They hadn't forgotten in Paris, where Mauresmo's fans went to Roland Garros to give Hingis hell and instead found themselves playing the chorus in a Sophoclean melodrama. Rarely has hubris received so perfect a comeuppance. Ahead 6-4, 2-0 in the French Open final against Graf—whom Hingis had declared past her prime two summers earlier, when Graf was rehabbing a severely injured knee—Hingis protested a poor line call, failed to get an overrule and simply couldn't let the matter go. Up in the stands Molitor felt disaster coming. "Before every match then, I was scared that Martina suddenly would snap," she says. "It was...puberty. Nothing more. Only this time the whole world was watching."
Hingis threw an epic tantrum, one of those explosions of self-righteousness for which only a teenager can muster the energy. In a move that violated all notions of tennis etiquette, Hingis walked around the net to Graf's side and pointed out the spot where her disputed shot had fallen. The French fans pounced; boos and hisses filled the air. Hingis plopped into her chair and refused to play. She was docked a point. She resumed play, held on to her lead and then, serving for the match at 5-4, blew the game. Now Graf pounced. Cheered on by the crowd, she won the second set and took a commanding lead in the third, and still Hingis couldn't stop sulking. Facing two match points, she insulted Graf and the game by serving underhand. The crowd howled, and Graf closed out the match. Hingis stormed off the court and refused to return for the awards ceremony until Molitor dragged her back, her face contorted and teary. When a WTA official tried to guide her toward the podium, Hingis smacked her on the arm.
Later, when Hingis saw photos of the debacle, she thought, What a baby. It's the only moment in her tennis career that she regrets. "I had to pay a high price," she says. "Sometimes when you're so good and everyone tells you you are, you lose it. You think you really are the greatest and you're allowed to do anything. But you're not. There are still rules in the world."
And there, after a run of just two years, the Hingis era in women's tennis ended. She broke with her mother and, at Wimbledon, won just two games in losing to qualifier Jelena Dokic in the first round. The next week Hingis returned to her mother in tears. Though she finished the year No. 1—and won nine tournaments in 2000 to retain the ranking—something in Hingis cracked that Saturday in Paris. Her feel for the big stage deserted her; she became more insecure.
Once a remorseless finisher, Hingis has become known for an astonishing fragility. The first rival to make a dent in her confidence was Davenport. Starting in January 1999, Hingis lost to her quickly and often. Completely cowed, Hingis lost the 2000 Australian Open final to Davenport in straight sets and then, at the awards ceremony, made a startling confession: "I just can't play you." Davenport was stunned.
"I was like, Oh, God, what is she saying?" Davenport says. When the two played again in Indian Wells a few months later, Hingis led by a set and a break, but, Davenport says, "when I got the break back—it was 4-all, and she still was only two games from the match—she just folded. She didn't want to deal with it."
Then came the Williams sisters. After beating Venus in the '97 U.S. Open final, Hingis never expected her or Serena to learn how to harness their power, to tailor their games to the moment and opponent. It wasn't long before Hingis was losing to them, too. At the '99 U.S. Open, Hingis (who sparked a first-week row by declaring that Richard Williams had "a big mouth") lost to Serena in the final. Venus edged Hingis en route to the 2000 Wimbledon tide, and then, in a classic rematch in the semis of the U.S. Open, Hingis fully revealed her lack of resolve. Up 5-3, 15-30 in the third set, with Williams so spent that her father walked out of the stadium, Hingis engaged her in a net-kissing, 21-stroke rally that was as good as anything ever seen in women's tennis. After the 20th stroke Hingis was poised at net for an easy overhead to set up championship point. Instead, Hingis fluttered the ball into Williams's backhand wheelhouse, and she flailed at the return as the ball and the match flew out of reach. "That was the first time I realized," Hingis says. Her champion's aura was gone.
Still, she has her moments. She's surrounded by photographers, and it's as if the past three years had never happened. One April weekend finds two film crews at Hingis's home outside Zurich. Attention makes Hingis glow; besides, she says with a roll of the eyes, "it's better than practice." Now the screaming of chopper blades is heard, and faces appear in the windows of the neighboring houses. Hingis scrambles across a field, ducks beneath the helicopter's terrifying gale. Within seconds she is hurtling toward the city, her city, where people sit waiting to cheer her.
The occasion is a Swiss TV show, and she is dressed to kill: black boots, black pants, black tee top covered by a translucent white blouse. Her lips are glazed. Off her necklace two silver balls drop onto the skin below her throat. When the relieved host of the show, Beni Thurnheer, sees her in the makeup chair, he says, "We are saved by Martina, our only known star."
Things are going nicely. The fact that the next day's WTA rankings will drop Hingis to fourth doesn't seem to concern her. On her computer she has been following the progress of her boyfriend of three months, golfer Sergio Garc�a. Just before she walks onto the set, an introductory montage flashes on the monitor backstage. Hingis watches intently as the screen shows her banging ground-strokes, kissing a trophy, her mom clapping. The director calls her to the wings then, and the timing couldn't be better. Just as Hingis steps away, the "after" portion begins on the monitor: one image of defeat after another—Hingis grimacing, throwing her racket, burying her face in her hands. But she doesn't see it. Thurnheer announces her name, the studio crackles with applause, Hingis walks grinning into the light. She couldn't be happier.