Gabriela Sabatini was one of the biggest names in tennis for over a decade between the mid-'80s and mid-‘90s. Today, on her 50th birthday, we’re taking a look back at her extraordinary career.
After an impressive junior career that included winning the French Open girls’ title as a 14-year-old in 1984, Sabatini burst into prominence on the same courts the following year, when—in just the second Grand Slam women’s event she played—she made it all the way to the semifinals, falling to Chris Evert.
The Argentine was just 15 years and three weeks old at the time.
“Playing at Roland Garros has always been special for me, because I grew up on clay,” she said. “My first memory is from when I won as a junior. I was 14 at the time. That was very important for me. I always loved playing there, and I always wanted to win.”
Though Sabatini would reach another four French Open semifinals in her career, it was at two of the other majors where she’d find her biggest success. She reached her first Grand Slam final at the 1988 US Open, falling to Stefanie Graf, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, and she would win her first Grand Slam title on the same courts two years later, getting revenge on Graf, 6-2, 7-6 (4), to win the 1990 US Open.
“There’s no way to explain this emotion,” Sabatini said after her historic win in Flushing Meadows. “I really wanted to win a Grand Slam, and I came through today.”
She’s still the only South American woman to win a Grand Slam title in the Open Era, not counting two-time major winner Garbine Muguruza, who was born in Venezuela but represents Spain.
Sabatini would go on to reach a third Grand Slam final at Wimbledon in 1991, falling again to Graf in a thriller, 6-4, 3-6, 8-6, but those major finals were just the tip of the iceberg of a phenomenal tennis resume. She won a total of 27 WTA titles, including the season-ending WTA Finals in 1988 and 1994. She also won a silver medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, falling to Graf in the gold medal match.
The Buenos Aires native even won a Grand Slam doubles title alongside Graf at Wimbledon in 1988, and she was a fixture at the top of the game, finishing 10 straight years in the Top 10 from 1986 to 1995, and ending three of those years—1989, 1991 and 1992—at her career-high ranking of No. 3.
Sabatini retired at the end of the 1996 season at age 26. She reminisced with reporters about her best moments at the WTA Finals that year.
“If there’s a moment that I remember and still think about, it’s my victory at the US Open,” she said. “That moment, that last point when it was finished, it was such a rewarding and good, proud feeling.
“I don’t have any disappointments or any regrets about anything. I had a great career.”
Sabatini was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2006 alongside Patrick Rafter. These days, she’s keeping busy with her line of perfumes, which she’s had for more than 30 years, and spends most of her time in Switzerland. She’s also been keeping an eye on tennis.
“I like to watch tennis. I watch as much as I can,” she said in an interview at Roland Garros last year. “I will always be close to tennis.”