TENNIS; Fernandez Hits Volleys and Bounces Sabatini
January 23, 1992
New York Times
MELBOURNE, Australia, Thurs day, Jan. 23— One hour was a day's work for top-seeded Monica Seles, who eliminated Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, 6-2, 6-2, today and advanced to the finals of the Australian Open.
Mary Joe Fernandez needed only 1 hour 24 minutes in her semifinal to discover that she could volley, an extreme departure for the stolid base liner and one that resulted in a 6-1, 6-4 upset of Gabriela Sabatini.
For the last two years, Fernandez has been talking aggression, but playing passively. Now a new look has given the Floridian a second trip to a final here: Fernandez lost in 1990 to Steffi Graf.
"I knew I had to do something drastic," said Fernandez, 20 years old and seeded seventh. "I see being aggressive pays off. I can look back on these matches and say, 'Hey, I did it and I won.' "
It didn't hurt that Sabatini, 21 and seeded third, looked like she was calling in her performance. She couldn't cope with Fernandez's pressure and never made inroads into countering her opponent's forays to the net.
The two have played 15 times and Sabatini leads the series with nine victories. Their last meeting was two weeks ago in Sydney, where Sabatini won easily.
"She changed her strategy from last week," said Sabatini.
Fernandez is coached by the former touring pro Harold Solomon, who in his playing days was strictly a baseliner. But the professor can teach tricks he couldn't do himself. Fernandez made 15 points at the net and only three volley errors.
Sabatini seemed flatfooted throughout, piling up 26 unforced errors. She opened the match with a service break, but never won another game in the first set.
The Argentine put in a more formidable effort in the second set, but it wasn't enough. Sabatini was down, 4-2, but broke back from deuce in the seventh game, when Fernandez double-faulted and hit a forehand into the net. Fernandez calmed her nerves and regained her momentum.
Fernandez may need more than new-found aggressiveness against Seles, who has won eight of the nine matches they have played.
Seles is only 18 but she has been in four Grand Slam finals and captured all four crowns. Last year, she won the Australian, French and United States Opens, and missed Wimbledon with celebrated shin splints. Her absence drew as many headlines as her victories.
Sanchez Vicario, a semifinalist here last year, just doesn't know how to defuse Seles's game. Since 1989, she's challenged Seles eight times and eight times she's failed.
The 20-year-old Spaniard's principal error is trying to outhit Seles's supersonic ground strokes. She is not alone -- that is what the majority of players attempt against Seles. They almost always fail.
Seles started streaky, losing the first 6 points to go down a break. But Sanchez Vicario returned the break in the second game and in only 26 minutes lost the first set.