A comeback that started auspiciously last year for Martina Hingis shuddered to a halt on Thursday, when she announced her second retirement from tennis and revealed that her decision was linked to testing positive for cocaine at this year's Wimbledon.
Hingis, a five-time Grand Slam singles champion, denied taking the drug. At a news conference in Zurich, she fought back tears and read from a prepared statement without taking questions from the gathered reporters.
"I find this accusation so horrendous, so monstrous, that I have decided to confront it head-on by talking to the press," Hingis, 27, said. "My weapon on the tennis court is and always was one single thing -- the game, the ingenuity on court. And for this style of tennis, there is only one performance enhancer -- the love of the game."
Cocaine is banned in competition by the World Anti-Doping Code. Hingis' manager, Mario Widmer, said the positive test was administered June 29 after her loss to Laura Granville in the third round at Wimbledon.
"She [Hingis] found out in mid-September when she got a letter telling her that the A sample was positive," Widmer said in a telephone interview from Switzerland. "She was shocked."
Hingis requested that her B sample be processed and was later informed that it also had tested positive for metabolites of cocaine. She said she then hired a lawyer.
"The attorney and his experts discovered various inconsistencies with the urine sample that was taken during Wimbledon," she said in her statement. "He is also convinced that the doping officials mishandled the process and would not be able to prove that the urine that was tested for cocaine actually came from me. However, this attorney and others have also pointed out to me that a case like this one can sometimes take years to resolve, especially if both sides repeatedly appeal the case and take it to the next level. And this is the reason for my announcement. I have no desire to spend the next several years of my life reduced to fighting against the doping officials."
Hingis said her decision to retire was also linked to ongoing physical problems, particularly the chronic hip pain that has contributed to her disappointing season this year.
Last year, when Hingis returned to the tour full time after nearly a three-year break, she looked supremely fit and quickly reasserted herself. She reached the quarter-finals at the Australian Open and the French Open, finished the year ranked No. 7 and earned the WTA's Comeback Player of the Year award.
She peaked at the No. 6 ranking early this year after reaching the quarter-finals at the Australian Open again and then winning a high-level tour event in Tokyo in February. She missed the French Open because of her hip problems and dropped out of the top 10, failing to advance past the quarter-finals in any event since Tokyo. She is ranked 19th this week.
"The fact is that it is more and more difficult for me, physically, to keep playing at the top of the game," Hingis said in her statement. "And frankly, accusations such as these don't exactly provide me with motivation to even make another attempt to do so. I'm now 27 years old, and realistically too old to play top class tennis."
Her period of dominance was brilliant yet brief. She won all five of her Grand Slam singles titles in a two-year span between January 1997 and January 1999, and she served as a transitional figure between the eras of Steffi Graf and of Venus and Serena Williams.