Classic Rivalries: Graf vs. Hingis

AP Photo/Bruno Mosconi

Classic Rivalries: Graf vs. Hingis

In the late eighties and nineties Graf dominated. She had some amazing rivalries with Hall of Fame opponents such as Navratilova, Evert, Sabatini and Seles. However, there was also a 15-year-old who shot into the scene in 1995 that would take the tennis world by storm. Her name was Martina Hingis. She set a bunch of records during the nineties, mostly in the “youngest ever” category. But make no mistake, Hingis was a world beater, winning the 1997 Australian, Wimbledon, and US Open. It’s almost as if everyone was asleep!

Hingis took advantage as she tore through the WTA tour, winning five majors, but most important, 15 Premier 1 WTA tournaments in six years before abruptly retiring. Hingis was a rare talent in that she could take the ball early, handle pace, and had an exceptional volley. She was also very cerebral and strategic. Although Seles was out of the picture by the late 90s as a contender, Graf now had to contend with Hingis, who as we can see was not a walk in the park. So how did this rivalry shape up?

Despite being the tail end of Graf’s career, she finished with a winning record against Hingis. After all was said and done, Graf held a commanding 7-2 lead. For the most part, Graf held the edge in Grand Slams, while Hingis was able to beat Graf in Premier WTA tournaments such as Tokyo. However, these two will forever be remembered for their meeting at the 1999 French Open final. Hingis came into the tournament as the number one seed and heavy favorite. Graf as the sixth seed and plagued by injuries for two years.

Hingis had just captured the Australian Open and was looking to consolidate her dominance over the field. Unfortunately for Hingis, she ran into a Steffi Graf that was at the very top of her game. Hingis was cruising to a straight set win against Graf and served for the match. That is until Graf came alive. And when Graf came alive, Hingis’ emotions started to unfold. Hingis’ antics, such as serving underhand on Graf’s match point were not met with approval from the mostly pro-Graf French Open crowd. The emotional breakdown was so bad that Hingis’ mother had to drag her out for the trophy presentation!

In the end it was bittersweet for Graf, as she would win the French alongside future husband Andre Agassi in 1999 and retire after a Wimbledon final appearance that same year. Hingis would never win the French Open.

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