Re: The Gabriela Sabatini Thread! - Volume 2
U.S. Handsome, Sabatini Stunning : Women:
Argentine plays a more aggressive game and shocks top-seeded Graf in straight sets for her first title in a Grand Slam event.
September 09, 1990|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER
NEW YORK — Gabriela Sabatini, a 20-year-old Argentine with a loser's image, who in recent months lost her coach, her boyfriend and her old style of tennis, won the U.S. Open Saturday and immediately announced party plans.
"I'm going to get drunk on orange juice," Sabatini said.
Sabatini squeezed out her first Grand Slam title, 6-2, 7-6 (7-4), at the expense of two-time defending champion Steffi Graf, who explained her untimely defeat this way: "She was playing very well and I don't think I was playing well at all."
That analysis aside, Sabatini's first major title in six years of trying seemed to surprise just about everyone except Sabatini.
Fifth-seeded, Sabatini is the lowest-seeded female player to win the U.S. Open in 22 years, since sixth-seeded Virginia Wade defeated Billie Jean King in the 1968 final.
"Nobody was expecting me to win the tournament," Sabatini said. "The way I was playing, I was so confident.
"But I think that really helped a little bit. I didn't feel any pressure. I was just playing my game."
However, her game was barely recognizable.
Sabatini moved sluggishly through the draw, yet watched with interest as Martina Navratilova and Monica Seles were beaten. Then Sabatini underwent a startling transformation of her game in a semifinal victory against Mary Joe Fernandez.
From the consummate baseliner sending arcs of looping topspin forehands, across the net, Sabatini started hitting forehands with slice, the ball bouncing low as she approached the net.
Sabatini, who made 92 approaches to the net against Fernandez, came in 43 times against Graf, an aggressive tactic encouraged by Sabatini's coach of three months, Carlos Kirmayr.
A 39-year-old Brazilian, Kirmayr was hired the day after Sabatini lost to Jana Novotna in the fourth round of the French Open. She fired her coach of 3 1/2 years, Angel Gimenez, a former Davis Cup player from Spain.
"It was time for a change, new ideas," Sabatini said.
The early results were not spectacular. Sabatini reached the semifinals at Wimbledon, where a London tabloid ran a first-person story written by her former boyfriend about their love life, among other things. Then, on the court, Navratilova swamped her in straight sets.
Sabatini lost to Katerina Maleeva in the semifinals at the Canadian Open but was upset in the round of 16 in the Virginia Slims of Los Angeles by Stephanie Rehe, who was coming back from an injury and was playing only her second match in nearly two years.
Even then, Sabatini said she was happy with her tennis and reaffirmed her belief that she had a good chance to win the U.S. Open.
It was not always easy for Sabatini to keep a positive outlook. Several months ago, she sought out Jim Loehr, a sports psychologist with the U.S. Tennis Assn.
"He really helped me when I needed him," Sabatini said. "I was going through some not good moments at the beginning of the year. I was losing matches I should not have, and I needed someone to talk to."
She had a chance for a good moment Saturday. In the second set tiebreaker, after Graf blew a 3-1 lead and her forehand clipped the net cord, hopped over and landed on the line, Sabatini wound up for the shot of her life.
She looked straight across the net and down the line, which is exactly where she hit the ball. As it bounced away toward the stands, Sabatini jumped, an airborne celebration.
Graf kept her back to Sabatini. She put her hands on hips and bowed her head.
She might have been thinking about the first two games she served. Graf lost them both, trailed 0-3, and stayed back on her heels the rest of the match.
Sabatini out-Steffied Steffi in the first set, closing it out in 32 minutes when Graf guided an errant forehand into the net.
It was a near-perfect display by Sabatini, who recognized it as such: "I didn't do any mistakes. It was an exciting set."
Graf and Sabatini exchanged breaks in the first two games of the second set, then continued on until the ninth game, when Graf served at 4-4. She led, 40-15, but wound up losing the game on back-to-back errors--a volley wide and a backhand slice that sailed too far.
Sabatini served for the match at 5-4 and won only two points with a conservative slow-paced serve that Graf ate up. At 5-6, Sabatini needed to hold serve to force a tiebreaker and twice saved set points to do it.
As she entered the tiebreaker, Sabatini was tiring, so she wanted to avoid a third set, which she thought would favor Graf.
Perhaps Sabatini was remembering her 3-11 record in three-set matches with Graf. Never before had Sabatini beaten Graf in straight sets.
"I say I have to win here (in the tiebreaker). I have to win in two sets because it always happens, the same thing, when we go into the third set and I get tired," Sabatini said.
The same thing did not happen again. After making only one other appearance in a Grand Slam final, Sabatini made the most of her second chance.