Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
As it turns out, three years was a long enough "retirement" for one "Swiss Miss," Martina Hingis, who will rejoin the WTA Tour in two weeks at the Australian Hardcourt Championships.
The now 25-year-old former world No. 1 star hung up her racquet three years ago due to a combination of foot, heel and ankle injuries, which she believes were caused by defective tennis shoes.
But she'll come out of "retirement" to compete at Gold Coast (an event that should also feature Russian sensation Maria Sharapova) in the first week of January as she prepares for her first Australian Open appearance in four years.
"I know I'll get some tough matches and it will allow me to get used to the Australian summer coming from the European winter, both of which will be helpful with my preparation for the Australian Open," an excited Hingis said.
Martina Hingis hasn't played in a Grand Slam event since the 2002 U.S. Open.
"I was never happy my injuries cut my career short and ultimately forced my decision to step away from tennis," she said. "I have enjoyed my time away from the court, a period that has allowed me to experience a different side of life. However, I miss the game and the challenge of competing at the highest level of tennis, and I want to gauge whether I can stay healthy and compete against today's top players."
Hingis actually came out of "retirement" earlier this year, dropping a first- round match in three sets against unheralded German Marlene Weingartner at a small Tier III event in Thailand. She played in Pattaya City in order to help raise funds for Asian tsunami victims.
Hingis reached six straight Aussie Open finals from 1997-2002, and won the year's first Grand Slam event three years in a row from '97-99. But in her last appearance in Melbourne, in the '02 final, she suffered an agonizing defeat at the hands of American slugger Jennifer Capriati. On a scalding hot day that drained all her energy, Hingis wound up blowing four match points and a seemingly-commanding 4-0 lead in the second set before losing to Capriati in what turned out to be one of the greatest turnarounds in the history of the sport.
Despite that rugged setback, however, Hingis is still a brilliant 44-5 lifetime at the Aussie Open, having reached the final in six of her eight trips Down Under.
Hingis owns an even 40 singles titles and 36 doubles crowns on the WTA, including five major singles victories. In addition to her trio of Aussie Open championships, Hingis also captured Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 1997, a year in which she corralled three quarters of the Grand Slam hardware and lost in the French Open final against Croat Iva Majoli. She's a seven-time major runner-up, having reached an amazing 12 Grand Slam finals from 1997-2002.
Only the French Open has eluded Hingis' grasp, as she finished as the runner- up at Roland Garros in 1997 and '99. She succumbed to the great Steffi Graf in the '99 finale after pulling within three points of the championship in a bout that many consider one of the greatest women's matches of all-time.
FYI, Hingis still considers her victory over fellow former No. 1 Venus Williams in the 1997 U.S. Open final as her biggest win to date.
The former Swiss star is a three-time year-end No. 1 (1997, 1999, 2000) and first reached the top of the women's rankings as a 16-year-old in '97, her third full year on the tour. At 16 years, 6 months, Hingis was the youngest- ever woman to reach the top of the ledger. She held down the top spot for 209 of 247 weeks between 1997 and 2001, and only Graf, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert have spent more time at No. 1. Hingis, of course, was named after her fellow Martina and native Czechoslovakian Navratilova.
Sounds like a trip to the Hall of Fame's in the offing for Miss Hingis, who's already pocketed more than $18 million in career prize money.
She's also a former world No. 1 in doubles and has held down the top ranking in both singles and doubles at the same time during her stellar career, as she's one of only five women to do that (Navratilova, Arantxa anchez-Vicario, Lindsay Davenport and Kim Clijsters). Hingis swept her way to the doubles Grand Slam in 1998 and is a 14-time Grand Slam champ when you combine nine doubles crowns with the five singles wins. She won a pair of Aussie Open doubles titles (1999, 2002) with another former Russian sensation, Anna Kournikova.
Hingis has also won two singles and a pair of doubles titles (alongside Kournikova) at the WTA's prestigious season-ending Championships.
Hingis debuted on the circuit as a precocious 14-year-old back in 1994 and turned into a model of consistency soon thereafter, reaching the semifinals at 104 of the 118 tournaments she played in from the 1996 U.S. Open to the 2002 Indian Wells event.
Hingis is clearly one of the all-time greats, it just remains to be seen if she can still perform like an all-time great when she returns. She'll enter the 2006 Aussie Open as a wild card, hoping that her chess-like finesse game can still match up against some of the young and powerful hitters on the tour. And at 25, Hingis is no longer a youngster on the ever-improving circuit.
"Of course this comeback means a high risk in my career," Hingis said. "But you have to take a risk. I don't want to say to myself in five to 10 years that I have made a wrong decision in not trying a comeback. At least I can say I have tried and took the chance when I had it. You gotta take risks."
The 2006 WTA season will get underway on January 2, while the Aussie Open will commence January 16.