Palo Alto, California- Once a highly touted babe in the tennis woods herself, 22-year-old Magdalena Maleeva of Bulgaria is worried for 16-year-old world number one Martina Hingis.
Magdalena, who turned pro at the tender age of 14 and quickly rose up the ranking charts to end 1995 ranked sixth, prepared for a second-round bout with Hingis by trouncing Jana Nejedly of Canada 6-0, 6-3 in the first round of the $450,000 Bank of the West Classic.
Maleeva, the youngest sister of a tennis-playing family that includes now retired siblings Manuela and Katerina, said that Hingis's meteoric rise to the top of the world may be hazardous to her emotional health.
"It's too much at age 16 for Martina to face everything she has to face," Maleeva said. "I'm very happy for her and she's obviously very talented, but to be 16 and No. 1 with so many obligations is too much for the head.
"Right now. it might seem OK, but in the future, things could get very bad for her. It's very hard to handle all that attention at such an early age. It's just not normal."
Touted as the best player in her family, Maleeva has actually seen a decline in her play since her sisters retired. She has spent the last year "doing normal things" such as hitchhiking with friends around Bulgaria.
While she says her desire is still there, Maleeva, who owns six career titles including the 1995 Bank of the West title, has fallen to 40th in the rankings and has not reached a semifinal this year.
"I'm working hard to get my confidence back but it's not easy," Maleeva said. "But I know this is what I want to do and have made peace with myself."