1990 US Open champion Gabriela Sabatini

From Hard courts: real life on the professional tennis tours, by John Feinstein:

Almost no one had picked Sabatini to be a factor in this Open. Nothing she had done prior to the tournament indicated that she could turn her year around her year around in New York.

Elise Burgin, who had played her at Wimbledon, was one person who still thought Sabatini could be a champion.

“It’s really all up to her now,” Burgin said. “There’s no doubt about the talent. The only question is, with all the money she’s made, does she really want it that badly?”

Sabatini always insisted she did. Her match against Mary Joe Fernandez was the best of the tournament. Sabatini was now committed totally to Carlos Kirmayr‘s and Dick Dell’s plan that she attack all the time. Once she got to the net she had a huge wingspan and was tough to pass. Fernandez, a baseliner all the way, stood back and blasted. Sabatini kept coming in – until she won a dramatic and gutsy three-set victory.

But it hardly seemed to matter. Graf was playing like the Graf of old and Sabatini’s 3-20 lifetime record against her was hardly encouraging. Especially since all three victories had been on clay. So it was no surprise when the first set of the women’s final was a 6-2 romp. Except for one thing: it was 6-2 Sabatini.

Graf was spraying passing shots all over, mishitting forehands that would have endangered the planes if they’d still been flying overhead. Sabatini, feeling more and more confident at the net, was in at every opportunity.

“I knew she was going to play that was, that was no surprise,” Graf said. “The way I played was a shock, though. I felt good, ready to go. Then I went out and was terrible.”

Terrible for Graf is still not bad. Also, she had lost the opening set to Sabatini in the past. In fact, Sabatini had won the first set when they played in the Open semifinals in 1989.

However, it was a different Sabatini, one who wouldn’t allow Graf to get a rhythm from the baseline. She kept pounding away and served for the match at 5-4 in the second. Here, for the first time, she got nervous. Graf, sensing vulnerability, broke and quickly held to lead 6-5. She had two points in the next game. The first one she botched with another errant forehand.
On the second one, she hit a good crosscourt backhand, only to watch helplessly as Sabatini cut it off with a superb touch volley, the kind of shot she would not have even thought to play a few months earlier.

They went to the tiebreak. Sabatini could sense now that this wasn’t Graf’s day. She kept coming, Graf kept missing. On match point, Graf clipped the top of the net with her return. Sabatini closed in on it and hit a forehand right down the line. Graf stared, as if hoping a mark might appear that would indicate the ball had gone wild.
None did. It was a clean winner. Sabatini was jumping up and down and Graf, who had won eight of nine Grand Slams coming out of Australia, had lost three in a row.

Dick Dell‘s whimsical prediction of three weeks earlier had come true: something crazy had happened at the Open. Sabatini had combined a little bit of luck, a lot of heart, and her new style, one in which she used her size and strength to best effect, to win a championship that almost no one thought she could win.

“She’s playing the right way now,” Navratilova said after watching the match. “She’s so big, you can’t pass her. I didn’t think she could win, because her second serve is so weak. But no one seemed to take advantage of it.”

Why Graf had played so poorly was a mystery. As she came off court, her father made a point of giving her a warm hug. Prior to the match, he had gotten into a scuffle with a photographer. Had his daughter known? Had that upset her?

Clijsters, Navratilova, Hénin, Fernandez, Davenport, Roland Garros 2015

Clijsters, Navratilova, Hénin, Fernandez, Davenport

It’s always a joy for me to watch former great champions battle on the court. I really had a great time watching the final of the Legends Trophy opposing Martina Navratilova and Kim Clijsters to Lindsay Davenport and Mary Joe Fernandez. 18 + 4 + 3 that’s 25 singles Grand Slam titles on the court!
Every time I see her play I’m amazed by Navratilova’s play at the net. She’s in her late 50s but she’s still has it!

Clijsters and Navratilova captured the title for the second year in a row (I can’t remember the score…). And guess who presented the trophy? None other than 4-time Roland Garros champion Justine Henin.

