She is the woman who can’t keep away from the tennis court and he is the man of a 100 doubles partners. Martina Hingis and Leander Paes teamed up for the first time in their storied careers to win the Australian Open mixed doubles title in Melbourne.
The Indian-Swiss pair now collectively own a stunning 31 grand slam trophies. It is the second straight major final Hingis has reached, having placed runner-up with Flavia Pennetta at the US Open last September, and the Swiss former world No1 has now captured a first grand slam trophy since coming out of a retirement for a second time two years ago.
Hingis and Paes caught up with the media at Melbourne Park to discuss their successful debut and much more.
Martina, what does it mean to you to be tasting success here so many years after your first visit to this tournament?
Yeah, no, in the ceremony my voice became really little. After 20 years being back on that court, like I said in my speech, who would have thought. It’s not even like the cherry on top, it’s more than that to be there and to be able to hold another trophy with Leander. It’s more than I could ever dream of, yeah.
Leander, what’s it like playing with Martina Hingis?
Leander Paes: To play with a partner like Martina is really easy. I would love to have played mixed doubles more often because I’ve got some great friendships and partners that I’ve played with. I played with two Martinas now. The both of them are two of the greatest athletes of women’s sport in the world, not just tennis. The thing I really love about Martina Navratilova and Martina Hingis is they are champions of life. For me what makes her great is that she’s a great human being.
How would you compare Martina Hingis and Martina Navratilova’s games?
LP: When I played with Navratilova, a lot of it was chip and charge, front court tennis. With Hingis there’s all-court tennis. I think our styles are very compatible because she’s got far better returns than I do. Her technique is amazing. When I’m on the court with her, I’m always looking back to see how she’s reacting. There are certain technical things that Hingis has that is just so simple. Her preparation is so simple. It’s a fun things to learn from her. I’ve had 99 men’s doubles partners and Martina is my 26th mixed doubles partner.
What do you make of Martina Navratilova coaching Agnieskza Radwanska?
MH: I think it’s great. I think Martina was looking forward to be on the tour coaching because I think she has so much to give. So much experience. Next to probably Billie Jean King, they are the two for me who are the greatest players ever. I was even named after her. I think she can definitely bring something into Agnieszka’s game.
Leander, do you remember playing the Swiss in Davis Cup in Calcutta in 1993? India beat Switzerland 3-2…
LP: That was a really special tie for me because I was playing a lot of singles back then and I knew that I had to beat Marc Rosset and Jakob Hlasek on a big day on grass, which was their favourite surface. There was so much rain the day before the doubles match and the ball wasn’t bouncing. One-set-all, 5-all in the tiebreak, Rosset hit a big serve and I managed to hit a chip lob return and Hlasek let the ball bounce, he hit a shot and because it bounced so low I went for the dive drop shot winner to give us the set point. And from there we won the tie.
Martina, you’ve turned to coaching before. Would you consider going back to it again?
MH: Yes sure, I still have time to do it again. I really enjoyed working with Sabine Lisicki and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. They’re two player with a lot of potential. But also that kind of helped me to get back into tennis because I felt that I still got game. I’m happy that I was able to prove it. With Sabine, we had a tough draw in Indian Wells against Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua but we lost in the super tiebreak. And then a week later we ended up winning in Miami so I thought ‘woah, not too bad’. So it gave me hope again to really focus only on playing. But coaching I can always do when I’m over 40 I guess.
Leander, you played doubles with Stan Wawrinka in Bercy, before the Davis Cup final last year. Do you think you were part of the success of the Swiss team in Davis Cup because Stan played a great doubles rubber in Lille?
LP: Stan is quite a unique personality. He’s got such great tennis ability, it’s amazing. I don’t think it would be fair for me to say this, maybe you would have to ask Stan this question. When we played in Paris-Bercy, we were talking about the mentality of how you play on the court, playing aggressive and being more focused on the big points. When I watched the Davis Cup final, it’s incredible how Stan had a great start to last year, phenomenal, and then he kind of plateaued for a while, and I think the Davis Cup is a big trophy in his showcase. It’s huge for Switzerland.
MH: Stan was definitely the key to the victory. To win his singles match and then doubles.
How big is Stan in Switzerland, Martina?
MH: I’m not always in Switzerland but from my visits there and hearing from my parents - there was always a lot of me, a lot of Roger (Federer), a lot of Belinda (Bencic) and last year was definitely Stan’s year. You would even know the name of his grandmother, his whole family, where he comes from, what he did. Sometimes that one thing can turnaround everything.
He made a wonderful decision in taking Magnus Norman as a coach, who helped him a lot along the way where he would be there and end up losing. He gave him this confidence, he could do it, he could win matches, like here. He just matured. He now has the belief.
Two years ago he played what you feel like the best match of his life and ended up losing to Djokovic. Last year, he came back fighting, he played the best match again and won that match and won the tournament. It took him like two years to get to that point and obviously now, the Davis Cup was the cherry on top. He really deserved to be the Swiss Athlete of the Year, but he placed second. Roger (Federer) got it. But on the other hand, sometimes Roger should have got it and some motor bike guy got it.
How many times have you won it, Martina?
MH: Only once. Roger won two slams in 2005 and they gave it to this motorcyclist, not even MotoGP, 125s. In Switzerland they sometimes go with sympathies rather than results. That’s why I think they should have one award ‘I like you’ and one for the results.