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Old May 21st, 2003, 10:05 PM   #163
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Sabatini still thrills crowds
17/05/2003 12:53 - (SA)

Hamburg - Gabriela Sabatini celebrated her 33rd birthday at the Hamburg Masters Series with a huge cake and then showed that she still has one of the best backhands tennis has ever seen.

"We want to see your backhand tonight," said tournament chairman Boris Becker to the Argentina star who retired from the sport in 1996.

Sabatini obliged and showed that she still has plenty of class when she teamed up on Friday night with the three-time Wimbledon champion Becker in an exhibition match against Michael Stich and a German comedian, Otto Waalkes.

The crowd loved it, but Sabatini said she had no further plans than show matches - ruling out a return to doubles action like Martina Navratilova (whose singles career ended in 1994 when she lost to Sabatini at the Masters).

"I plan to play a couple of exhibition matches, possibly against Martina," said the slim Sabatini, clad in a pair of dark jeans and a white t-shirt.

Sabatini has rarely swung a racket since her retirement at the 1996 Masters as she finally wanted to "have a life" after more than a decade of successful tennis.

Sabatini won the US Open title in 1990 against German icon Steffi Graf and the two also once formed a successful doubles partnership highlighted by the Wimbledon trophy 1998. Sabatini was in the top-10 for seven years, her best ranking being number three.

Her success, her graceful style but also simply her good looks gave her big following of loyal fans.

Sabatini earned some $8 million in prize money alone plus much more from endorsements during her career.

The success has continued in her new life as Sabatini is a successful businesswoman who has 12 different kinds of perfumes which are named after her.

In this function Sabatini still travels around the world a lot, with Germany - where she was always exceptionally popular - one of the key markets.

"I really come here a lot," she said.

But Sabatini also spends a lot of time at home in Argentina and does her best to help young players start their tennis career in the current difficult economic times in the South American country.

"Tennis gave me so much during my career. Now I want to give something back," she said.

"I support tennis in Argentina. The economic situation makes it very hard for the players to travel. Some of them don't have the money to travel to the tournaments. I want to help these kids."

Sabatini was able to witness some of the success in Hamburg as there are only Argentinians left in the tournament for Saturday's semi-finals -Wimbledon runner-up David Nalbandian, Guillermo Coria, Gaston Gaudio and Agustin Calleri

"This is amazing and a great day for Argentinian tennis," said Sabatini. - Sapa-DPA
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