SABATINI ADDS TO SUNSHINE STATE STREAK VS. GRAF - STATE OF THE RIVALRY
Monday, April 13, 1992
AMELIA ISLAND -- Steffi Graf beats everyone in Florida -- everyone, that is, except Gabriela Sabatini.
Since 1986, Graf is 67-0 against everyone but her Argentine rival in Florida tournaments. Against Sabatini, Graf is 1-8.
Sabatini won her eighth straight at the Bausch & Lomb final Sunday, stopping Graf 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 before a sellout crowd of 5,120. Graf hasn't beaten Sabatini in the state they both call their American home since she won the first match, played here in 1987.
''It must be the Florida air,'' said Sabatini, who trails Graf 20-3 in the rest of the world. ''I know I have beaten her many times in Florida. I go into the matches with confidence.''
Sabatini won her third Bausch & Lomb title, all over Graf.
''This one is special because I had to win two matches today,'' said Sabatini, who defeated Conchita Martinez 6-4, 6-3 in a morning semifinal rained out Saturday. Graf beat Arantxa Sanchez Vicario 6-7 (7-3), 6-4, 6-3 in a match that was halted by rain at 6-all Saturday.
''It's hard to keep focused mentally for two matches.''
Sabatini picked her spots well.
''Gaby started out the match unbelievably and she closed it out unbelievably,'' said Graf, who is 3-3 in six title matches in the last seven years here.
''I let her take control and played too defensively at the end. She's playing very well right now.''
Sabatini completed the Island Double (Hilton Head and Amelia) for the second year in a row, and now has a Kraft Tour-high four victories.
Sabatini (31-3) is the winningest player in women's tennis this season, and leads the Kraft Tour point standings, but she continues to be ranked No. 3 behind Monica Seles and Graf. Sabatini needed to win Sunday to stay ahead of No. 4 Martina Navratilova.
''She fought and fought,'' said Carlos Kirmayr, Sabatini's coach. ''It was tough to play two matches in one day. Now, she has a couple of days off to enjoy this feeling of winning.''
Sabatini was staggering after losing six games in a row in the second set. Sabatini held serve at 30 to open the final set, but Graf answered quickly at 15, then pushed Sabatini to 15-40.
Sabatini saved double-break point and held for 2-1. Both players held again to 3-2, and then both players broke to 4-3.
''I wasn't discouraged when I lost serve at 4-2,'' Sabatini said. ''It was just one game. I just had to keep doing what I was doing.''
Graf opened the day by playing the earliest tiebreaker in tennis history (9:10 a.m.), and it would have been interesting to see her finish it with another tiebreaker. But she never got the chance.
Sabatini broke at 15 for 5-3, then served out the match at 30.
''I played aggressively when I had to,'' Sabatini said.
Sabatini came to the net 20 times in the final set -- winning 15 points -- more than she did in the first two sets (37 times).
''Gaby has to come to the net to beat Graf, on any surface,'' Kirmayr said. ''Gaby has to come in -- if Graf lets her.''
The match was statistically dead even: both players hit 26 winners, committed 32 unforced errors and served 72 percent. Sabatini won two more points, 79-77.
Sabatini converted five of 10 break points (50 percent), while Graf converted four of 11 (36 percent).
''It's a bit mental,'' said Graf, who lost to Sabatini at Lipton, but did not play her at the Virginia Slims of Florida (thanks to Amanda Coetzer, who upset Sabatini the quarterfinals).
''I'm there, but I'm just not making the right shots.''
Steffi Graf leads Gabriela Sabatini 21-11 in their lifetime series, but Sabatini is 8-1 in Florida and has won the last eight. Graf's only Florida victory was in Amelia Island in 1987. Since then it has been all Sabatini:
Year Site Round Score
1988 Boca Raton Final 2-6, 6-3, 6-1
1988 Amelia Island Semi 6-3, 4-6, 7-5
1989 Amelia Island Final 3-6, 6-3, 7-5
1991 Boca Raton Final 6-4, 7-6
1991 Key Biscayne Semi 0-6, 7-6, 6-1
1991 Amelia Island Final 7-5, 7-6
1992 Key Biscayne Semi 3-6, 7-6, 6-1
1992 Amelia Island Final 6-2, 1-6, 6-3