Hall of Famer Gabriela Sabatini addressed the French Open media on whether Serena Williams can equal Margaret Court's all-time Grand Slam record, the shifting dynamics on the tour, and which players have most impressed her in 2019.
David Kane
June 4, 2019

PARIS, France - Five-time Roland Garros semifinalist and 1990 US Open champion Gabriela Sabatini spoke at length about the state of the women's game after receiving the Philippe Chatrier Award from the International Tennis Federation. 

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Asked if Serena Williams, already the holder of the Open Era record for Grand Slam titles since the 2017 Australian Open, could next equal Margaret Court's all-time record, the former World No.3 felt it would come down to the American's famed mental strength.

"It's hard to say in tennis," she said in a press conference on Tuesday/ "In general, now, because of Serena, it's hard to say, because you have to go tournament by tournament. And I think she's okay, she's doing well physically. It's just a matter of, I don't know how she is mentally.

"But if she propose herself mentally, if she is convinced of herself, she can be winning again."

The highest honor the ITF can give, the Philippe Chatrier Award recognizes not only great champions but also role models to aspiring players the world over. Rival to the likes of Stefanie Graf and Monica Seles, Sabatini was pressed on how the game has changed since she retired in 1996, noting the longest-ever streak of different singles champions to start this season.

"There is a new name appearing in the media, new girls are in the last rounds of the tournaments, but for me it's not negative. I see this as something rather positive to have a permanent renewal of the players. So indeed it's more difficult to memorize the names of the players. But Naomi Osaka, we know her, we remember her. She reached the finals of the US Open last year.

"Yes, there is a difference indeed between male and female tennis. We more remember the names of the male players -- Federer, Nadal, Djokovic -- they are over 30 years old. On the women's tour, the winners are in their 20s.

"For me, it's not negative. It's positive to see new players emerging, to see new types of players. It's good."

The four-time Internazionali BNL d'Italia champion reached her first major semifinal in Paris as a 15-year-old, and while two teens feature in this year's quartefinal line-up (Amanda Anisimova and Marketa Vondrousova), she believed the changing technological landscape makes it more difficult for younger players to break through and stay focused.

Gabriela Sabatini, Roland Garros, French Open

"It was very different those days, because we didn't have the social media. Maybe it's good in a way, because I think today there is even more attention. Fans are more connected, and then they are following even more. They have a better communication, I think, with athletes.

"The pressure and attention is always there. I think it's one of the hardest things that you have to work on, because I remember that many times I was more focused on what people or the media wanted me to become than what I really wanted. So I had to work very hard to put that aside and really focus on me."

Though mainly based in Switzerland, Sabatini also spends time in Miami and Buenos Aires, and was thoroughly impressed by one youngster in particular, rising Aussie star Ashleigh Barty, who plays Madison Keys for a spot in the semifinals on Wednesday.

"I like her very much. I saw her in Miami. I really like the way she plays. You know, her slice, backhand slice, I like very much. I think she's a very strategic player. That's the one that I like the most these days, as far as her game."

Gabriela Sabatini, Roland Garros, French Open

Sabatini once possessed one of the most fearsome one-handed backhands in the game; while Barty makes use an impressive one-handed slice, she and all but one of the world's Top 30 women (Carla Suárez Navarro) use two hands for more power and stability. Still, the International Tennis Hall of Fame inductee believes the shot could make a comeback among the women's ranks.

"It would be nice, and also, you know, to have that kind of variety, which I'm seeing in a few players these days, I think eventually that game will be back, because I think that's a little bit the way to beat players that are playing strong."

Though she doesn't foresee becoming a traveling coach in the near future, she imparted strong advice to the game's next generation.

"There are no secrets. You have to have goals, try to put your attention in your team, in your tennis. I know these days it's difficult to do that because of all the media.

"It's important to really focus on the things that are really important that will take you to the next step, putting in all the passion, sacrifice, and to have dreams and to have goals."