Originally created 07/06/97

Youth will be served: Hingis wins again



WIMBLEDON, England - History suggests the biggest threat to Martina Hingis' tennis longevity may be horses.

At 16, Hingis became the youngest Wimbledon champion of this century by beating 28-year-old Jana Novotna 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 Saturday.

If not for a spill from a horse before the French Open, Hingis might be three-fourths of the way to a Grand Slam this year. She became the youngest Grand Slam champion when she won the Australian Open in January.

Only Lottie Dod was a younger Wimbledon champion, winning in 1887 at 15. The late Maureen Connolly won in 1952 at 17.

"It might be that I'm maybe too young to win this title," Hingis said.

The smiling Swiss teen-ager's trophy collection likely will get much larger, although she continues to enjoy horseback riding and might want to consider Connolly's tragic career.

At 18, Connolly became the first woman to win the Grand Slam in a single year, sweeping the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Championships in 1953.

A year later, with nine Grand Slam titles at age 19, the young American was thrown from a horse. She broke her leg and never played again.

The list of the youngest Wimbledon finalists includes many other illustrious names. There's Steffi Graf and Helen Wills, who went on to dominate the sport for years. There's also Monica Seles and Andrea Jaeger, whose careers were curtailed by injuries.

The most recent case of tennis burnout, Jennifer Capraiti, never reached Hingis' heights. Capriati made the semifinals of the French Open in 1990 at 14, but drug and personal problems derailed her career three years later.

Hingis shows no symptoms of suffering for her success. She wears a perpetual grin and says she's close to her mother and coach, Melanie Molitor.

"I think Martina will be very good," Novotna said. "If I compare her to the other players we saw burn out quickly, I think she is very normal, thanks to her mother.

"I think that when she is not on the court, she is acting like a normal teen-age kid. But on the other hand, she knows very well what she's doing."

Hingis' game continues to blossom. The weakest aspect is her serve, which likely will improve as she gets stronger. She is reluctant to charge the net, but she's an excellent doubles player and can develop her volleys as a weapon.

At the baseline, Hingis has a remarkable array of strokes, from slices and drop shots to the kind of blistering passing shots that repeatedly whizzed past Novotna.

"She has the advantage that she has so much variety in her game," Novotna said. "Even with her not having the best serve, she can always come in and pick up the volleys, because she has very good hands."

On Saturday, those hands held a Wimbledon trophy.