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WTA Finals Rewind: Monica Seles outlasts Gabriela Sabatini in historic five-set final in 1990
In the first women's match to go to five sets in 89 years, a 16-year-old Monica Seles became the youngest woman ever to win the season-ending WTA Finals.
Published Oct 24, 2022
This week we’ll be looking back at five of the most unforgettable moments in the history of the WTA Finals, with the 2022 edition of the season-ending championships taking place in Fort Worth, Texas next week.
First up, a marathon at Madison Square Garden:
Seles outlasts Sabatini in historic five-set final in 1990
There were storylines aplenty in the 1990 final of the WTA Finals—then called the WTA Championships—as 16-year-old Monica Seles, who had won her first Grand Slam title earlier that year at Roland Garros, faced 20-year-old Gabriela Sabatini, who also won her first Grand Slam title earlier that year at the US Open.
The two ended up playing the first five-set women’s match in 89 years, since the U.S. Nationals in 1901, with Sabatini building a two-sets-to-one lead but Seles eventually battling back to prevail, 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, wrapping it up after three hours and 47 minutes with one last crosscourt backhand winner.
“It was an unbelievable match. We both played great,” Seles said afterwards.
“Women’s tennis is at its best right now.”
At 16 years and 11 months, Seles is still to this day the youngest player ever to win the WTA Finals, in either singles or doubles.
Seles ended up winning the title in 1991 and 1992 as well, one of only three players ever to three-peat at the season-ending event, alongside Martina Navratilova (who won five in a row) and Serena Williams (who won three in a row).
The final of the WTA Finals was best-of-five format from 1984 to 1998, but only three finals actually ended up going to five sets—Seles’ win in 1990 and Steffi Graf’s wins in 1995 (over Anke Huber) and 1996 (over Martina Hingis).
Navratilova won four of her record eight WTA Finals titles during that best-of-five-set final span, in 1984, 1985 and both editions held in 1986. Her last two finals at the event came in 1991 and 1992, where she finished runner-up to Seles.