WTA Insider: First, I have to start by asking you about this US Open virtual bracket, which put its former champions against each other in a fan vote. You beat out the field to win. What was your reaction to that?
Sabatini: Yeah, I was actually very surprised in a very good way (laughs). I never expected that, to hear so many people voting and voting on my side and still remembering me, and being next to all those great, great players. So it was a big honor.

It brought a very big smile to my face because obviously winning the US Open was the best moment in my tennis carreer. So to be able to remember it again, it was actually very nice.

WTA Insider: You're such a fan favorite and beloved in the tennis community. Did you feel that love during your playing career? Or were you so locked in that it never occurred to you until after your career?
Sabatini: No, I felt that and I think that had some impact in me also. There were certain places where the crowd would get even more involved, like in New York or in Italy or in Miami. It always felt nice to have some support and I always felt very motivated by that, because even though we are concentrated, you still hear the crowd and their support. That made a difference many times for me.

WTA Insider: What is it about Argentinian tennis players? There's something about you all that seems to whip up a crowd.
Sabatini: Well, I think there are many Argentinians all over the world [laughs].

WTA Insider: Good point.
Sabatini: Yeah, that's for sure. So I think getting that help kind of motivates the rest of the people a little bit.

But, you know, we are known for being very noisy, like in Davis Cup. Players would want to play in Argentina because you would see something different. It was more like a soccer game than a tennis game. It has to do with that, that we come from far away from Argentina.

I don't know. I think it's something hard to explain sometimes. The players are charismatic and it's something that you can't explain but you can feel it.

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WTA Insider: Growing up in Buenos Aires, do you remember the moment when you thought you might be able to play tennis professionally?
Sabatini: It kind of just happened. The first time I played tennis, I fell in love with the game. I was already very passionate about the game, so that's all I wanted to do. I remember playing at the club and then I would go home and kept playing against the wall. So I was all day thinking about tennis. It all happened naturally.

When I was 6 years old, I already started to take lessons. The teacher already told me that I had nice strokes. They were very natural already. So I think I had it in me, and also the passion I had for it.

I started to play tournaments when I was eight years old and I already did very well, I reached the finals of one of my first tournaments. So my level was already good. I think I just went through this road little by little until I got into professional tennis without even thinking about it.

I didn't even have to think, ok, when do I turn pro? It just happened. I played one tournament here, one tournament there, and I started to do very well. So it just happened very natural.

WTA Insider: Do you remember your first big overseas trip for tennis? It must have been overwhelming.
Sabatini: I think my first big trip was when I was 13 years old. At that time, I was traveling with Mercedes Paz, who was four years older than me. We had the same coach so he planned a tour for us, but just the two of us.

I remember that trip very well because we were by ourselves for one month. We were in South Africa for one week and then we moved to Europe and then we stayed there for another month or so. Our coach came a month after.

So it was just the two of us. We had a lot of issues, a lot of problems. We were taking the train, we would miss our connections, we had these huge bags, I had an infection in my ear, Mercedes lost all her money. Outside of the tennis court we were miserable but inside the court I was so happy. I would forget about everything.

So that was my first big trip where I can tell these experiences. That time was a bit difficult, but I always say that it was before and after, that trip, because I grew up. I was already a mature person after that trip. I think it helped a lot to be more independent and to be able to deal with many issues and even on the court to be a more mature person.

Gabriela Sabatini and Chris Evert at Roland Garros in 1995.

Photo by Getty Images

WTA Insider: You started playing on tour at such a young age, playing amongst legends. Do you remember when you felt like you were part of the tour?
Sabatini: Yeah, I think there was a tournament in Hilton Head, I remember that was one of my first big tournaments where I reached the finals. I lost to Chris Evert. I was 14 years old there. I think after that I started to feel like part of the tour, like I was one more of them.

WTA Insider: What was that experience like for you, to be playing on the tour at 14 years old?
Sabatini: I think I never realized that. Obviously looking back now, of course I was so, so young, so little. But at that time, I felt like I was already playing for so many years that it didn't feel like I was so young and so little. I felt like it was normal. When you're fourteen you don't realize. You just live the moment, you're doing what you like to do, and you don't think much more than that.

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WTA Insider: What was it like for you at such a young age to face off against two of the game's greats in Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova?
Sabatini: Well, yeah, it was big, because I remember when I heard about tennis when I was very little, I heard those names: Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova.

