Vote 1 Martina!

Martina Hingis is switching sweatbands for sequins on the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing.

Published September 18, 2009 12:18

Vote 1 Martina!
Martina Hingis

LONDON, England - Fancy footwork carried Martina Hingis to five Grand Slam singles titles and 209 weeks at No.1, but the tennis all-time-great will find her talents tested in very different ways when she makes her debut on the hit UK television program Strictly Come Dancing on Friday night.

Hingis, who celebrates her 29th birthday on September 30, is one of 16 celebrities from the worlds of sport and entertainment in this year's competition. She follows the lead of Monica Seles, who last year was a sentimental favorite on the US version of the show, Dancing With the Stars (but was second to be eliminated) and Alicia Molik, who made it to week three of the Australian edition in 2006.

Three weeks into training with professional dance partner Matthew Cutler and with the countdown to the launch show underway, the player affectionately known as the 'Swiss Miss' said she was relishing the experience. 

"I've been working on my chassés," Hingis enthused, referring to the gliding motion integral to the waltz she'll be dancing on opening night. "You have to hold your head one way and you're walking in another direction… it feels like the most unnatural thing in the world but the trick is to make it elegant.

"So far it's been frustrating, challenging and fun," she added. "In dance, everything has to be extended and graceful. Tennis is so… [clinches upper body and fists]."

Accustomed to performing in fishbowl-like environments indoors and out, Hingis isn't too worried about the intense studio atmosphere. "I'm not so nervous about that," she said. "When we're training I can think, 'That was OK.' But it's one thing to do the various steps well in practise - the hard part will be to pull it all together in one-and-a-half minutes."

While the natural instincts that made her so successful on the tennis court may not yet flow readily on the dance floor, Hingis - who has been spotted jogging in London looking supremely fit - is in safe hands. Two years ago Cutler helped Alesha Dixon to the crown - and this year the pop singer is back as a judge on the show.

And in addition to the aforementioned footwork, several other qualities should serve Hingis well. These include superb posture and balance, fierce competitiveness, and a flashing smile: she was never afraid to show she was having a good time while taking opponents apart. A capacity for hard work won't hurt either.

"Discipline is very important when training for tennis, and I think this will be the same when preparing for the Saturday dance," she said.

Hingis is assured of twirling at least twice before the cameras. Friday night's opening will see eight couples put through their paces with either a waltz or a tango; on Saturday, there will be a Latin theme as the same couples perform a cha-cha or a rumba. Only then will the judges' scores from both dances be combined, and viewers be able to vote for the couple they wish to stay in the competition.

Two years into retirement, Hingis remains the youngest player to attain the No.1 ranking, at 16 years, six months and 1 day; she was also the youngest Grand Slam champion of the 20th century, winning the Australian Open at 16 years, three months and 26 days.

Whether Strictly's glitterball trophy will be added to her haul of 43 singles and 37 doubles crowns remains to be seen, but Hingis is happy to have the door to a whole new world opened to her.

"I gave a lot to tennis, and tennis gave me a great life," she said.

Sonyericssonwtatour.com will soon launch new web biographies of the retired greats of our game, starting with former world No.1s from the computer-ranking era: Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Martina Hingis, Monica Seles, Tracy Austin, Jennifer Capriati, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and Evonne Goolagong Cawley. We would like to publish a selection of thoughts, memories or anecdotes on each player, whether from former peers on the Tour, people who work behind-the-scenes in tennis, or indeed fans. Please send submissions (no longer than this paragraph) to Adam Lincoln at alincoln@wtatour.com.

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