Youth Catches Up to Hingis at Australian Open
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) _ Martina Hingis’ bid to become the youngest semifinalist in Australian Open history ended in a frustrating flurry of errors and racket-flinging.
Hingis, putting on a show of adolescent petulance when points and calls went against her, double-faulted to end a windblown match Wednesday against Amanda Coetzer, 7-5, 4-6, 6-1.
At 15, Hingis is a talented but limited player, possessing solid groundstrokes but no big weapons to beat more experienced and steadier rivals like the No. 16 Coetzer, a 24-year-old South African.
Coetzer, a quarterfinalist at the U.S. Open two years ago, reached the semis of a Grand Slam event for the first time since turning pro in 1988. She had never gone beyond the third round in the Australian in three previous appearances.
``It’s a critical time for me,″ Coetzer said. ``A couple of years ago I felt I was not really going anywhere. The way I was play I wasn’t really enjoying it.″
Coetzer didn’t quite consider retiring, but was becoming disillusioned with early-round losses in majors and no progress in the rankings for several years. A turning point came at the Canadian Open last August, when she ended Steffi Graf’s 32-match winning streak, then beat Jana Novotna and Mary Pierce before losing to Monica Seles in the final.
The draw at the Australian opened up for Coetzer when No. 5 Kimiko Date lost in the second round, and No. 11 Brenda Schultz-McCarthy lost to Hingis in the fourth round. That gave Coetzer a seedless path to the semis.
``It was a number of things coming together,″ Coetzer said. ``There was a gap in the draw that helped me. I’m feeling good and strong physically, and I think my game has improved.″
Coetzer wasn’t particular worried about playing a girl nine years younger, though she was impressed by Hingis’ potential.
``I think she has a great future,″ Coetzer said. ``She hits the ball very well. Once she gets stronger physically, she’s going to be a force.″
To win this match, the Swiss teen had to put pressure on at the net, using her four-inch height advantage over the 5-foot-2 Coetzer, while minimizing mistakes.
``As we were walking out (to start the match), she told me this would be the only time somebody would be smaller than she is,″ Coetzer said.
Hingis tried to be the aggressor, but despite winning 16 net approaches among her 30 winners, Hingis was undone by 81 unforced errors. Coetzer won only seven net approaches and hit just 18 winners, but she kept her errors down to 45.
Hingis, already the youngest quarterfinalist at the Australian, mounted an impressive comeback in the first set after falling behind 4-0. But after Hingis won five straight games, Coetzer held, then broke Hingis for 6-5 and served out the set. Hingis sprayed 39 of her unforced errors in that first set.
Hingis chased Coetzer back and forth and flirted with the lines throughout the match, often hitting winners but suffering costly misses, too. When Coetzer managed to take the offensive, Hingis scrambled well, lobbed out of trouble and often turned the point around. She followed up some of her deep strokes with well-timed net rushes.
Hingis controlled the second set. But in the third, after the two exchanged service breaks, Coetzer broke again to 2-1, thanks to two consecutive lucky net-cord shots, the second of which skipped past Hingis.
Coetzer then broke Hingis twice more, coming from 40-0 behind in the final game on a Hingis double-fault and forehand error and a drop shot by Coetzer. On the second match point, Hingis double-faulted.
``In the first set, from love-4, I needed so much power to get to 5-4,″ Hingis said, adding that the energy spent in that opening set made her tired by the final set. ``In the beginning, every game I had a chance to (win) the game. It was pretty hard.″
The gusty, warm wind, especially at the beginning, made it tough for both players.
``She plays the same game like me,″ Hingis said. ``She never gives a point. She never misses on her return. You always have to make the point yourself.
``I played a very good tournament. It’s pretty difficult to have to concentrate for two weeks, especially when you always have a day off (between matches).″