Mind game looms as biggest hurdle
By DANIEL PACE
PATTY Schnyder believes that overcoming nerves will be the biggest battle for Swiss compatriot and former world No.1 Martina Hingis who is preparing for her comeback to competitive tennis on the Gold Coast.
World No.7 Schnyder and three-time Australian Open champion Hingis will compete in the Australian Women's Hardcourts tournament at Royal Pines Resort starting on Sunday.
The Swiss pair practised in the oppressive Queensland heat yesterday.
Defending champion Schnyder said it was difficult to predict how Hingis would fare in lead-up events at the Gold Coast and Sydney before the Australian Open starting January 16 following a long hiatus from tennis.
"I think she has a pretty good shot once she gets over the nervous thing that's going on," said Schnyder yesterday about the well-publicised comeback.
"Her game is definitely on but the mental and physical part you never know.
"If you come back after such a long time it may take some weeks or it may be right there. I don't know."
Hingis quit the professional tour in 2002 suffering foot, heel and ankle injuries.
She made an aborted comeback in February, losing to Germany's Marlene Weingartner in the first round of the Thailand Open, but is now committed to a fulltime return.
Schnyder said she had been practising with Hingis and the pair were on a "pretty close" playing level.
"I think it's great to have her back on the tour," said Schnyder, who has enjoyed the best year of her career.
"She's such a special, talented player and one of the greatest champions we've had the last 10 years."
Schnyder said she never actively encouraged Hingis to make a comeback but yesterday described the decision as courageous.
"We never really talked about it. I was asking, I was curious," Schnyder said. "After she decided I told her I think it's very courageous and I think it's really cool that she's coming back."
The pint-sized Schnyder is the hot favourite to win back-to-back titles on the Gold Coast following this week's withdrawal of top seed Maria Sharapova with a shoulder injury.
Three of her 10 WTA titles have been won in this country and in the Australian Open she has reached the semi-finals (2004) and the quarter-finals (2005).
Meanwhile, veteran Nicole Pratt has been granted a wildcard into the main draw despite losing a play-off to fellow Australian Sophie Ferguson on Wednesday.
Tennis Australia has granted a reprieve to Pratt, giving her one of three wildcards alongside Hingis and Ferguson.
An international field of 32 women will vie for the four vacant qualifying positions in a pre-event tournament beginning today when the main draw is announced.