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Sabatini Has What It Takes to Meet Graf in Final

Special to The Times

Even though the day Gabriela Sabatini reached her first Grand Slam singles final will be remembered more for those who didn’t play than for those who did, her achievement Friday was memorable, nonetheless.

She became the first woman from Argentina to gain the final of a Grand Slam event. And to get there, she came out of a tough semifinal bracket that included higher-seeded and more experienced players, such as Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver, waiting to knock her out of the Open. They, however, were both dismissed before Sabatini could even get around to them.

With her appearance in today’s singles final against No. 1 Steffi Graf, Sabatini, 18, has sent a message to the critics who questioned her stamina and motivation in a two-week tournament.

In Friday’s only semifinal, Sabatini beat 11th-ranked Zina Garrison at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow, 6-4, 7-5.

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Now Sabatini is the only one with a chance to halt another shot at history, to prevent Graf, 19, from joining Don Budge, Rod Laver, Margaret Court and the late Maureen Connolly as winners of the prestigious Grand Slam. Graf, who has won the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon with the loss of just one set, didn’t have to play her semifinal match Friday when her opponent, No. 3 Chris Evert, withdrew because of a stomach virus.

Sabatini is the only player to have beaten Graf in 1988. Moreover, she did it twice.

“I’m very surprised about Chris,” said Sabatini. “Tomorrow, (Graf) will play her best. I’m not worried she didn’t play today. Maybe it’s better for me.”

Graf, who practiced for an hour and 15 minutes, also held a press conference and said she was a bit let down that there had been no semifinal for her.

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“I would say I was (disappointed),” Graf said. “I think it was important for me to have to play Chris, because she has the type of game that gives me a hard time. I have to be concentrated and into it. So, I think it would have been good for me to have a match.”

The concern for Sabatini was that she might have too tough a match with Garrison. At an August tournament in Los Angeles, Sabatini struggled in a three-set match before beating Garrison and had little left in the last two sets against Evert in the final.

This time, Sabatini put Garrison away in two tight sets. In the second, Garrison had her best chance as she forged a 5-3 lead, using a service break in the eighth game.

In the next two games, Garrison got within two points of winning the set and pushing it to a third. Sabatini, however, began hitting her driving topspin from both sides with more precision and took the final four games.

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Garrison said it had been difficult to get up emotionally after her roller-coaster match and victory over two-time defending champion Navratilova on Wednesday. But the taste of a Grand Slam semifinal has left Garrison hungering for more.

“I’m leaving for the Olympics next Friday and I have a lot of tournaments to work for,” she said. “There are a lot of things to do. I did well here and that’s great, but the year goes on.”


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