Photo: TK Sparta Praha / Pavel Lebeda (sport-pics.cz)Martina Hingis (SUI) and Jana Novotna (CZE)
There was added excitement at the ITF Pro Circuit tournament in Prague last week as former Grand Slam champions Martina Hingis and Jana Novotna were onsite to take part in an exhibition match alongside ex-ATP Tour players Jiri Novak and Petr Pala.
Saturday’s exhibition on semifinals day saw Hingis team up with Novak to record a 9-7 win in an entertaining match which had been relocated indoors due to rain.
Hundreds of eager fans gathered courtside to catch a glimpse of the action with their close proximity to the court only adding to the match atmosphere.
Before the match the players demonstrated rather differing preparation styles, whilst Novak elected to spend time eating his lunch, Novotna was out for a run followed by an hour warming up; clearly the same attitude that took her to the World No. 2 spot and the Wimbledon title – among many others won – had not gone away since her retirement from the WTA Tour.
But what of Pala and Hingis’ preparations? “We went for a warm up for five minutes. For four, in fact,” said Pala, the Captain of the Czech Fed Cup team whom he has led to the 2014 final. “At our age we don’t need more,” quickly added Hingis.
As the match got underway both sets of players were clearly enjoying themselves and showing off their skills, none more so than Hingis who did not appear to ever let her smile fade and demonstrated some superb net play throughout.
Of course, no exhibition is without the customary ‘friendly’ banter between the players and officials. In one such moment the umpire surprisingly awarded a point to Novotna and Pala, “Pity you didn’t umpire more of my matches. My career would be so much more success,” came the response from Novotna.
Another exchange saw Hingis remark: “Thank you for making me ready for Roland Garros!” after Novotna and Pala had forced the Swiss star, who is due to compete at this year’s Grand Slam, to play fifteen hard shots in quick succession.
Hingis was not the only one being made to work hard on court though. “I can’t anymore!” exclaimed a tired Pala after being forced into a lot of running as Hingis played a short ball, then a lob, another short ball and finally a passing shot.
At the end, the crowd had thoroughly enjoyed a fantastic exhibition match and saw a lot of great shots and touches from all four players.
Novotna on Hingis
"I wanted to play with Martina, you know, I lost to her already so many times and I didn´t want to lose again. But we have always been friends. Martina was so nice on court that even if you lost against her you couldn´t be angry.
And to play doubles with her, it was fun, not work. And an honour, of course. Sometimes I was only standing there and saying ‘WOW’ to myself. When we were at the net, no one could pass us."
The pair claimed three Grand Slam doubles titles together in 1998 (Roland Garros, Wimbledon and US Open)
Hingis on being in Prague and facing Novotna
"It’s always a pleasure to come back to Prague and to meet Jana. It was never a shame to lose against her, especially at Wimbledon. She was always so competitive and wanted to win there, which she did and I was happy for her.
I always said I learnt how to play tennis in this country and with every visit all the memories are coming back. This doubles was just awesome, I had a lot of fun and the people were great."
Hingis’ Wimbledon reference was to their semifinal encounter in 1998 won by Novotna who went on to claim the title