Argentinean Gabriela Sabatini was a teen tennis phenomenon in the mid-1980s. Who, while popular on the circuit, never lived up to her potential as a player. While she had a great tennis game, she only won one grand slam singles title, the U.S. Open in 1990. Sabatini left professional tennis behind in the mid-1990s to concentrate on her work in the perfume business.
Born May 16, 1970, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sabatini was the daughter of Osvaldo and Beatriz Sabatini. Her father was an executive at General Motors, who later gave up his career to manage his daughter’s tennis career. Buenos Aires was the leading tennis city in South America, and Sabatini began playing when she was six years old. She wanted to play because her older brother was a junior player. Sabatini began taking private lessons a year later, and by the time she was 10 years old, she was the number one under-12 player in Argentina. From an early age, she was motivated to win and hated to lose.
Within a few years, Sabatini left Argentina to train with coach Patricio Apey in Key Biscane, Florida. In 1983, she began playing on the world junior tennis circuit. She was the youngest to win the Orange Bowl Girls 18 singles tournament. After being the number one ranked junior in the world in 1984, Sabatini felt she had nothing left to prove on the junior circuit.
In 1985, Sabatini turned professional. Her first big splash was at the Family Circle Magazine Cup where she beat three ranked players. She later made the semifinals of the French Open, the youngest to do this at the time, but lost to Chris Evert. She finished the year ranked number 11 in the world. Because of her young age, observers were afraid that Sabatini would burn out. She dropped out of school when she was 14 to concentrate on tennis, though she planned on completing her education later. Sabatini had no close friends, and constantly dealt only with adults. She was also isolated on the professional tour, in part because she did not speak English for the first three years.
In 1986, Sabatini made the semifinals of Wimbledon. She ended the year ranked in the top 10, where she would remain until 1996. In 1988, while Sabatini won a silver medal in ladies singles tennis at the Summer Olympics, won the Virginia Slims Tournament, and made the finals of the U.S. Open, she had problems with endurance during matches. She changed coaches to Angel Gimenez, who challenged her to work on her conditioning and kept her interested in the game. When she began as a professional, she was a baseline player, but later developed a potent serve-and-volley attack. The graceful Sabatini had a great backhand, but her serve was never strong.
In 1989, Sabatini was ranked number three, but she was generally regarded as not reaching her full potential as a player. Many tennis observers thought she could be a great rival to Steffi Graf, and one of the futures of women’s tennis, but she never made it. Though Sabatini would appear in a semifinal of a Grand Slam every year and win a tournament every year from 1985-95, except 1993, she did not win big.
In the late 1980s, Sabatini thought about quitting, admitting that she did not have the mental edge to win.