Monica Seles and Anke Huber, Australian Open 1996

By Claude England, Maryland Match Point

At first I thought it must have been the strong capuccino I had enjoyed after ou last dinner in Melbourne that was keeping me so wide awake, but as the minutes continued to tick by, I came to realize it as the sheer excitement of the past five days at the Australian Open that was still tingling through my body.
So many talented players, great matches, and the magnificent state-of-the-art Australian Open facility. Where to begin?

Mark Philippoussis opened up the center court action with a straight victory over Nicolas Kiefer, who would have, at that time, thought he would go on to upset Pete Sampras in straight sets, only to be thrashed in the following round by fellow Australian Mark Woodforde.
Next it was defending champion Andre Agassi who basically limped onto center court after having the misfortune of hurting a tendon in his knee during a fall on his apartment steps. Andre, wearing a pathetic bandage, somehow won this match against Argentine qualifier Gaston Etlis, who at one point was serving for the match, and at another time was within two points of perhaps the upset of the decade. It was a sad sight from both ends of the court. Etlis played brilliant tennis, showing no mercy for Andre’s inability to move around the court, hitting precision drop shots that the defending champion, instead of racing towards, could only stand and watch. But when it came to winning those final points, Etlis became even more creative in finding ways not to win, and Andre hobbled to a 6-3 in the fifth victory.
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Monica Seles, Australian Open 1991

From Monica Seles’ autobiography, Getting a grip:

Within the first hour of landing in Melbourne I knew it would be my home away from home. Fantastic people, beautiful weather, and the laid-back energy of the culture calmed my nerves.

I lost only twelve games in the first five rounds and faced a tough battle against Mary Joe Fernandez in the semi. The last two times we’d met on the court I’d beaten her in two sets, but she wasn’t going down easily this time. In the second set my game fell apart and she took it 6-0. Our third set went back nad forth like a seesaw and we played until 9-7.
I was exhausted but I was on my way to the final. Years later Mary Joe would become one of my best friends and I’d dread playing against her. If we’d been friends back then, I don’t know whether I would have been able to summon the gritty focus it takes to win a set that close.

Jana Novotna, a gifted doubles player from the Czech Republic, was waiting to play me in the final. She was five years and had beaten me in two sets at an indoor tournament during my first time as a pro, but I had an advantage now. This was her first Grand Slam singles final and I’d already won in Paris. In a monumental event like a Grand Slam final, if you don’t have confidence, you don’t have anything. I’d already been on the court in a final and prevailed. I knew I could do it.

I was furious with myself when she took the first set 7-5. My mind started to slide down the canyon of negative thoughts, but I stopped it before it was too late. Just play each point – my dad’s words came back to me at full volume. I won the next set 6-3 and, with the momentum on my side, took control of the rhythm and didn’t let up until I won the third set 6-1. I’d done it. I won my second Grand Slam title under the unforgiving Australian sun.

In front of the boisterously supportive local fans and playing on 130-degree hard courts, I proved that I was more than just a clay specialist. I was more than a one-hit wonder, and with that win I was within striking distance of being number one, a position Steffi Graf had held for the past three and a half years. Two months after Australia the points were tallied and I became the top-ranked female player in the world.

Carlos Moya and Thomas Enqvist

They played at Roland Garros a few years ago, they are now back in Paris as coaches, TV commentators or are taking part to the Legends trophy, and with this new trend of great champions turning to coaching, there’s plenty of past champions to see around the grounds at Roland Garros.

6-time Grand Slam champion Boris Becker, coach of Novak Djokovic:

Boris Becker

Novak Djokovic and Boris Becker

Goran Ivanisevic, quarterfinalist in 1990, the year he beat then world No 1 Stefan Edberg in the first round. He now coaches Marin Cilic:

Goran Ivanisevic

Becker, Cilic, Ivanisevic, Gasquet, Mathieu

Sergi Bruguera, winner in 1993 and 1994, coach of Richard Gasquet:

Sergi Bruguera and Goran Ivanisevic

Bruguera and Gasquet

Magnus Norman, finalist in 2000, coach of Stanislas Wawrinka:

