Join Date: Jul 2012
Fernandez surprises Sabatini - Seles easily gains Australian Open final
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Thursday, January 23, 1992
Steve Wilstein, Associated Press
MELBOURNE, Australia - Mary Joe Fernandez, inspired by Gabriela Sabatini's transformation from baseliner to net-charger, upsurped her style yesterday to join defending champion Monica Seles in the Australian Open final.
Fernandez, runner-up to Steffi Graf here two years ago, surprised and overwhelmed Sabatini with an aggressive and accurate attack to win, 6-1, 6-4, in the semifinals.
Fittingly, Fernandez ended the match with a backhand volley into an open court, a shot she used so well throughout the one-sided affair.
In contrast to Seles' 6-2, 6-2 demolition of Arantxa Sanchez Vicario from the baseline, Fernandez mixed up her shots as well as Sabatini did in winning the 1990 U.S. Open.
Fernandez, a 20-year-old Floridian, lost to Seles in the semifinals here last year and is determined to reverse that score.
"I'll have to be aggressive and really go for it," said Fernandez, who has lost eight of nine matches against Seles. "I know it's not going to be easy. It's never easy with Monica. But I have to do it. I won't win any other way."
Fernandez said she reviewed her straight-set loss to No. 3 Sabatini two weeks ago on the hard courts of a tuneup tournament in Sydney.
"I said I had to do something drastically different. I tried to attack a lot and come in a lot," Fernandez said. "I played one way all my life, and it's hard to change your mentality.
"It's still not easy. You look at the other side and know if you don't hit a great shot, you're going to get passed. Harold made me realize I had no choice."
Sabatini, who got through the quarters this year with a brilliant
performance against Jennifer Capriati, led her match-ups with Fernandez 9-5.
But the past only served to help Fernandez.
Fernandez figured the key to beating Sabatini was to follow her example, and it paid off as she won 17 points at the net, compared to six for Sabatini.
The athletic Argentine broke Fernandez in the first game, then lost the next six games as Fernandez charged the net regularly, demonstrating her best form by far in the tournament.
Fernandez played almost effortlessly in the quick first set, following in approach shots to Sabatini's backhand, and putting away volleys and overheads. She broke Sabatini to 2-1 in the second set after going up 0-40 with a typical sequence of shots -- forehand approach, backhand, forehand volley crosscourt. After saving two breakpoints, Sabatini lapsed and lost the game with a lazy backhand into the net.
Fernandez stayed a break up to 4-2, but Sabatini struggled back to make it 4-4 after Fernadez held three gamepoints at 40-0. After the second deuce, Fernandez double-faulted, then hit a weak forehand into the net.
But Fernandez didn't give up, pressing the attack again on Sabatini's serve and getting three breakpoints again at 0-40. When Sabatini rallied back to deuce once more, Fernandez grabbed another breakpoint with a backhand winner after a long, wearying rally. Sabatini then mis-hit a backhand very long for the break that set up Fernandez's victory.
"She played very well. I was missing too much and hitting the ball too short," said a subdued and downcast Sabatini, who had looked sharp while not dropping a set in her last two tournaments. "I was feeling a little frustrated, because I was making too many mistakes. My shots weren't working too well. I was probably surprised by how well she was doing. She changed her strategy from (Sydney)."
Fernandez had been frustrated by her inability to transfer to matches the approach and volley skills she works on in practice with her coach, Harold Solomon. Ironically, Solomon rarely went to the net in his playing days.
Fernandez felt she needed one key match to see that aggressiveness pays off. She found such a match this time against Sabatini.
"I still don't play the way I practice," she said. "I am practicing well and coming in a lot and playing aggressive. Still, when you get up there (in matches) it is hard. Once you see you win a certain way, you don't want to try another way.
"I am not to the point yet where I just go and don't think about the outcome. I think about the parts of my game I have to work on, and that's difficult. Hopefully, little by little it will happen. Sabatini went through the same thing. And just one day it happened against me where she took chances and it paid off. Then she started doing it a lot. That's what I need - one of those matches where I see that it works to give me confidence to do it in the future."
The mystique of Seles has nothing to do with her tennis, as she showed once more with an unequivocal baseline bashing of Sanchez Vicario.
Seles, 18, thwarted every tactic Sanchez Vicario tried in a one-hour match that was as straightforward as Seles' grunting groundstrokes.
Seles, 8-0 against Sanchez Vicario, whaled away with power and precision, tattooing the lines repeatedly while the 20-year-old Spaniard tried in vain to respond.
Whether Sanchez Vicario stayed back to rally or rushed the net to apply pressure, Seles ruthlessly riddled her with forehands, backhands and the occasional overhead on short lobs.
"I definitely hit much better than any other match," Seles said. "At least I was happy with my serve. As the tournament started I wasn't feeling I was playing great tennis. But I've improved each match."
The high moment for Sanchez Vicario came in the first game of the match, when she broke Seles at love. But Seles broke right back, and at 2-2 went on a streak to win seven straight games.
When Sanchez Vicario briefly rallied with a two-game streak halfway through the second set, Seles won nine consecutive points.
The center court crowd was almost silent in watching the lopsided match on a cool, breezy and overcast day.
While Sanchez Vicario didn't give up easily, Seles ran her ragged with shots from corner to corner. The plucky Spaniard found herself forced to hit two or three great shots to win a point.
"She had more confidence as the match went on, and she started hitting more winners," Sanchez Vicario said. "I have to improve my serve to play against Monica. She just controlled the points better than me."
Seles will be going for her second consecutive Grand Slam. She followed up her Australian Open victory last year with wins in the French Open and U.S. Open, losing out on the full Grand Slam only by missing Wimbledon because of shin splints.
Seles seemed to cultivate an air of mystery last year with her Wimbledon absence, which was initially unexplained, and her attempts to shape an image as a Hollywood-style tennis starlet.
She expected a much tougher match against Sanchez Vicario. In Los Angeles last year on a similar hard court, she barely beat Sanchez Vicario 6-7 (5-7), 6-4, 6-4.