40 LOVE Moments: The Youngest No.1
Published April 05, 2013 12:00
MIAMI, FL, USA - Many remember her perfect start to the 1997 season, but it was actually a sensational seven-month stretch starting the summer before that propelled Martina Hingis to No.1 in the world for the very first time, and when it finally happened, the Swiss Miss rewrote history.
Hingis had been showing potential far beyond her years for, well, years: in 1993 she won the French Open girls' title at age 12, the youngest player ever to win a Grand Slam title in the juniors; and in 1996 she won the Wimbledon ladies' doubles title alongside Helena Sukova at age 15, the youngest ever to win a Grand Slam title of any kind in the pros. Some major foreshadowing, to say the least.
It was later that summer when Hingis would kick into high gear, though, her all-court attack and deft touch finally coming together as a full package. She went into the US Open ranked No.16 and - after winning 24 of her last 28 matches of the year - finished 1996 as a very dangerous World No.6.
Hingis' rapid rise to the top of the game - not only in the pros, but even in the juniors - might have been thanks to her upbringing. "Tennis was always a priority but I started skiing when I was three, and swimming and all of these other sports that helped me with my hand-eye coordination," she said.
What started as a snowball soon turned into something of an avalanche. Hingis started 1997 with a title in Sydney, then her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, then another title in Tokyo, then another in Paris - but it was in Miami where she reached the pinnacle, beating Monica Seles in straight sets in the final of the "fifth major" to finally wrestle the World No.1 ranking from Steffi Graf.
Hingis officially ascended to No.1 on Monday, March 31, 1997, becoming the youngest ever No.1.
And there was no break as she turned her 26-0 start to the year to 31-0 by winning another title that very week at the Family Circle Cup, then held at Hilton Head (and now held in Charleston). She beat Seles again in that final, but was pushed to the limits this time, needing a third set tie-break.
Though three more players would squeak out wins over Hingis in the fall - Amanda Coetzer, Lisa Raymond, Mary Pierce - the 1997 season was an historic one in many ways for the Swiss Miss. And she would eventually spend a total of 209 weeks as the No.1 player in the world, a total only bettered by Graf (377 weeks), Martina Navratilova (332 weeks) and the first No.1, Chris Evert (260 weeks).
Looking back, how does Hingis remember her achievements at such a young age? "I probably appreciate it a lot more now," she said at Wimbledon last year. "You don't have too much time to celebrate when you're 16, and at that time the next tournaments were already coming up, so you're in this kind of tunnel vision. You try to take in the moment, but at the end of the day it just keeps going."