Hingis return is gaining momentum
Happy Hingis is back in the world's top 20 for the first time in four years.
ROME, Italy -- Swiss Martina Hingis has vaulted back into the world's top 20 for the first time since quitting tennis in 2002.
The ex-world number one and five-times grand slam singles champion re-entered the upper echelon of the women's game at No.14 following victory in the Italian Open on Sunday.
The 25-year-old's 6-2 7-5 win over Dinara Safina at Rome's Foro Italico marked her first title since February 2002 when she beat Monica Seles to triumph in Tokyo.
Later that year Hingis quit the sport, plagued by chronic foot and ankle injuries.
She made a tentative return to the women's tour in 2005, playing one tournament in Pattaya, Thailand, before launching a full comeback at the beginning of this year.
Ranked 9,999 by the WTA Tour at the end of 2005, her progress in the first five months of the year has been rapid.
She reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in January, a tournament she won three times in six finals at the height of her powers, and reached the final in Tokyo soon after.
Sunday's triumph in Rome capped her return to the top, marked her 41st singles title and underlined her status as a candidate for the French Open later this month -- the only grand slam crown to elude her.
France's Amelie Mauresmo topped the women's rankings issued on Monday with Belgium's Kim Clijsters in second spot ahead of Russians Nadia Petrova and Maria Sharapova. Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne completes the top five.
"I never thought I'd be here again," Hingis said after claiming her second title in the Italian capital.
"But they say never give up hope and keep fighting, and here I am. It's just great to be back on top of the game."
Safina had beaten a series of higher-ranked players en route to the final, including world number two Kim Clijsters, but her form deserted her as she sprayed shots long and wide.
Asked whether she felt ready to win at Roland Garros, Hingis replied: "Well, I had my chances in the past.
"This year there are many good players who can do well in the tournament.
"I've always said I'm a good horse but still an underdog. Though definitely this win in Rome will give my confidence a big boost."
1 (1) Amelie Mauresmo (Fr) 3272 2 (2) Kim Clijsters (Bel) 3048 3 (3) Nadia Petrova (Rus) 2620 4 (4) Maria Sharapova (Rus) 2543 5 (5) Justine Henin-Hardenne (Bel) 2408 6 (6) Mary Pierce (Fr) 2302 7 (7) Lindsay Davenport (U.S.) 2254 8 (8) Elena Dementieva (Rus) 1990 9 (9) Patty Schnyder (Swi) 1753 10 (10) Svetlana Kuznetsova (Rus) 1711 11 (11) Francesca Schiavone (It) 1356 12 (13) Anastasia Myskina (Rus) 1309 13 (12) Venus Williams (U.S.) 1308 14 (21) Martina Hingis (Swi) 1160 15 (14) Anna-Lena Groenefeld (Ger) 1133 16 (19) Dinara Safina (Rus) 1099 17 (16) Daniela Hantuchova (Slk) 1018 18 (15) Nicole Vaidisova (Cze) 1014 19 (18) Flavia Pennetta (It) 991 20 (17) Elena Likhovtseva (Rus) 945
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