IT was not the way Martina Hingis would have envisaged bidding farewell to the sport she had loved and played with such dedication.
The 27-year-old was handed a two-year suspension from the game yesterday after testing positive for cocaine at Wimbledon last year.
The 'Swiss Miss' announced her retirement from tennis on 1 November after revealing her positive test for the Class-A drug. Hingis also offered a resolute defence, telling a press conference in Zurich: "I find this accusation so horrendous, so monstrous that I've decided to confront it head on by talking to the press. I am frustrated and angry. I believe that I am absolutely 100 per cent innocent."
However, yesterday, the International Tennis Federation said an independent anti-doping tribunal found Hingis had committed an offence, rejecting any doubts over her sample.
The former Wimbledon champion's ban is backdated to 1 October but Hingis has three weeks in which to contest the ruling and punishment.
The ITF has also disqualified Hingis' results from last year's Wimbledon and any subsequent tournaments she competed in. She also forfeited any ranking points gained and US$129,481 (65,577) in prize money.
The former world No1 provided her sample after her 6-4, 6-2 defeat by American Laura Granville in the third round at the All England Club.
Hingis offered no immediate response to yesterday's ruling by the ITF, but her fall from grace is now complete.
The Slovakian-born player became the youngest Grand Slam junior victor at the French Open in 1993, aged just 12. That success was followed by further junior triumphs at Wimbledon and Roland Garros, before reaching the US Open final.
It came as no surprise when Hingis turned professional after those victories and ended the year at No87 in the world. Her progress was swift over the next 12 months and she rose to 16th in the rankings by the end of 1995.
The world top 10 welcomed Hingis for the first time in October 1996 and she claimed her first WTA Tour singles title at Filderstadt, beating three higher-ranked players – Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario, Anke Huber and Lindsay Davenport – on the path to victory. Hingis also won at Oakland to finish the season ranked fourth in the world.
The stage was now set for Hingis' world domination and, within the first month of 1997, her first major title was captured at the Australian Open where she became the youngest player in the 20th century to win a Grand Slam tournament by defeating Mary Pierce of France 6-2, 6-2 in the final. Hingis' success elevated her to No 1 in the world, but a fall from a horse saw her suffer a torn knee ligament in April.
However, despite undergoing surgery as part of her five-week recovery, Hingis went on to claim the Wimbledon and US Open titles in a year in which she won 75 of her 80 matches, including her fightback from a set down against Jana Novotna in south-west London to win 2-6, 6-3, 6-3.
In 1998, Hingis became the youngest player to successfully defend a Grand Slam at the tender age of 17 years, four months and one day at the Australian Open. Success was not limited to the singles, though, and she became only the fourth woman to win a doubles Grand Slam. The Swiss' third successive Australian triumph was followed by the first whiff of controversy in her career during the final of the French Open. In losing to Steffi Graf, Hingis also lost her temper and her underarm serve to save a match point incurred the ire of the crowd before the German sealed the win. But Hingis recovered and won nine titles in 1999 and returned to the world No1 spot.
Hingis was twice a runner-up at the French Open where her loss to Iva Majoli in 1997 stopped her winning all four Grand Slams that year. However, a spate of injuries, including back, Achilles and foot, blighted her progress after 2000 and she was forced on to the sidelines for four years – she even announced her retirement from the sport in 2003.
Hingis returned to the court in 2005, but was defeated in the opening round of her first tour event. But, a year later, displaying signs her form was returning, Hingis claimed two titles and finished 2006 ranked seventh.
However, WTA Tour chief executive Larry Scott admitted the manner of Hingis' exit from the game had left a sour taste for all tennis followers.
He said: "We are saddened by this news as Martina has meant so much to fans the world over and made many positive contributions to the sport."