SABATINI LEADS STRONG FIELD FOR FAMILY CIRCLE
The Charlotte Observer
Monday, March 30, 1992
The Family Circle Magazine Cup has come a long way in its history, and this year`s has the makings of being the most competitive ever.
Not only will third-ranked Gabriela Sabatini be back to try and defend her title in Hilton Head Island, S.C., but she`ll have plenty of company from the elite on the women`s tennis tour.
Among those scheduled to compete in the 20th edition of the week-long event that begins today are No. 4 Martina Navratilova, fifth-ranked Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and No. 6 Jennifer Capriati.
Steffi Graf, ranked second in the world, was to be the only player missing from the world`s top six players, but No. 1 Monica Seles sprained her wrist while riding her bicycle in Florida Saturday and has pulled out.
Still, the tremendous field doesn`t surprise Rosie Casals, who won the tournament`s initial title in 1973.
"Family Circle and Sea Pines Plantation is a beautiful setting for tennis," she said. "...It seems to be like the opening season for outdoor tennis."
And Sabatini could once again be the story when the final is played Sunday at an expanded 9,300-seat stadium. She`s relaxed and back in an atmosphere she enjoys.
"I love the tournament," she said. "It`s a lot of fun to play here."
And she has always done well there. In 1985, after three months as a pro, Sabatini, then 14, advanced to the title match where she fell to Chris Evert. Many things have changed for Sabatini since. She broke through and won her first Grand Slam tournament two years ago at the U.S. Open and, now, armed with a more diversified game, is dangerous on any surface.
But she`s not putting pressure on herself. When facing competition like she`s likely to meet in this week`s 56-player singles field, that`s enough.
"I`m not thinking about having to defend my title," she said Saturday night in a phone interview. "I`m going to try to play my best; not try to put pressure - thinking I have to win. I just want to go match by match."
But the clay surface should be to her liking, having grown up in Argentina where clay courts are dominant.
Casals said she thinks the field is wide open and previously indicated Seles would be the one to beat. But she didn`t discount Sabatini, now the top seed, or second-seed Navratilova.
"I would say that Sabatini, again, is probably playing fairly good tennis and certainly is capable of winning," Casals said.
"I will always have to include Martina because, even though I don`t believe clay is her best surface, she has performed very, very well on clay." Beating Navratilova, who won the U.S. Women`s Hardcourts Sunday in San
Antonio, is a formidable task in Hilton Head Island, where she has walked away with the title four times, the last in 1990.
But Sabatini, who has won two titles this year, is pleased with how she`s playing, especially after finishing second in the Lipton International Players Championships in Florida two weeks ago.
"I`m playing very well," she said. "I`m confident."