Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2
SABATINI'S STRONG FINISH DELETES GRAF
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL
Sunday, April 17, 1988
Steffi Graf didn't really know how it slipped away. Or at what point precisely. She seemed almost as baffled as her opponent, Gabriela Sabatini, who, trailing, 3-0, Saturday in the third set of their semifinal match at the Bausch and Lomb Championships somehow wrested it away and won, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5.
Sabatini spoiled an anticipated final showdown between Graf and Martina Navratilova but set up an interesting rematch just the same. Navratilova, who defeated Claudia Kohde-Kilsch, 6-3, 6-2, in Saturday's other semifinal, beat Sabatini in the final at Hilton Head, S.C., one week ago.
''I wanted to play Steffi, but I can't go 'Phew, I don't play her,' because now I have to play Gaby on clay.'' Navratilova said, ''If she plays me like she played Steffi today, I'm in trouble.''
Navratilova and Kohde-Kilsch watched the 2-hour, 28-minute match between Graf-Sabatini on television while waiting for their semifinal to begin. ''I don't think anybody was giving Gaby two cents chance to come back,'' Navratilova said. ''What an effort, physically and emotionally.''
Indeed, Sabatini, who previous to Saturday's meeting had defeated Graf only once in 11 matches, seemed to be finished in the third set. In a match where the momentum shifted frequently, it appeared to be on Graf's side for good.
Graf held three break points in the fourth game of the third set and Sabatini, shoulders slumped, admitted she was thinking more about surviving than winning. ''I thought I would lose the match, I was so tired,'' Sabatini said. ''To beat Steffi, you have to be in very good shape.''
With the sellout crowd of 5,000 emphatically behind her, Sabatini pulled out the fourth game, broke Graf in the fifth at love, and tied the set at 3-3 when Graf pushed a backhand into the net.
''When you start winning, you forget about being tired,'' Sabatini said.
Sabatini broke in the critical seventh game, but Graf broke back at love and the two appeared headed for a tiebreaker.
Sabatini held serve to tie the score at 5-all, but the momentum was undeniably hers. On game point, Graf lofted a backspin lob that Sabatini chased down and returned with a shot between her legs a la Yannick Noah. Two shots later, she had the game, the crowd and, as it turned out, the match.
Sabatini broke Graf in the 11th game and held for the match when Graf netted a backhand serve return.
''I just didn't play the right points at the right time,'' Graf said. ''I could've turned it around. My forehand was not as good as it was supposed to be. . . . The match kind of slipped out of my hand.''
''I like to play these kind of matches,'' Sabatini said. ''These matches give you more confidence, and they help your game.''
Sabatini, however, said Graf does not necessarily bring out the best in her game. ''Everyone says our rivalry is like Martina's and Chris Evert's,'' Sabatini said. ''I just try to improve my game, that's all. . . . The best matches I've had are against Martina.''
Sabatini will have to play her best against Navratilova, who has won the last four tournaments she has played. Against Sabatini in Hilton Head on clay last Sunday, Navratilova won, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4.
''I think Martina has the best chance to win,'' Kohde-Kilsch said. ''Right now she's pretty confident.''
''I'm excited at how well I'm playing,'' said Navratilova, ranked No. 2 in the world behind Graf. ''I'm confident playing on clay. I don't make stupid errors, and I don't try to do too much. I'm just staying in the rally as long as it takes.''
The final will be televised live by ESPN, beginning at 4 p.m.