Tennis has been transformed over the last five decades by TV, money, technology, equipment, fashion and politics. But through all of that, the players have remained at the heart of the game. As part of our golden anniversary celebration of the Open era, Tennis.com presents its list of 50 best players—the Top 25 men and the Top 25 women—of the last 50 years. You'll be able to view the entire list in the March/April issue of TENNIS Magazine.
(Note: Only singles results were considered; any player who won a major title during the Open era had his or her entire career evaluated; all statistics are through the 2018 Australian Open.)
11. Martina Hingis
Years played: 1994–2017
Major titles: 5
How many people can say they’ve started and finished three successful careers by the time they’re 37? Martina Hingis, who retired for the third time in 2017, has been in and out of the pro game since she was 14. Now that she has (presumably) hung up her racquets for good, it’s clear that she did as much with them as anyone in the sport’s history. Between singles, doubles, and mixed, Hingis won 25 major titles, two career Grand Slams, and a calendar-year Slam.
For the purposes of our list, we’re only looking at her singles results, but those were as formidable as they are now under-appreciated. History says that Hingis was a transitional figure, a finesse player who took advantage of the gap between Steffi Graf and Venus and Serena Williams. And that’s true to a degree; Hingis won all five of her Grand Slam titles in a 24-month period from 1996 to 1998.
But she made the most of her relatively brief time at the top. Hingis came within one match of the calendar-year Grand Slam in 1997; her loss to Iva Majoli in the French Open final remains one of the sport’s biggest shocks. But contrary to popular belief, Hingis wasn’t a one-year wonder. She spent 209 weeks at No. 1 and finished three seasons there.
Hingis was born for the court. Her mother, Melanie Molitor, was a player and coach in her native Czechoslovakia who named her daughter after that country’s most famous champion, Navratilova. Baby Martina entered her first tournament at 4, and at 12 became the youngest player to win a junior Grand Slam title, at the French Open. Four years later, as a 16-year-old, she became the youngest Grand Slam champion of the 20th century when she won the Australian Open.
An unimposing 5’7”, Hingis couldn’t win with power, so she won with everything else: Consistency, variety, touch, anticipation, and court sense, as well as a fiery and occasionally self-destructive temper. Hingis had tennis in her DNA, and a sixth sense for where to put the ball. Everything about the game, on every surface, came naturally.
By the time she was 22, Hingis had won 40 titles, but ankle injuries—as well as the ever-more problematic presence of Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati, and the Williams sisters—forced her off the tour for the first time. In 2013, Hingis was inducted into the tennis Hall of Fame at age 32. Considering that she would go on to win 10 more doubles majors, she may be the first to be inducted twice.
Defining Moment: In the 1997 Wimbledon final, a 16-year-old Hingis lost the first set to her doubles partner, Jana Novotna, before turning the tables to win in three. It made Hingis the youngest Wimbledon winner since 1887; little did we know her singles career had peaked that afternoon.
Watch: Martina Hingis' retirement ceremony
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