"Oh, yeah, I've tried to escape it," she says. "Every time I talk to him, it's always something: He was in the hospital, he had fever, he had a bad shoulder, he had to take antibiotics. I'm like, 'Dad, what are you doing all the time? Can't you just be healthy for a little bit?' But in a way he's happy. He wouldn't want to do more to have a better life."
There was a time last fall, as she recovered from ankle surgery, when Hingis embraced all the elements of a classic comeback: She went back to her old, varied training methods, ran hard in the mountains. "I was lighter, in my head I was fresh, mentally I was there" she says. "I was hungry again to prove myself and to see if I could really get to the top. I wanted to know if I still had it in me."
It wasn't enough. Hingis went to the 2002 Australian Open, blew through a soft draw and then took that 6-4, 4-0 lead over Capriati in the final. But her mind was still flabby; she wondered why she was winning so easily, and she crumbled. The younger players don't fear Hingis anymore. She has lost her last five Grand Slam finals. She hasn't beaten any of the other four top players in more than a year. She wonders if she'll ever win another major. "I think I still have the chance," she says. "I'm not sure."
What happened to Martina Hingis? She's up in the bedroom of one of her two houses in Switzerland. She has four horses, a stoplight-yellow Porsche. The Friday-evening light has begun to fade in the window overlooking the lake. Downstairs, in the front hallway, Molitor has set up the stringing machine and clamped down a frame, and the sound of her tinkering travels upstairs.
Molitor understands better than anyone that, to survive, Hingis must become a student of her opponents and of today's power-and fitness-driven game. "But she's not ready for that," Molitor says. "I hope she's getting ready to really want to learn." That Hingis isn't driven to do so, of course, presents a nearly impossible coaching task. "The only thing I can do is try to help Martina to play as well as possible," Molitor says, "so she doesn't get close to needing that drive."
Today's lesson, then: Generate more pop on groundstrokes by hitting off the back foot. In her room, Hingis stands on her Oriental rug to demonstrate. For her backhand she shifts to her left foot and says, "I'm not strong enough on that leg."
Two weeks from now, after a week of hard practice, constant pain and a loss to Venus Williams in Hamburg, Hingis will pull out of the German Open, followed the next week by a withdrawal from Rome, then Roland Garros. Last June, Hingis sued Italian sportswear manufacturer Sergio Tacchini for $40 million for allegedly supplying shoes "unsuitable for competition and causing injury to both feet and her left knee and hip." The two parties have been warring since 1999, when Hingis stopped wearing Tacchini products and Tacchini sued her for breach of contract. Tacchini's stance is that Hingis's suit is merely a ploy to avoid paying millions in damages. Buehlmann insisted last week that "100 percent of her injuries were caused by the instability of the shoes" she wore from ages 11 to 19.
But Hingis doesn't mention Tacchini now. "Sometimes my mother will say, 'If you don't [hit off the back foot], I'm not going to be here,' or 'If you don't do what I'm saying, you don't believe in it,' " Hingis says. "But it hurts. Then Mario says, 'If you were 10 pounds lighter, it wouldn't be as painful maybe.' "
Hingis begins speaking of how grateful she is to her mother, but her cellphone rings. "Hey!" she says. "�Qu� tal?" It's Garcia, calling from Hilton Head, S.C. The two met at the Australian Open and have become serious about each other. "You're done with your game? How did you do?" She lifts her mouth from the receiver and whispers, "He says, 'I'm just useless.' " She turns back to the phone. "I know: Yesterday I looked at the computer, you were, like, one under par.... It will come.... Right now you're waiting to make the cut? O.K. You might make it. You're still one under? O.K., call you later, that's all, bye-bye." She hangs up. Asked if Garcia is one of the leaders, she says, "Oh, no, he played like s—-."
"With Sergio, I know I can be myself," she says. "Before, I always tried to be something better. I wanted to give guys too much. I thought relationships were the most important thing because tennis is always going to be there for me. But now I've learned that if I don't try to give something back to tennis, I'm not as good."