Happy 40th Birthday, Gaby!
Published May 16, 2010 12:00
Former world No.3 Gabriela Sabatini, the Princess of the Pampas as she was affectionately known for her Latin good looks and flamboyant playing style, celebrates her 40th birthday today, May 16.
Born in Buenos Aires in 1970, Sabatini first came to notice during a successful junior career that included becoming the youngest winner of the Orange Bowl, at 13, and winning the French Open girls' singles in 1984. But such was her talent that she quickly graduated to the main women's Tour.
In 1985, just three weeks past her 15th birthday, Sabatini became the youngest-ever player to reach the semifinals at the French Open, where it took eventual champion Chris Evert to stop her. But although raised on clay, and possessed of some of the heaviest topspin on the Tour at the time, her best results were to come on faster surfaces - and specifically in New York, not Paris.
In 1988 Sabatini reached her first major final at the US Open, only to fall to Steffi Graf in a match that sealed the Big Four Grand Slam for the German. That year the two rivals and friends won the Wimbledon doubles together - one of 14 doubles titles Sabatini won during her career - and also contested the gold medal match at the Seoul Olympics. There, Graf converted her achievement to the 'Golden Slam' while Sabatini, who had been accorded the honor of carrying the Argentine flag into the opening ceremony, took home the silver medal.
Sabatini had won the first of her 27 Tour singles titles at Tokyo in 1985, but the first really big ticket win came at the expense of Pam Shriver at the Tour Championships at Madison Square Garden in 1988. Six years later she won the event again, this time beating Lindsay Davenport.
In between, Sabatini scored her sole Grand Slam triumph, edging Graf in a second set tie-break at the 1990 US Open. In doing so she became the first Argentine woman to win a Grand Slam title, and the first South American winner of the US women's title since Brazil's Maria Bueno in 1966.
Sabatini also reached the final at the year-end championships that year, falling to Monica Seles in the event's first five-set final. Then, in 1991, she came heartbreakingly close to capturing Wimbledon, serving for the match several times against Graf before succumbing, 64 36 86.
By the time she retired from the Tour in 1996 Sabatini had already laid the groundwork for her life post-tennis. In 1989 she had launched a perfume under her own name; there have been several additions to her line since then.
Inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2006, Sabatini was a delegate to Unesco's First Global Summit on Cervical Cancer in 2007. She continues to play the occasional charity exhibition match, and earlier this year took part in the 109km Argus Pick and Pay Cycle Tour in South Africa - looking as fit and fabulous as ever.
Stay tuned for a full Looking Back at a Legend... profile of Gaby. If you'd like to get in early with a fan tribute, please email email@example.com.