By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Martina Hingis is already enshrined in the Tennis Hall of Fame, but the 33-year-old Swiss is zeroing in on more grand slam hardware at the U.S. Open.
Hingis, winner of five grand slam singles titles, nine doubles crowns and one mixed doubles title, and partner Flavia Pennetta of Italy booked a berth in the women's doubles final on Saturday against Russians Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina.
"I'm enjoying every second to be out there," said Hingis after the unseeded duo posted a 6-2 6-4 victory over third seeds Cara Black of Zimbabwe and Sania Mirza of India in Thursday's semi-finals.
Fourth seeds Makarova and Vesnina advanced in straight sets 7-5 6-3 over Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan and Czech Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.
Hingis has twice retired from tennis, first from foot and ankle injuries in 2003, then after a two-year ban imposed on her after a positive doping test at Wimbledon for cocaine in 2006.
The Swiss player stayed involved in the game through World Team Tennis and exhibition events, and teamed up with Pennetta at Eastbourne where they beat Makarova and Vesnina in their first match together.
"We have to come out with our best," said Hingis about a return engagement against the Russians in Flushing Meadows. "I mean, if they beat us, too good. If it's not gonna be enough, even better."
Hingis has clearly not lost her competitive drive and helped send the Washington Kastles to their fourth straight World Team Tennis title in July.
"It's a great preparation," said Hingis. "Any title is a great title to have, whether it's Team Tennis title, a grand slam or being number one. It's always another stepping stone in a career, and now we're here in the final. I'm really happy."
Former world number one Hingis's last slam title was hoisted at the 2006 Australian Open in mixed doubles with partner Mahesh Bhupathi of India.
Contending again is a thrill.
"It means a lot to me," said the Swiss, who won a doubles title at the U.S. Open while in partnership with Jana Novotna.
"I only won one title here in doubles. That was a while back in '98. I made some good matches, some great memories, but it's been a while."
Hingis tried some other combinations before joining forces with Pennetta, whose regular partner, Gisele Dulko, had retired.
"With Flavia I feel really comfortable being out there. I think that's the key to success," she said.
Hingis said she prefers to play at the net and leave Pannetta to patrol the baseline.
"Definitely she's very powerful obviously from the baseline. As long as I'm at the net I feel comfortable. That's my time to do things," said Hingis.
"I think we just really click together at this moment even better than any other tournaments that we played together."
Pennetta was asked how well they communicate on the court.
"I talk with her more in Spanish than in Italian because her boyfriend is from Spain," said Pennetta, before Hingis blushed and gave her a slap on the shoulder to quiet her.
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(Editing by Steve Keating.)