Switzerland’s Tennis Stars

Switzerland knows how to do things right: skiing, banking, watches, chocolate and tennis players. The country’s latest exports are making their rounds on the ATP and WTA circuits and reaching peaks higher than the country’s famous Alps. These players include: world number one Roger Federer, Martina Hingis back from retirement and Patty Schnyder who broke through to the women’s top ten in 2005 and is looking to stay. How can a small country land locked in the heart of Europe produce some of the world’s greatest tennis stars? Is it the cheese? The chocolate? The only thing that’s certain is the Swiss know how to do tennis right. Here’s a closer look at their great players:

At this year’s Australian Open, with all eyes riveted on the return of Martina Hingis, another name slipped quietly through the draw. Patty Schnyder (Shnee-der), 28, dispensed four opponents, including number 12 seed Anastasia Myskina, to reach the quarterfinals where she fell to the eventual champion, Amelie Mauresmo. Schnyder’s strong performance shows that she may have what it takes to snag her first major.

This lefty is no newbie to tennis. Schnyder, who was born in Basil and currently resides in Baech, Switzerland, turned professional over ten years ago, but only reached the highest ranking of her career, number seven in the world, in 2005. She enjoys top ten company with such names as Clijsters, Davenport and Sharapova. While Schnyder has yet to win a grand slam (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon or the US Open), she is no stranger to titles and held ten in her singles career at the end of 2005. With her best year yet behind her, this Swiss is looking to make 2006 even better. She may not linger in all the spotlights, but Schnyder is certainly a threat on the court. She might be a black horse, but 2006 is looking like the perfect year for a push to the top. And, as far as black horses go, she has some good company in the improbable return of her Swiss compatriot, Martina Hingis.

When Martina Hingis, 26, returned unseeded to the 2006 Australian Open after almost four years of retirement, this former number one and four time Australian champion wondered if she would even make it past the first round. Hingis, who moved to Switzerland as a child and currently resides in Trubbach, would be competing against the specter of her own amazing record. In the ’90s Hingis ruled the women’s circuit with her strong defensive game, consistency and strategic thinking. Unlike many of today’s top women, Hingis does not play a game of strength or domination, but one of cunning and attrition. This strategy garnered her 40 career titles including successful runs at the Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open and an impressive $18 million in prize money. But, with the rise of power players like the Williams sisters and Lindsey Davenport, Martina’s record began to suffer. After a fall in the rankings and injury, the tennis star called it quits.

Now, in 2006, Hingis stunned the tennis community with her return to the game. Her strong showing at the Australian Open surprised and elated tennis fans. With an impeccably clean game, razor tuned shots and smart court strategy, Martina reached the quarterfinals where she fell to the 2005 U.S. Open Champion Kim Clijsters. Clearly, Martina is back. With her strong game and sharp eye, she is on her way to reclaim the glory she once knew; a glory her Swiss native Roger Federer is already living as the undisputed best in the tennis world.

No one can effectively argue that Federer, 24, is anything but the world’s best tennis player. The 2006 Australian Open championship he snagged from Marcos Baghadatis was just one more to add to his collection of over 30 including multiple wins at Wimbledon and the US Open. With his 2005 singles record at 80-4, Federer’s number one ranking was so solid that that he enjoyed almost a 2,000-point lead over the number two, Rafael Nadal at the end of the year. This Oberwil resident (he was born in Basil) has also managed to rack up an impressive $20 million in prize money along the way.

Federer’s record, like his game, is clearly unmatched by any current player, and whispers already paint him as a legend in the making. Federer’s success comes from his all court game and huge arsenal of weapons including: speed, intelligence, mechanics, versatility and dazzling shot making. Federer is able to consistently dispatch the best in men’s tennis with little sweat and rarely a break in his stoic demeanor. His Australian Open championship indicates he is not about to slow down. Federer is playing for the record books now.

So, how has Switzerland, a country less than twice the size of New Jersey, produced some of the world’s best tennis players? It’s possible the secret is kept is kept locked away in one of those famous Swiss bank vaults. This much is true: Federer, Hingis and Schnyder collectively and individually have given the game of tennis a new edge and raised the flag of Switzerland to a greater consciousness in the tennis arena. They are truly national treasures.

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