Welcome to Melbourne Memories, where wtatennis.com will take a look back at some of the most noteworthy narratives from the Australian Open over the past 25 years. First up: Martina Hingis's threepeat at the end of the 20th century, winning a trio of women's singles titles with brio.
As the 1990s came to a close, Martina Hingis entered three successive Australian Opens at three rapidly achieved yet very different stages in her career: surging phenom, heavy favorite, eyed target.
Each of those times, though, the Swiss star battled through the draw to come away hoisting the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup as the women’s singles champion, completing the 20th century with a hat-trick of excellence at the year’s opening major.
Melbourne triumph seemed to be a fait accompli for Hingis, who had established herself as a future great at an exceptionally young age. She had zoomed through the junior circuit, winning the 1993 Roland Garros girls’ singles crown at the record-setting age of 12, and claiming two more junior majors the very next year.
In 1996, at the age of 15, Hingis won the women’s doubles title at Wimbledon with Helena Sukova, becoming the youngest player to win a Grand Slam title at senior level. She then came off a middling summer of singles to gatecrash the US Open semifinals. By the end of the season, the now-16-year-old had cracked the Top 5 of the WTA singles rankings.
Thus, Hingis entered the 1997 Australian Open as the No.4 seed, and it was there where her major-winning promise evolved into fruition. The Swiss teen charged into the final without the loss of a set, and then outplayed 1995 Australian Open champion Mary Pierce in under an hour, 6-2, 6-2, to claim her first-ever Grand Slam title.
Watching all of the amazing talent at @AustralianOpen this year makes me smile and think about my first Grand Slam Title there 23 years ago! #GrandSlam #nostalgia #AustralianOpen #firsttitle #1997 #AO #AusOpen pic.twitter.com/zTzOWFWnGt— Martina Hingis (@mhingis) January 24, 2020
At 16 years and three months old, Hingis had pulled off another feat, becoming the youngest woman to claim a Grand Slam singles title in 110 years -- since 15-year-old Lottie Dod won Wimbledon in 1887.
"I saw all the pictures of champions on the wall when I came here, and I was thinking hopefully one day I can be on the wall, too," Hingis said, after her victory. Little did she know that her photograph would soon make regular appearances on the wall.
Hingis kept up her momentum for the rest of 1997, winning Wimbledon and the US Open and going 27-1 at the Grand Slam events, with her only stumble at the majors being a surprising loss to Iva Majoli in the Roland Garros final. By the start of 1998, Hingis had been World No.1 for nine months and was the heavy favorite for any tournament she entered.
Returning to the scene of her first Grand Slam triumph as the inarguable top-ranked player in the world was a new experience for Hingis, and there were signs of stress in her campaign to defend the title in 1998. Hingis had to fend off a stern challenge from fellow phenom -- and future doubles partner -- Anna Kournikova in the third round, barely edging the 16-year-old, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.
However, at that point in her career, Hingis seemed impervious to losses at the major level, and she righted the ship. Another win over Pierce came in the quarterfinals, and though she had to go three sets against Anke Huber in the semifinals, Hingis returned to the final in Melbourne.
Former Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez awaited Hingis in the championship match, and although the Spaniard had won their first two meetings, Hingis had won their two encounters since her ascent to World No.1.
The Swiss continued that pattern -- a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Martinez in the final completed her title defense, giving her a second straight Australian Open trophy, as well as victory at four of the last five Grand Slam events. At that juncture, Hingis was rolling through the tour with ease.
As 1998 progressed, however, Hingis’s grip on the top spot in women’s tennis fell under siege, as rivals Lindsay Davenport, Venus Williams, and Serena Williams increased their winning totals.
Hingis was unable to defend either of her Wimbledon or US Open titles that year, and by the end of the season she had been replaced at the World No.1 ranking by new US Open champion Davenport.
Coming into the 1999 Australian Open seeded second behind Davenport, Hingis had the pressure of retaining her title as the two-time defending champion, with her rivals eager to claim the crown. An inability to defend would have caused her to fall further behind Davenport in ranking points, as well as leave her holding zero major titles for the first time in two years.
Once back in Melbourne, though, the pressure melted away as Hingis stormed to another final. Hingis dropped her only set of the fortnight to Amanda Coetzer in the round of 16, then charged past Pierce and Monica Seles to reach the championship match.
An unexpected opponent awaited Hingis in the final -- not No.1 seed Davenport, but rather the American’s semifinal conqueror, unseeded Amelie Mauresmo. The 19-year-old, still seven years away from her own major-winning era, had reached just one WTA singles final prior to her run in Melbourne.
But the Frenchwoman’s heavy groundstrokes, eye-catching single-handed backhand, and prowess on the junior Grand Slam circuit marked her as a dangerous rising star -- somewhat reminiscent of Hingis’s ascent from not too long before. Mauresmo had also pushed Hingis to three sets in each of their two prior encounters.
Nevertheless, Hingis would not be denied her third straight Australian Open title, easing past Mauresmo, 6-2, 6-3. That title also added another line in the record books for Hingis, as the Swiss joined the elite company of Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong, Stefanie Graf, and Monica Seles as the only women to win three or more consecutive Australian Open titles in the Open Era (since 1968).
"I played some awesome tennis,'' Hingis concluded, after she extended her winning streak to 21-0 at the Australian Open over her three-year reign from 1997 to 1999. The wily Swiss star didn't stop at singles, either, as she also picked up the doubles title in each of those years, with three different partners to boot (Natasha Zvereva, Mirjana Lucic, and Kournikova respectively).
Melbourne would still be a happy hunting ground for Hingis over the next three years, reaching the singles final each time as she made it six straight showings in the Australian Open championship match.
Hingis, though, was never able to get over the final hurdle in those instances, losing to Lindsay Davenport in 2000 and to Jennifer Capriati in 2001 and 2002. As it turned out, the 1999 Australian Open would stand as the last of her five Grand Slam singles titles.
But, for a significant amount of time, Hingis was the queen of Melbourne, dominating the event at the tail end of a century. The Swiss can look back on that run as an integral section of her International Tennis Hall of Fame career, which brought her more singles and doubles success nearly into the 2020s.