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Hingis bounced in first round at Wimbledon

Posted: Tuesday, June 26, 2001

WIMBLEDON, England -- Because of her turbulent love life, rifts with mom and a 2 1/2-year Grand Slam slump, Martina Hingis carried a lot of baggage into Wimbledon.

No wonder her back hurt.

The top-ranked Hingis blamed previously undisclosed tendinitis in her lower back for Monday's listless 6-4, 6-2 loss to Virginia Ruano Pascual. But the real explanation may be more complicated.

It's the second time in three years that Hingis has lost in the opening round at Wimbledon. The defeats are part of her streak of 10 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments without a title, all as the top-seeded player.

''I don't think it's such a big failure,'' Hingis said. ''I know if I'm 100 percent, I can go out there and beat anybody.''

Hingis appeared fine against Ruano Pascual, a Spaniard ranked 83rd who won a match at Wimbledon for the first time since 1998. But Hingis said she was hampered by an ailing back that flared up a week ago and restricted her practice routine.

''I was just afraid of moving,'' she said. ''Against any player these days you have to just be able to run.''

Hingis, 20, didn't repeat her recent admission that because of men, she's no longer focused on tennis. She has dated several players, including Swedish standout Magnus Norman last year, and recently was romantically linked to attorney Christopher Calkin, the prosecutor in the Miami trial of a man convicted of stalking Hingis.

She said Calkin wasn't at Monday's match but has declined to discuss their relationship.

Also unclear is the status of Hingis' sometimes strained relationship with her mother and coach, Melanie Molitor. Twice Hingis tried touring without a coach, most recently this spring, before rehiring mom for the job.

Molitor refused to talk with reporters Monday. Hingis quoted her mother as telling her: ''You tried your best. Now it's over. You have to decide what you're doing next.''

Added Hingis: ''Sometimes you just need some time to recover your body and soul. Now I will have time to do it.''

She was eliminated just five hours into the tournament, despite a new seeding system designed to reduce the number of early-round upsets.

Hingis' loss aside, the biggest surprise on the opening day was the weather -- sunny and warm, with temperatures in the low 80s. Britons are unaccustomed to such conditions, especially at Wimbledon, and 50 fans and two ballgirls fainted because of the heat.

It had little effect on the play, which included victories by tournament favorites Pete Sampras and Jennifer Capriati. American teen-ager Andy Roddick won his Wimbledon debut, and Serena Williams and Marat Safin also advanced. No. 11-seeded Jan-Michael Gambill lost to fellow American Chris Woodruff.

The top-seeded Sampras, bidding for his eighth Wimbledon title, survived a couple of awkward moments to beat Francisco Clavet 6-4, 7-6 (5), 6-4.

At the start of the second set, Sampras was chagrined to realize he was standing at the wrong end of the court. And he won the final point of the set sprawled on the court after slipping, as Clavet hit a backhand into the net.

The 18-year-old Roddick, touted as the next American Grand Slam champion, beat Ivo Heuberger 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (0).

Capriati, halfway to a Grand Slam sweep, overcame a slow start to beat Maria Alejandra Vento 6-3, 6-2.

''I think Jennifer right now is the favorite, definitely,'' Hingis said. ''She's playing very well. She looks fitter than ever. She's very hungry. She's believing in herself.''

Although Capriati has become the dominant player on the women's tour, Hingis will retain the No. 1 ranking after Wimbledon, thanks to her success in second-tier tournaments.

But her fifth and most recent major title came at the 1999 Australian Open, and it's easy to wonder whether she'll win another. At a slender 130 pounds, she tends to get overpowered by the other top players, negating the uncommon tactical instincts that made her Wimbledon's youngest champion four years ago at age 16.

Now Hingis often seems confused on the court. Against Ruano Pascual she gambled by moving forward frequently and even played serve-and-volley, but her net shots were dismal. When she stayed back and tried to rally with the steady Spaniard, the results were even worse.

The capacity crowd on Court 1 groaned in disbelief as Hingis' errors mounted. She put only one service return in play in the final game, and Ruano Pascual leaped with joy when she clinched the biggest victory of her 10-year career.

''Unbelievable,'' she said. ''I'm very happy. It's a dream for me, no?''

On the same court two years ago, Hingis lost to Jelena Dokic in the first round. The other defeats during her Grand Slam drought have been to Lindsay Davenport, Mary Pierce, Steffi Graf, Serena Williams, and Capriati and Venus Williams twice each.

''There was always one player who was better than me at the end,'' Hingis said.

Or, in this case, at the start.



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