Tennis Prose



The Loss That “Killed” Sabatini

By Scoop Malinowski

Some sensational wins can change a career and change a player’s mentality from an also-ran to a lion. Conversely, certain devastating losses can be so traumatic they haunt a player forever.

Roger Federer surely is still bothered by blowing the two championship points in the 2019 Wimbledon final vs arch rival Novak Djokovic. Paul Henri Mathieu still must think back on blowing the two set lead vs Mikhail Youzhny in the Davis Cup final fifth rubber vs Russia in France.

Another example of a heartbreaking loss was Gabriela Sabatini losing to Mary Joe Fernandez at the 1993 French Open quarterfinals despite holding a 6-1 5-1 lead and five match points.

Gaby said she entered the French Open that year “feeling great” after reaching the finals at the Italian Open and Berlin final, a thrilling three set loss to Steffi Graf.

She was in control vs Fernandez and playing some of the best tennis of her life. But on the first match point, she double-faulted. Four more match points also were squandered. “It was unbelievable,” remembers Sabatini (in a 1994 Tennis Magazine interview). “I had all these match points but I felt like I couldn’t finish the match. Then she started to take risks and play really well.”

Sabatini lost the second set in a tiebreaker. Amazingly, Sabatini fought like a Grand Slam champion and managed to save four Fernandez match points after she had served for the match at 8-7. Fernandez finally prevailed 10-8. The duel lasted more than four hours.

Sabatini admitted later the match destroyed her. “That loss killed me. I couldn’t stop thinking about the match, couldn’t believe I was out of the tournament. I was playing so well. That’s the thing – I never felt like that before. Like, I had it in my hands and suddenly it turned around. It was definitely the worst loss I had in my career. It took so many weeks to recover.”

Her coach at the time Dennis Ralston’s shared his view of the defeat: “She was just so disappointed in herself. I felt that when she lost that match, she never recovered. The spark was gone. And from that moment on, our relationship went downhill.”

In actuality, this devastating failure did not totally wreck Sabatini. Later in 1993 she reached the QF of Wimbledon and US Open and the SF of 1994 AO and US Open. She would reach two more Grand Slam semifinals in her career which concluded in October 1996 at age 31 due to injury (pulled stomach muscle).

Sabatini won the US Open in singles in 1990 and also Wimbledon doubles in 1988.

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