Hingis set to return to tennis in Australian tournament
Five-time Grand Slam singles champion Martina Hingis will return to professional tennis in an Australian hardcourt tournament in early January, opening the way for a place in the Australian Open.
The Swiss former No. 1 will compete in the Mondial Australian Women's Hardcourts on the Gold Coast, where she will be up against Maria Sharapova, from January 1 to 7.
"I'm very excited to be making my return to competitive tennis in Australia, I have always felt at home on the Australian courts," Hingis said in a statement.
"I'm really looking forward to competing again and making my first trip to the Gold Coast.
"I know I'll get some tough matches and it will allow me to get used to the Australian summer coming from the European winter, both of which will be helpful with my preparation for the Australian Open," she added.
Hingis achieved world No. 1 status in March 1997, aged 16, and held the title for 209 non-consecutive weeks until 2001.
She has won the Australian Open three times -- in 1997, 1998 and 1999 -- and reached the final on three other occasions before retiring due to recurring injuries in 2002.
Director of the Gold Coast tournament Liz Smylie said she was thrilled Hingis would be playing in the event.
"Martina is a legend of women's tennis and an unbelievable performer in Australia," Smylie said.
Hingis, 25, announced last month that she would return to game and is expected to play the Medibank International in Sydney before heading to Melbourne for the Australian Open later in January.
Her last professional match was at the Thailand Open in February, where she lost in three sets in the opening round to German Marlene Weingartner.
Chief executive officer of the Australian Open Paul McNamee said the announcement meant Hingis' presence at the Grand Slam tournament was "a fait accompli."
"Her management knew that she had only to commit to coming to Australia and an Australian Open wildcard would be a formality," he told Australian Associated Press. "She's all set for the Open which is great news."
McNamee said Hingis was popular in Australia and while he did not expect her to win, she would add intrigue to the tournament.
"It's one of those great moments in sport 'Will the former champion be able to come back and at what level?'" he said.
"No one will be expecting her to win the tournament but the question is whether she will be able to beat some seeds and make a run through to the second week.
"I certainly believe she still has the capability of being there in the second week."
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