Recoveries pay off for Sabatini

September 07, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- The modest Gabriela Sabatini -- "I don't mind when someone writes that I'm beautiful," she says -- moved into the semifinals of the U.S. Open yesterday with one of her ugliest victories.

She has not been in a Grand Slam semifinal since the 1993 Australian Open. She has not been in the semifinals here since she won the event in 1990.

And though seeded No. 8, she has not won any event anywhere since the Italian Open two years ago.

"A long time," she said yesterday, after finishing off the embarrassing quarterfinal match with Gigi Fernandez, 6-2, 7-5. "But in my heart, I believe I can win here. I am just going to have to take a lot of risks."

Tomorrow she will have to take some of those risks against No. 2 seed Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, who advanced yesterday with a 6-3, 6-0 victory over No. 5 seed Kimiko Date.

Coming into the Open, speculation was that with Steffi Graf's back aching and Monica Seles nowhere in sight, this U.S. Open could produce the fourth different Grand Slam winner of the season.

Graf won in Australia, Sanchez Vicario won in France and Conchita Martinez won at Wimbledon.

But the list of likely U.S. Open winners did not include Sabatini.

Now, suddenly, Sabatini is the surprise topic of conversation.

Her back arched perfectly for biting serves through all of last week, and her forehand and backhand passing shots were perfect as she roared through the first three rounds with barely a mis-hit.

Even yesterday, when her service game at times went to pieces at the worst moments, she was getting 67 percent of them in, while making only 15 unforced errors.

But the off moments were memorable for their pathetic execution.

The score was 30-30 when Sabatini hit an overhead volley into the net to give Fernandez a break point. And then she double-faulted to put the second set back on serve.

She recovered from that by breaking Fernandez on her next service. But then, at 6-5, with the score 30-15, she kept Fernandez in the match with another double-fault. Her second serve clocked 46 mph as it skidded into the bottom of the net.

"Nice, you bring that up," Sabatini said good naturedly after the match. "I had that backhand volley right there and I missed it, and when that happened, my concentration wavered. I was getting a little tight and I was rushing to finish the set. I put myself in trouble, but I got out of it very well, I think."

As recently as the French Open, when she lost in the first round to 60th-ranked Silvia Farina, she was thinking about taking a sabbatical.

"In a way, I've been away from the game for a long time," she said. "All the time losing to people I shouldn't be losing to. It is so frustrating, I cannot tell you how frustrating that is. At the French, when I lost in the first round, I thought maybe I should stay away."

Instead, after getting through Wimbledon, Sabatini hired coach Juan Nunez, who has coached almost everyone from Chris Evert to Barbara Schultz.

"A lot of people think Gabby is weak mentally," said Nunez, who has three weeks left on a seven-week contract. "But I think you become mentally weak when you have nothing in your game to depend on. I am a great believer in technique. Many people confuse technique with style, but technique is a foundation to lean on in the game."

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