40 LOVE Moments: Mary Joe's Miracle
Published June 01, 2013 12:00
PARIS, France - It was exactly 20 years ago when the unthinkable happened at Roland Garros, perhaps the greatest comeback in WTA history. Down 61 51 to Gabriela Sabatini in the quarterfinals, Mary Joe Fernandez crafted a comeback for the ages, fighting off five match points and winning.
"Gaby and I grew up playing together, since we were about eight or nine years old, so we were great friends and it was a great rivalry back and forth," Fernandez recalled. "She was so good on clay though, so I knew it was going to be more challenging, but I felt good and went in with a lot of belief.
"That's why it was so strange that I was so down and out in the match. Down 61 51 in 56 minutes, it was actually embarrassing. I remember I started to stall - tying my shoelaces, going to the towel - I just wanted to make it last to the hour mark. I guess that took some of the pressure off me that day."
Sabatini double faulted on her first match point at 61 51 and lost the next two games, but not to worry, there were more coming. She had three at 61 53, but missed backhands on all three of them - one going for a down the line winner, the other two off of huge Fernandez returns. Game Fernandez.
The fifth and final match point came at 61 54. After going up 40-0, Fernandez lost four points in a row to get to ad-out, then missed her first serve. A second serve on match point down - but she put it in. And then came another surprise - Sabatini sent a backhand return long, well beyond the baseline.
From there it was neck and neck and after three hours and 35 minutes Fernandez blasted one last backhand winner down the line to seal the victory, 16 76(4) 108. They met at the net with a big hug.
"It was really hard - of all the people to come back against, that was the last one I wanted," Fernandez commented. "I remember being in the training room afterwards and she was there too, and I felt so bad for her. I couldn't believe out of everyone, we were the ones who played a match like that."
Fernandez would beat Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario in the semifinals, 62 62, then nearly beat Steffi Graf in the final, winning the first set and leading in the third set but eventually going down, 46 62 64.
"After the match with Gaby I felt the stars were aligned - I played so well against Arantxa, and for the first time I really thought I could beat Steffi," Fernandez said. "I was up 3-0 in the third against Steffi in Berlin a few weeks before the French, and I really felt I was ready to finally win against her.
"I won the first set and was up 2-0, 40-30 in the third set in that final, and 4-3 as well, but she was known for playing better when she was behind, and that's what she did that day. She was just on another level. I was so close to winning, but still, it was just an amazing tournament for me."