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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, January 29, 2016

 
Martina Hingis, Sania Mirza

"We're going for the Santina Slam of course," Hingis said after winning her fifth Australian Open doubles title with her fourth different partner.

Photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

Squealing sneakers, positive chatter and a roaring competitve engine are the sounds of team on a winning track.

Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza celebrated their Australian Open doubles championship as fuel for a greater goal. The Santina Express is rolling toward the Santina Slam.

Video: Hingis, Mirza Claim Third Straight Major Title

Hingis and Sania Mirza captured their third consecutive Grand Slam title together, defeating veteran Czech duo Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka, 7-6 (1), 6-3, in the Australian Open final.

The flashy mix masters dubbed Santina by devoted fans in an online poll, extended their winning streak to 36 matches.

They've already scored an Australian triple play, winning Brisbane and Sydney in succession before breezing through Melbourne dropping just one set in six matches.

What's next?

The Santina Slam.

The holders of the Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open titles will try to complete the Grand Slam set winning Roland Garros.

"We're going for the Santina Slam of course," Hingis said after winning her fifth Australian Open doubles title with her fourth different partner. Hingis and Anna Kournikova partnered to win titles in 1999 and 2002, the Swiss also won back-to-back Australian Open championships with Mirjana Lucic (1998) and Natasha Zvereva (1997).

Martina Navratilova, whom Hingis is named after, and Pam Shriver last completed a single-season doubles Grand Slam in 1984, part of a run of eight straight major championships for the pair.




The slower surface could be a stumbling block to realizing a Santina Slam.

Red clay was the pair's least successful surface last season. Launching their partnership with successive title runs at Indian Wells, Miami and on the Har-Tru of Charleston, Santina struggled to translate their dynamic play to dirt.

Bounced out of the Stuttgart opening round, Hingis and Mirza were Rome runners-up to Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic and fell in the French Open quarterfinals to eventual-champions Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova.

Hingis hopes training time together —as well as court time defending their titles during the upcoming American spring season —will prepare the pair for an extended run on red clay.

"(Clay) is also probably our worst surface, so far, together," Hingis said. "But we're going into that season kind of with new motivation. We can do better, we hope, we can get better on the clay as well.

"Of course we have a few tournaments prior to the clay-court season. There are two big events coming up. We have St. Petersburg, getting in the cold, and playing indoors a little bit. Then the American (swing), Indian Wells and Miami before we hit the clay courts. We'll see how that goes."

Neither woman is a huge server and their second serves are more vulnerable on clay. Finishing points can be more complicated on dirt as well.

Complementary skills make Santina a commanding—and unsettling—combination.

Mirza's flame-thrower forehand sets up Hingis, who combines sculptor's feel and a mischief-maker's imagination, to finish at net. Mirza can be both imposing sometimes impenetrable in forehand exchanges from the deuce side of the court. Hingis' backhand return from the ad side combines beautiful simplicity with viscious accuracy. From a compact backswing, Hingis creates a world of varied options.


A singular focus on doubles provides them the time to pour into improvements. They are on an extended winning streak because they're constantly evolving.

Santina's pre-point plotting resembles roommates conferring before redesigning the living room. They're continously assessing how to take control of the space in front of them.

"For us is the priority to play doubles only. We're really focused," Hingis said. "That's our strength, that we can practice together and we make each other better, even from the start when we played our first tournament in Indian Wells and Miami.

"I think we still have room for improvement. That's what we did. Our relationship also got stronger. But I think she definitely sets me up. She's one of the hardest-hitting players out there. Like her groundstrokes, her return is really amazing, and her forehand is, if not the best in the world—okay, maybe Serena can hit it as hard.




"There's not that many people who can match her in the forehand rallies and me on the backhand side and at the net. I mean, whoever watched this match today, that's what we were doing. That's what we try to do every match."

If they can continue to blend disparate styles so smoothly and find a way to end points more efficiently on dirt, the Santina Slam and perhaps even the Grand Slam is within reach.


 

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