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Hingis, 34, back in Aussie Open final, 20 years after debut

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — When Martina Hingis came out retirement for the second time in her career two years ago, she set some ground rules for herself.

She would only play doubles, no singles. And she only wanted partners who would help her win trophies.

It took a little time, but the 34-year-old Hingis is becoming a fixture in Grand Slam finals again.

The Swiss star and her partner Leander Paes of India will play for the mixed doubles title at the Australian Open on Sunday against the team of Kristina Mladenovic of France and Daniel Nestor of Canada.

It’s the second straight Grand Slam final for Hingis — she played for the women’s doubles title at the U.S. Open with Flavia Pennetta, but they lost to the Russian team of Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina.

“I think definitely when I go on court I want to win every time,” Hingis said this week. “Now I can pick and choose the tournaments that I want to play, I have the partners that I want to play with and I enjoy being out there on the court.

“Also, it helps feeling like we have the chance to win the tournament.”

She has more than a good chance to win with the 41-year-old Paes, a veteran doubles specialist with 14 Grand Slam titles — all in doubles and mixed doubles.

The two had played mixed doubles in World Team Tennis together and joked around last year about giving it a go at the majors.

“Normally it’s the guy who comes up and asks, but for somebody who talks a lot, I’m kind of shy,” Paes said.

Hingis only wishes it hadn’t taken them so long to join forces.

“I was saying even on the court, ‘Hey, we maybe should have played 10 years ago,'” she said with a laugh.

Of course, 10 years ago, Hingis wasn’t playing. A Grand Slam champion and No. 1-ranked player at the age of 16, she abruptly retired six years later, citing recurring injuries. She returned to the tour in 2006, then retired again a year later after testing positive for cocaine at Wimbledon.

After six years away, however, she missed the competition and decided to return yet again — as a doubles specialist — in 2013.

Now she’s back in a final again at the Australian Open, where she made her Grand Slam debut 20 years ago. She’s also having fun, smiling and laughing easily on the court — something that didn’t happen so frequently during her peak years.

For Paes, winning the title on Sunday would give him yet another distinction in his long career: two major titles with Martinas. He captured the mixed doubles at the Australian Open in 2002 with Martina Navratilova.

“The trophies, we have plenty in our showcase. One more would be lovely, but it really doesn’t make much of a difference,” he said. “We love playing tennis and that’s the fun part.”

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