Magnus Norman

Michael Chang, winner in 1989 and coach of Kei Nishikori:

Michael Chang

Martina Hingis, finalist in 1997 and 1999. She coaches Sabine Lisicki:

Martina Hingis

Sébastien Grosjean, semi-finalist at Roland Garros in 2001, coach of Richard Gasquet:

Sébastien Grosjean

Fabrice Santoro, doubles finalist in 2004, interviews players after their matches:

Roger Federer

Kim Clijsters and Martina Navratilova, playing doubles together:

Kim Clijsters and Martina Navratilova

Kim Clijsters

Martina Navratilova

Kim Clijsters and Martina Navratilova

Iva Majoli, Roland Garros champion in 1997:

Iva Majoli

Anastasia Myskina, first ever female Russian player to win a Grand Slam title (Roland Garros in 2004):

Anastasia Myskina

Former world number one Lindsay Davenport and Mary Joe Fernandez, 1993 French Open runner-up:

Lindsay Davenport

Mary Joe Fernandez

1998 Wimbledon champion Jana Novotna:

Jana Novotna

Natasha Zvereva, runner-up in that famous 1988 final against Steffi Graf:

Natasha Zvereva

Nathalie Tauziat and Conchita Martinez practising on court 15, they play the Legends Trophy together:

Nathalie Tauziat

Conchita Martinez

Martinez is now captain of the Spanish Fed Cup team. Tauziat is the former coach of Eugénie Bouchard (below a picture of them two at Roland Garros last year), she now coaches Aleksandra Wozniak:

Nathalie Tauziat and Eugénie Bouchard

Gaston Gaudio, surprise winner in 2004:

Gaston Gaudio

Thomas Enqvist and Carlos Moya, Roland Garros champion in 1998:

Carlos Moya and Thomas Enqvist

Albert Costa, winner in 2002. He is currently coaching Feliciano Lopez.

Albert Costa

Cédric Pioline interviewing Maria Sharapova after her victory over Eugénie Bouchard:

Maria Sharapova

Arantxa Sanchez Roland Garros 1989

From Love Thirty, three decades of champions – published in 1990

In order of seniority the leaders of the new generation, other than Graf, are Sabatini, Zvereva, Mary Joe Fernandez, Sanchez, Martinez, Monica Seles and Jennifer Capriati. All were born between 1970 and 1976.
In terms of tennis, physique, and character, they are poised at an intermediate stage of development. Consequently it would be futile to speculate about which is likely to give Graf most cause for concern in the next few years. The only point one will make is that in 1989, her fist year on the grand slam circuit, the 15-year-old Seles provided the most spectacular evidence of star quality.

From 1985 to 1988 Graf’s obvious contemporary rival was Sabatini, who occasionally beat her but could never manage to do sp on the big occasions. Dark, glamorous, and immensely marketable in promoting a variety of commercial products, Sabatini became a millionairess without winning anything of shattering importance. On the other hand she was a consistently prominent teenager and made two dents in the game’s history: by becoming the youngest French semi-finalist (in 1985, at the age of 15) and the first player from Argentina to reach the women’s singles final of a Grand Slam tournament (at Flushing Meadow in 1988). At 5ft 8in she is, like Graf, ideally built for women’s tennis but has to work hard to counter a tendency towards languor. Her game features heavy top-spin on both flanks – tiring for her but even more tiring for her opponents – and from time to time she lets fly with a fierce backhand down the line, one of the most dazzling shots in the modern women’s game.

