Of all Martina Hingis' retirements - three times she has supposedly zipped up her racquet bag for good - this latest one is by far the most glorious. And this time you suspect that this is it, that there really will be no more 'un-retiring'.
Every athlete wishes for the Hollywood goodbye, with hopes of leaving the sport when they are at the top of their game. For most, those ambitions are crushed beneath the realities of elite sport, defeated by injury, circumstance or Father Time as much as by their rivals. And yet, at the age of 37, Hingis is stepping away as the World No.1 in doubles - and at the end of a season in which she has taken three Grand Slam titles, with a couple in mixed doubles and one in women's doubles. There's every reason to think that, had she wanted to, she could have carried on gathering more majors next season, to add to the 25 she has already (five singles, 13 women's doubles and seven mixed doubles). As a teenager, Hingis was The Swiss Who Can't Miss. Deep into her 30s, and she hasn't been missing much this season either.
Hingis was named after Martina Navratilova, and, like that other grandee, she also split her tennis life into more than one act. For all Hingis' success in her first career - as a 16-year-old, she won three Grand Slam singles titles, and held the No.1 singles ranking - going out while still capable of much more, to complete her third career, could well be up there among her finest accomplishments.
In an age of power-ball tennis, Hingis was never going to be the most explosive or physically intimidating of players - she's 5ft 7in, after all - but she might well have had the greatest tennis brain in the history of the sport. With her touch and timing, her use of angles and spins, and her all-round understanding of every nuance of tennis, Hingis was the smartest of the tennis intelligentsia. While your body slows over the years, it's possible to add to your tennis brainpower as you age. In most quarters, Hingis will primarily be remembered as the teenager who hijacked the women's game, but being in her mid to late 30s, after transitioning into doubles, might have suited her best of all. As with almost everything else in tennis, and in life, making your exit takes a little practice. When she quit in 2003, at the age of 22, she cited injuries, and her second career came to end in 2007, when she was 27 years old, after she tested positive for a metabolite of cocaine at that year's Wimbledon. This might be the third time that Hingis has left the sport, but it's actually the first occasion she has had a free choice to retire: "This is the right time for me. It's better to stop at the peak and I can say I had a very good time."
Twenty years after Hingis was the youngest singles World No.1 in the history of the women's game, she is once again at the top of a rankings list, this time in doubles, though there have been a few interruptions and interludes in between - she might not have always been the best in the world at one or other form of the game, or even on the tour, but she has been consistently, unerringly interesting. Tennis' chattering classes might well debate whether Hingis was a better singles player or doubles player. Here's what isn't up for discussion; she was one of the greats.
It's 21 years since she scored her first Grand Slam title when, as a 15-year-old in 1996, she combined with Helena Sukova to win the Wimbledon women's doubles tournament. The next year, she became the dominant force in singles, winning three majors, reaching the final of the other (the French Open), and becoming the WTA World No.1. Her fourth and fifth Grand Slam singles titles came at the Australian Open, part of her three-year dominance in Melbourne from 1997-1999. And this year, playing a third career that began in 2013, she has once again been a force at the top of the sport, collaborating with Jamie Murray to win mixed doubles titles at Wimbledon and the US Open, while partnering with Chan Yung-Jan for the women's doubles prize in New York City.
So, at her last Grand Slam, she did something remarkable: the doubles double. At the age of 37, Hingis is still in her prime, still capable of so much more. And that's what makes her retirement such a triumph.