WEST VANCOUVER, B.C. - Martin Hingis had her chance, but decided to pass.
As a result, the youngest Grand Slam champion in history found herself on the hardcourt at the Odlum Brown VanOpen in West Vancouver, B.C., this week, playing an exhibition match instead of pounding the grass at Wimbledon during the 2012 London Olympics. Hingis declined an offer last December from Swiss compatriot Roger Federer to play mixed doubles with him at the Games.
Sitting on a patio at Hollyburn Country Club overlooking Vancouver harbour, Hingis had no second thoughts about her decision.
"It would just feel like a struggle for both of us," said Hingis. "I was very flattered. It was unbelievable that he would even think about me to play mixed doubles with him. But on the other hand, I haven't played in five years — in a professional match, really. It's different than playing someone who's there all the time, playing week after week.
"Playing, oh, one out of five years? Playing exhibitions and things like that can never make up for it."
Hingis, 31, last played on the Women's Tennis Association tour in 2007, when she quit amidst controversy. She was suspended for two years after testing positive for cocaine, but decided not to appeal.
The five-Grand Slam champion still plays World Team Tennis with the New York Sportimes, but said it would have taken her six months to get back to the level necessary to compete against the globe's top players.
"I think it would be almost like too much to ask for," said Hingis.
Instead, she played an exhibition against Toronto's Sharon Fichman on Wednesday, downing the 21-year-old Canadian 6-3, 6-3 with many well-placed lobs, volleys and drop shots. An envious Fichman told the crowd afterward that Hingis was able to direct the ball wherever she wanted, at whatever height.
Hingis also gave a clinic for kids earlier Wednesday, and the previous evening showed off her Tonic clothing line, which she helps design and market for Vancouver-based Tonic Lifestyle Apparel.
As for the Olympics, she likes Federer's chances in men's singles and longtime rival Serena Williams' hopes in women's singles on the basis of their respective Wimbledon victories this summer.
"You can't go against Roger and Serena," said Hingis.
She initially described Williams' successful comeback from injury and illness, which kept her out for almost a year following her 2010 Wimbledon triumph, as nothing out of the ordinary. But later Hingis added: "It's unbelievable that she comes back and can still win."
Hingis, Williams, and her sister Venus battled on many occasions on the tour. The Williams sisters are known for their strong serves and strokes while the slight Hingis relied on more of a finesse game using well-placed shots.
Many other women have become heavy hitters in order to keep up with the Williams sisters. However, Hingis still believes in the "creativity of the game" and feels other players can win with it.
Although the Slovakian-born star is uncertain where the style of women's tennis is going, she feels comfortable with her life's direction. Hingis enjoys designing clothing for Tonic after happening on the company's offerings in a store in England while appearing on a British equivalent of Dancing with the Stars. She also takes great enjoyment from tutoring young players at a Paris academy.
"I still like to be active," said Hingis. "It's not like you can just lie on the sofa. What are you doing with the rest of your life? A sports career is pretty short, especially a tennis player's. It's not like golf where you can play until you're 60."
She isn't dwelling on how her professional career ended for good in 2007.
"I'm very proud of what I achieved by my career, and I have no regrets," said Hingis. "I'm building up a different thing. You always have to find something that's a new challenge in life, and that's what I'm doing now. I love helping young up-and-coming players make the transition from junior tennis into women's tennis. It's been a lot of fun."
Many former athletes struggle upon retirement. Hingis, who began playing professionally when she was 14 and spent 209 weeks ranked No. 1, was no exception.
Citing injuries and pain, she retired the first time at age 22, but worked on her game in intervening years and came back on tour in 2006, when she rose to seventh in the world.
Despite the controversy surrounding it, the second retirement has been easier.
"It's been five years," said Hingis. "I think I've found a good direction. You've gotta move on."