Zvereva, from Minsk, is almost a year younger but, on the evidence so far available, is a smarter and slightly more versatile competitor: and the best player to emerge from the Soviet Union since Olga Morozova almost 20 years earlier. In 1988 Zvereva beat both Navratilova and Helena Sukova in straight sets on her way to the French final but, overawed and overpowered, could take only 13 points from Graf in an embarrassing 32-minute match.
Fernandez, who was born in the Dominican Republic but lives in Miami, is a baseliner in the Chris Evert mould. In 1985, at the age of 14, she became the youngest player to win a match in the US Open and nine months later she advanced to the last eight in Paris. In 1989 she had to miss her high school graduation ceremony because, in Paris, she had reached a Grand Slam semi-final for the first time.
Martinez, four months younger than Sanchez, is bigger and in many respects potentially better than her springy little compatriot. In 1988 Martinez joined the circuit and also beat Sanchez to win the Spanish national championship. In 1989 Grand Slam events it took either Graf or Sabatini to beat her.
Seles, too, has an unusual backgound for a tennis player: Novi Sad in Yugoslavia, though she lives in Florida and comes across as a typically outgoing American teenager. In 1989 she rang the alarm bells by beating Evert in Houston and then reached the semi-finals in Paris and the last 16 at Wimbledon and Flushing Meadow. Seles serves left-handed and hits her two-fisted ground strokes so hard that one almost expects smoke to rise from the court whenever she plays. She basks in the limelight as if born to it, plays to the gallery, gunts with effort as she explodes into her shots, and has an inimitably engaging giggle that sounds like a muted but busy machine-gun. A great entertainer – and clearly a champion in the making if her body can withstand the strain she puts on it.
But Seles, precocious though she is, must look out for another Florida-based prodigy, Capriati, who is two years and three months younger. Capriati plays a more conventional game, awfully well, and under her father’s guidance has begun to benefit from the modern science of physical conditioning at a younger age than the likes of Margaret Court and Navratilova did.

Which leaves us in the delightful company of the chubby and cheerful Sanchez, who never reached the semi-finalof a Grand Slam event until she had the sauce to beat Graf 7-6 3-6 7-5 in the 1989 French Open final. The match lasted two hours and 58 minutes, which meant that Graf was playing the longest match of her career when she was not at her peak. In boxing parlance, Graf punched herself out. She was forced to play too many shots. But she had two set points in the first set (her backhand let her down) and led 5-3 in the third, only to lose 13 of the next 14 points. At 5-6 down in the third set the pallid Graf had to dash to the dressing room because of stomach cramps and at 30-all in the next game she hurried to her chair for a quick drink. But what made her feel ill was, more than anything else, the fact that she spent far too long clobbering a punchbag with a mind of its own.

Sanchez was quick in her anticipation and footwork, inexhaustible in her energy and fighting spirit, and boldly resourceful in seizing chances to take the ball early and hit blazing ripostes. Gasping with effort, she bounced about the court like a pintable ball fresh off the starting spring, and kept rallies going long after Graf’s assault should, logically, have ended them.
Towards the end Sanchez even began to fancy her chances as a volleyer – and did rather well in that unfamiliar role. She had an engaging swagger, a ready smile, and the air of a dishevelled, overworked waitress with a knack of keeping all the customers happy. Sanchez had the time of her life, grew Graf’s sting, and at the end of the match tumbled on to the court like a romping puppy and bounced up with clay-spattered clothes and a broad grin. It had been a great lark.

The popular little champion went back to Barcelona and more public acclaim, more bouquets, and met King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia. How marvellously she had built on the confidence gained in Rome, where she had reached the final, and on the inspiring example of Michael Chang, who expanded her horizons in Paris when he beat the top men’s seed, Ivan Lendl.

Sanchez kept it up too, reaching the last eight at Wimbledon and Flushing Meadow before Graf and Sabatini in turn arrested her progress. Her Wimbledon performance was embellished by a brillantly cheeky drop-shot when she was match point down to Raffaella Reggi. Thus it was that a bubbly lass with a sunny disposition had four dream-like months in the summer of her 18th year. If she has anything to teach her contemporaries it lies in the fun she has playing tennis and the fact that she never gives up on a point. But one suspect that because of her background, build, and playing method, she may excel only on clay.

The stocky Sanchez is about 5ft 6in tall. Spaniads are traditionally attuned to clay and Sanchez has sharpened her game in the company of two older brothers, Emilio and Javier, who made their mark on the professional tour while she was still advancing towards its fringe. It is no discredit to either that they cannot match their sister’s joyously boisterous approach to tennis and to life.