As has, some would suggest, the sport. In September, reacting to the cases not only of Capriati but also of such earlier prodigies turned flameouts as Tracy Austin and Andrea Jaeger, the Women's Tennis Association announced new age restrictions beginning in 1995: Fourteen-year-olds will be barred from regular tour events, while players aged 15 to 17 will be phased in to top-flight competition. By turning pro now, Hingis and Williams are free of all such restrictions. By letting them turn pro now, the WTA, not incidentally, has presumably eliminated the possibility of lawsuits by either woman.
Women's Tennis Association chief executive officer Anne Person Worcester says that no one in her organization was entirely happy to see Hingis and Williams turn pro and promises to offer career and psychological counseling and medical monitoring to younger players, including Hingis and Williams. "I understand how crucial it is to approach their debuts in a comprehensive and cautious manner," Worcester says. "I think we learned a lot from the Austins and Jaegers and Capriatis. I believe we are significantly better equipped to promote career longevity."
Fortunately, if any 14-year-old seems capable of dealing with the white-hot glare of the spotlight and the relentless pressure of a pro career, it is Hingis. She was almost impertinently comfortable with the other players in Zurich. She was also at ease with, if not delighted by, the battery of cameras and microphones on hand for her debut, perhaps because she has aspirations toward modeling. "Emotionally, she is very mature," says her agent, Damir Keretic of IMG.
Behind many an ambitious child is a driven parent, and in this case it's Melanie, who grew up a short distance from Ivan Lendl in the eastern part of what was formerly Czechoslovakia and who had a nodding acquaintance with Navratilova. Hingis's father, Karoli, is an administrator at a tennis club in the Czech Republic.
Martina, who grew up in Roznov, first displayed her athletic ability by taking to skiing when she was three, which was also about the time Melanie put a sawed-off racket in her hand. Martina began entering tournaments at age five. Her parents divorced when she was six, and Melanie moved to Tr�bbach after marrying Andreas Zogg, a Swiss computer specialist. They live in an apartment complex surrounded by postcard-perfect views of the Alps and pastures dotted with grazing cows.
Martina and Melanie maintain they are approaching Martina's career cautiously. "Everything is very simple, very basic," Melanie says. How can she protect her daughter from the danger of burnout? "By being flexible," she says. "We have no big plans." Hingis practices two hours a day and works only a few minutes on her serve, to protect her shoulder from injury.
Martina, who would be an aspiring equestrienne were it not for tennis, says she spends nearly as much time riding her horse and learning to show-jump as she does on the court. Her riding is encouraged by Melanie, who has an almost holistic approach to coaching that includes stretching sessions that look more like dance routines. She encourages her daughter to ski and swim and to draw lessons from those sports that she can use in tennis, and the result is a player of fluid, instinctive beauty. "I play what I feel," Martina says. "I respond to the ball."
But a tennis career is clearly Hingis's priority now, and there are already signs that her childhood will come second to it. Two months ago she switched from the local public school to a private school that specializes in educating aspiring athletes—particularly skiers—and allows them generous amounts of time off for world travel. Hingis is said to get excellent grades, but she admits that her math has slipped due to her absences from class. It could slip more, because Keretic has said that Hingis may play as many as a dozen events in 1995, including the Australian Open in January, which would be her first pro Grand Slam tournament appearance.
So the latest child prodigy has arrived. There is nothing to be done about it but admire Hingis's immense talent and hope that this story, against the odds, has a happy ending.