have to try to figure out what those shots are and then try to make your strategy off of that. You know once they’re comfortable or once they’re in danger what their best shot is, and what shot they are most likely to hit in that situation. And once you know that, then you know their tendencies—that’s what they’re gonna do. So I think it’s knowing your opponent, but also having anticipation and being able to apply all that into a strategy.
The bottom line is it’s like chess—it’s about making the right move at the right time. And you know what the high-percentage shots are and what shots they are most likely to hit. Today, that has likely changed because they take such high risk on their shots now that before nobody would do.
TENNIS.com: Of all your rivals, who was your toughest and who did you like most like to play? Who brought out the best in you?
Martina Hingis: I liked playing Venus. I think it always brought out the best in both of us. Serena is one of the only top rivals of my time that I don’t have a winning record against. [Serena leads 7-6 in their head to head.] We had some great matches. Lindsay is another one where I started off pretty well against her and then she started beating up on me—she’s four years older than me—(laughs) and then it got kind of even at the end. I would say the toughest rivals for me were players who had big serves and could hit winning shots off the first ball. Those were the type of players I can honestly say I really don’t like facing. You have to be 100 percent at all times to deal with those kind of players.
TENNIS.com: You were a player who showed your emotion on court: whether you were happy, nervous, angry or frustrated, you showed it and shared the emotion with fans. What role did emotion play in your game and did being emotionally expressive hinder or help you?
Martina Hingis: Well, I was very emotional and I laughed on court because I loved playing. Tennis can test you on a lot of levels and you can get very emotional about it out there. As a competitor, obviously you hate losing and you do anything and everything you possibly can to walk off the court as a winner. Yeah, I got emotional. When I was winning I was happy and when I wasn’t winning I wasn’t happy. And I was showing that on the court. Maybe at times, I was showing it too much (laughs). But I think that’s what people liked about me: that I showed you how I felt. Today, when you see all of these same, steady faces, I think it’s almost boring (laughs).
TENNIS.com: Young players like Caroline Wozniacki and Agnieszka Radwanska have cited you as an influence on them. When you look at the top young players, including Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka, whose game excites you most and who's best built for long-term success?
Martina Hingis: Oh definitely Kvitova. I love her game. She reminds me a little bit of Petr Korda as a lefty; the same fluid strokes like him. Even if she is in danger, Kvitova can still come out with great shots because she knows what she’s doing. It’s exciting to me to see someone so young with such a knowledge of the game. I miss that in today’s game in a lot of the girls.
TENNIS.com: Throughout your career, you always played with a Yonex racquet. How has your equipment and string changed over the years?
Martina Hingis: My mom would string my racquets and she’d string five or six racquets every match. That was gut only. Now, I do a mix of both. I still feel the need for control so I use the Luxilon mixed with gut, which gives me the feel and control. The control is very important to me as is my health as well. And I don’t want to have a shoulder or arm problem—you know I need my arm! (laughs).