When I had to play them, it was like like a dream. I couldn't believe I was here playing against them. They are the history of tennis and suddenly I'm in front of them. I tried not to think about that and just think about the game. But it was really a dream to be playing against them.

Gabriela Sabatini and Stefanie Graf during a doubles match at 1987 Roland Garros.

Photo by Getty Images

WTA Insider: I spoke to a few players and journalists before this interview and universally everyone said I would not find one person in tennis who had a bad thing to say about you.
Sabatini: Wow.

WTA Insider: Everyone speaks so highly of you, and at the same time you have been quite open about how difficult it was for you to deal with the media side of things and the public aspects of being a global sporting superstar. How did you navigate the sport, which had given you so much but also asked much of you?
Sabatini: I think it was one of the most difficult things to deal with, the off-court things that didn't have to do with tennis.

For me, that was hard. Especially in Argentina where I started to become more famous. You would have the paparazzi following me. I had a tough time with that. A very tough time.

I tried always not to mix the two. I always felt like it was something very healthy to keep things apart. My life is one thing, and I always felt more comfortable by keeping it inside and sharing it with the people that I had around me. And that's it.

Then the other part, you know, the tennis, I can talk about tennis. I'm a public person because of my tennis. I kept it like that until today, because I think you just have to separate things.

I always felt more comfortable keeping my private life to myself and not showing it to the public. I don't know, that kind of felt natural for me. You always try to be, first, a person. I feel like I always had a very good relationship with the media, with the journalists that were covering tennis at that time until today. And I always liked that. I always like to be friendly with people and try to have a good relationship. For me, that matters. 

Gabriela Sabatini shares a laugh with Monica Seles during a press conference in 2015.

Photo by Getty Images

WTA Insider: So how are you directing your energy these days?
Sabatini: Well, I still love to travel, so I keep doing it. I think it's something that fulfills me very much to get to know new places or to move around all the time. I'm living in Switzerland and I like that because Switzerland is in the middle of Europe. I can move around to visit other countries.

And then I discovered my passion for coffee, for the coffee world. I took a course in Switzerland about coffee. I bought a nice machine. I like the whole concept of coffee it's a whole world, good coffee.

Once you start discovering the good coffee, the good quality coffee, the specialty coffee which these days you find a lot of them. When I go to New York, even in Argentina, in Switzerland, every time I see new places for specialty coffee.

I just love the concept of going to a coffee place. I could stay for hours. And also, I like making the coffee. I like to practice. I have a coffee machine and I like to practice and practice and try to make the perfect coffee. There's so many little details in coffee that you need to learn. But I still need to take more courses. But I would like to keep improving and get to know even more. But yeah, I spend a lot of time with that.

And then I still have my perfumes, which, I've been working with perfume for more than 30 years now. From all the perfumes to the packaging and everything.

There are always things that I keep myself entertained. I still do a lot of sports. I run, cycling, I swim. I work out every day. It's like my day cannot start without doing some workout. I feel like it's my time to kind of let it all out and I need it. I feel great when I do it.

I participate still in things with sports events with the Olympic Committee, some events that they do. So I like to still be involved with sports in general.

WTA Insider: Is there any chance of a Cafe Gaby?
Sabatini: Well, you never know [laughs]. In the back of my mind it's there. Why not? When the right moment comes it might happen.

 

Gabriela Sabatini hits a backhand at the 1985 Championships at Wimbledon.

Photo by Getty Images

WTA Insider: Do you still keep an eye on today's game?
Sabatini: I really enjoy watching tennis today. There are so many new players. There are some of them that I really like, like Ashleigh Barty. I really like the way she plays. Coco Gauff is amazing also. The temperament that she has, the mentality that she has. Andreescu also, I really like her personality on the court.

I think we have a lot of options today. I think it's nice to see that, you're seeing a lot of new players. I see a lot of Americans, new players. Last time I saw the U.S. Open I saw so many girls that I never saw before. This is great for tennis, to have so many new players because the generations are changing. I think it's a nice refreshment. I just like to watch these days a lot of women's tennis. The depth of the level of tennis is fantastic.

WTA Insider: It sounds like you're enjoying the variety on tour these days. It's not all Boom-Boom tennis.
Sabatini: Well, I think eventually it was going to happen because sooner or later it's the type of game also to beat those aggressive players, you know? I think by changing and mixing the game and giving more variety is the way to beat those players.

So I think this moment was going to come. We're seeing it now. So I love it. It's great. I love that type of game.