Thursday, November 09, 2006

Hingis loses, but what a thriller!

Hingis v. Mauresmo. To some degree, I didn't want to watch. The questions were obvious: Is Mauresmo's shoulder still bothering her? Is she completely rusty after such a long time out? Is she going to be in form or play terribly like she did against Petrova? Can Hingis, who already has stamina issues, possibly rebound after playing three-setters two nights in a row that ended after 1:30 a.m.?

It wasn't fair, as sports often isn't. Hingis, having gone through those two late nights at the Year-End Championships, should have gotten a day off, but she had a terrible luck of the draw and had to play again today. The first set was fun to watch--two of the most graceful, intelligent players on the tour competing. Hingis played a bit smarter and won, 6-3. Then the inevitable fatigue closed in. By the middle of the second set, she could hardly move or hold up her racquet. Commentator Tracy Austin suggested that Hingis take the end-of-season break to become more fit. I agree, but I also think that any player on the tour--even the super-fit ones like Mauresmo or Sam Stosur--would have wilted if they'd been forced to play Hingis's YEC schedule. The second set went to Mauresmo, 6-1.

The third set looked to be a drag, with Hingis barely hanging on physically, and Mauresmo in top form, displaying the world's most beautiful backhand over and over. Serving at 2-4, Hingis somehow got a spurt of energy and looked like she was going to hold, and I wondered if she would then break Mauresmo. But Mauresmo broke her instead. It look to be about over, and then there was one of those extraordinary tennis moments: Serving for the match at 5-2, Mauresmo's nerves got the best of her. Hingis saved four match points, then broke her. Then Hingis, showing a mental toughness that defied her physical condition, held solidly. When Mauresmo served for the match again at 5-4, Hingis brought it to deuce. The crowd went wild. There was a long, very tricky, rally in which Hingis had some terrific gets and placed them all quite cleverly. Then she had her first really easy shot and missed it. Nerves. Mauresmo got the ad point and won the match.

What started out as an interesting match became a lame one, and then--out of nowhere--became a thriller. Only it wasn't really nowhere--it was the re-emergence of the toughness that makes Hingis who she is. I hated to see her lose, but I was also relieved to see Mauresmo win. She is my favorite player, and also the defending champion.

I now think that Hingis is going to really show us something next season. Her first season back has been very impressive. She won two tournaments, was a finalist in two others (one of which she had in the bag and choked away), and wound up not only in the top 10 but in the elite YEC top 8. The serve is better than it was, and even the fitness is, though improvements can be made in both.

Who will win the YEC? Sharapova is looking great, but so is Justine Henin-Hardenne, and today, Mauresmo showed her champion's form, too.

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