By KEN POWTAK
NEWPORT, R.I. — Martina Hingis’ tennis life started right from birth and her days playing with a racket began barely after she learned to walk.
It was only fitting that she became one of the youngest players to be enshrined into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Hingis led a large 2013 class that was inducted Saturday during an on-court ceremony that lasted just over 90 minutes, including a 25-minute rain delay on Newport’s grass courts.
Born in Czechoslovakia before moving to Switzerland at a young age, Hingis was named after a women’s tennis great.
“My biggest influence was my mom because she was a professional player, too,” Hingis said during a news conference before the ceremony. “She started me when I was 2 years old. Another was Martina Navratilova, obviously — (my mom) gave me the name so that was the destiny that was programed already. When I started playing at 2 years old, that was the path.”
After the rain delay, Hingis, dressed in a purple sleeveless dress with her hair still soaked, told the crowd: “Thank you, tennis. You gave me the world, and now I honestly am out of words, because there are no words to explain what I feel. You chose to give me a place here for eternity.”
Hingis is the fourth youngest to be inducted — behind Tracy Austin (30), Bjorn Borg (31) and Hana Mandlikova (32).
The 32-year-old Hingis burst onto the professional scene when she was 14. Two years later, she won three of the four major tournaments, taking the titles at the Australian Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open in 1997.
The memories were great. The pictures of a thin teenager, well, she’ll pass on those.
“I just don’t want to look at the photos,” she said, breaking into a laugh.
In her career, Hingis won five Grand Slam singles championships — including three straight at the Australian Open from 1997-99 — and 43 singles titles overall. She also was a part of 37 doubles titles.
Hingis, often troubled by foot injuries, retired for a second time in 2007, when she drew a two-year suspension for testing positive for cocaine at Wimbledon. Hingis denied taking the drug but did not appeal the ruling.
Stan Smith, currently the president of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, called her “one of the most complete players.”
Also enshrined were 94-year-old Australian great Thelma Coyne Long, inducted in the master player category, and industry leaders Ion Tiriac, Cliff Drysdale and Charlie Pasarell. Rod Laver accepted for Long. Six other were inducted in the masters category posthumously.
Tiriac, who managed the careers of Boris Becker, Guillermo Vilas and Goran Ivanisevic, marveled at how Hingis’ small frame didn’t affect her ability to dominate on the court.
“One of the most intelligent players — men and women — on the tennis court,” he said. “She could not match the big girls, but she did with her head what others did with their swings.”
He later joked that he was watching her “since she was 11.”
Smith, a 1987 Hall of Famer, enjoyed seeing her compete against the more powerful players.
“She was able to think her way through matches at 14,” he said.
When mistakenly introduced as the youngest ever to be inducted into the Hall during the news conference, Hingis didn’t hesitate before responding, “I think that’s a great thing why I started so early.”