Two decades after her maiden major triumph at the 1997 French Open, Iva Majoli discussed longtime friend Martina Hingis' retirement, the impressive rise of Jelena Ostapenko, and how the WTA Legends turned from pro to businesswoman at the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy.
David Kane
October 28, 2017

SINGAPORE - Martina Hingis played her final career match at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global on Saturday, having won 25 major titles in singles, doubles, and mixed.

Watching from the sidelines was Iva Majoli, the Slam winner turned businesswoman who finds herself in Singapore for a third straight year as part of the WTA Legends program, which involves the game’s most memorable names in more than 70 community focused and corporate engagements each year.

Martina Navratilova and Chrissie [Evert] were my favorites to watch growing up, so it’s an honor to be a part of the same group now,” she said.

Majoli famously denied Hingis the 1997 French Open singles title just over two decades ago, a result that arguably kept the Swiss Miss from matching namesake Navratilova’s Career Grand Slam Boxed Set of major titles across all three disciplines.

"I had a good clay court season but tough times with my team. We were struggling, fighting. I'd had enough of everything, so I spent a few days on a glacier in the mountains. Warming up for the final, I couldn't see a ball, and thought ‘If I start the match this way, it’s going to be a disaster.’ I said to myself, 'Watch the ball, forget everything, just try to focus on what you’re doing and play the best match of the tournament. That was special, a dream come true."
Iva Majoli on her 1997 French Open fortnight.

“Don’t say that, I’m not that old!” she laughed when reminded of the anniversary. “I just talked to her yesterday. I said, ‘You’re retiring? But you can’t lose a match in doubles!’”

The jocular Croat - who wore an “We Should All Be Feminists” t-shirt earlier this week - was just a teenager herself when she captured her first and only major title on the terre battue, ending Hingis’ 37-match winning streak at the start of her breakthrough season.

“I think she’s doing amazing, and it’s great to see her do so well even after I’ve been retired for so many years. I was joking, ‘Come on, have kids, have a family, or your time will pass!’ But it’s great to see some of these girls still on tour together because the young generations have their own things. We’re like oldies for them. I’m happy that Martina and Venus [Williams] are doing so well at the same time, both making the final eight. I think it’s a good mixture of different age groups in Singapore.”

With her aggressive game and powerful forehand, Majoli could understand the déjà vu some felt watching Latvian youngster Jelena Ostapenko come of age in Paris this spring, upsetting established favorite Simona Halep with some searing groundstrokes of her own.

“I was moving more around to the forehand, whereas I think she likes her backhand a lot too. I had a different style, more topspin, more angles - but I still see myself in her. I can imagine how she felt and what she went through. It’s amazing for her.

“For Simona, it’s not easy. People forget how much pressure we all have, not just from ourselves, but from our country, too. When you come from smaller countries, you feel it even more than being American, where there are so many sports, so many athletes. In little countries they focus on one person, and everything is focused on that thing, so it must’ve been a tough loss for her definitely.”

The first Croatian to achieve major glory, Majoli ultimately endured a career beset by injuries, falling out of the Top 300 two years after her French Open victory only to surge back at the start of the new millennium, pushing Hingis to a third-set tie-break at the 2001 US Open and winning her first title in five years at the 2002 Family Circle Cup (now Volvo Car Open) in Charleston.

“I’m a positive person but I did have some struggles with injuries and that’s what hurt me at the end of my career the most. I kept wondering if I could come back, or if I should stop, and those were the toughest days, when I had to decide what to do and how to continue with my life. I tried for a few years and had many surgeries and different treatments and nothing worked at the end so that was a big struggle.”

Majoli retired in 2004, crediting the birth of daughter Mia - who, at 11, now plays tennis - with helping expedite her adjustment to life away from the game.

"Every year the tour changes. The kids are making more money. For this generation everything is available: the Internet, Google, Skype, Instagram. I think they do get quite spoiled because it’s not easy to keep them very focused on one thing."
Iva Majoli

“I can’t be on the court with her. I talk to Goran Ivanesevic, because his son also plays and we live next to each other. He’s like, ‘You cannot believe what I go through. You think I was bad on the court, you should watch my son!’

“After you have a kid everything changes, the priorities, and different things at different times. The truth is what they say, older kids, bigger problems - my daughter is almost 11 now, becoming a teenager, only calling to book things, to organize things and I’m like, ‘I’m not your secretary!’”

Some of that hospitality training has come in handy for the former World No.4, who began working in player relations at the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy, a premier tournament that debuted on the WTA calendar in 2016.

“Gazprom JSC invited me for an exhibition and we clicked. They love tennis and it just started from there. I said, ‘Why don’t you have a WTA tournament? You already have a men’s event.’ It’s a privilege also for me to get to work behind the scenes and organize things. We have big plans for the future so it just gives me wind in my back, and I’m very honored to get the opportunity to run things myself.

“I think you learn things they don’t teach in school by traveling around the world, meeting many business people and agents. From listening to all these people and spending time with them, I learned from them and that’s how I got most of my experience. I’m open, I like to talk to people, I like to listen, solve the problems, and so it’s working pretty well.”

Most problems must seem simple after solving the ultimate equation of winning a Grand Slam title, and at a time on tour where each week brings new opportunity, Majoli preached patience as the main key to major success.

“I think you just have to believe in what you do, even if things aren’t going the best way. If you have slumps and go up and down, I think you always have to believe in yourself and you never know when it opportunity will come, like it did for Ostapenko, for me, and for many others. If you stay focused, work hard, be positive, what is meant to happen will happen.”