Gabriela Sabatini, among her good wishes for Nadal and Muchova and Garcia as favourite players
PARIS – Gabriela Sabatini moves through Roland Garros and leaves a trail of open mouths in her wake: is it her, is it really her, how can she be so well preserved? She is almost in as good shape as when she was playing!
Sabatini laughs at the evidence that her 53 years are too well worn and leaves a comment that raises the level of astonishment: this week, when she once again plays in the French Open Tennis Legends tournament, her game will be better than it was in 2022.
“Yeah, I think I’m a little bit better this year,” the 1990 US Open champion said during an interview with CLAY in Paris.
That’s saying a lot, because in 2022, in the doubles she played alongside Gisela Dulko – her partner again this year – the former world number three showed a lot more tennis than expected, especially considering she spent almost 25 years with the racquet practically without coming out of the wardrobe.
Which is not to say that she stopped playing sport. No, Sabatini, who settled in Zurich several years ago as a base for her travels around the world, has become a cycling fanatic, so much so that she competes in the Tour de France for amateurs.
The Argentine may have retired from tennis in 1996, 27 years ago, but her magnetism is still intact. She is not a retired tennis player, she is a star. They can attest Mariano Zabaleta and Juan Mónaco, the two former players who advise the Argentine and this morning arrived at Roland Garros with bags in which they carried the latest models of the firm Lacoste that Sabatini will wear this Tuesday in the doubles that will measure her to the French Nathalie Tauziat and the Danish Caroline Wozniacki.
Interview with Gabriela Sabatini
– If you could change anything in tennis, in its rules, what would you change?
– They’re trying to implement new things, make the game a little bit faster, which I think is good for the audience, it’s more entertaining. They’ve cut some of the times. I don’t know what other things they might change, because tennis has a tradition, and you have to be careful what you change.
– How are you approaching the challenge of the Legends Tournament at Roland Garros, and are you better than last year?
– I think I’m a little bit better this year, because I didn’t stop playing since last year…
– Are you enthusiastic about tennis again?
– It’s not that I got excited, but a couple of things happened. The exhibition in Buenos Aires with Rafa (Nadal) and Casper (Ruud), that made me keep playing. And I kept playing, they invited us again this year for the exhibition here, we accepted. And, yes, you feel better and better. It takes time to improve and get in condition, that’s when you realise how difficult tennis is.
– That mixed doubles you played in Buenos Aires with Nadal was a real pleasure, wasn’t it? Six months after that, Nadal is undergoing surgery and fighting to return to the circuit to say goodbye in 2024. Do you think he can return to tennis?
– I hope so! I don’t think even he doesn’t know, because it will depend a lot on his evolution, when he can recover and if he can recover. It will depend a lot on that. He wants to, because he’s trying everything he can to come back. It would be nice to see him a little bit more.
– How do you see what is happening in Argentine tennis? There is a second and third group of players who are doing things?
– Very good things!
– And why, why is this happening?
– Tennis in Argentina has always had an impressive history. Sometimes there are cycles, but I think we never stop producing players, that’s the good thing. Here there were a couple of new players that I didn’t know, I didn’t know Olivieri. And then you listen to the story behind him and you can’t believe it, the enthusiasm with which he plays, the desire… When you listen to his story and everything that happened to him, I think he has nothing to lose in there, he gives everything, and that’s why he’s so enthusiastic when he plays. And it’s nice to see that. You appreciate and value that a lot, that’s the beauty of sport.
– There was a controversy in this tournament with the night sessions on centre court: almost always men played, and when women played there were refunds. Why does this happen to women’s tennis?
– I think women’s tennis is very good, it’s very competitive, although the players are changing. It’s not that there are one, two or three who dominate. Now Iga Swiatek is doing it, but it varies a lot. Maybe what happens is that the names don’t register as much because they vary so much. There is a lot of change and then you don’t identify with the players as much because you don’t know them. Maybe the number two or three came along and you don’t know how she got there so quickly. Maybe that’s what happens to the public. They know the men better.
– In recent years your favourite players have been Ash Barty and Ons Jabeur. Is there anyone else?
– I like Karolina Muchova a lot. Her game, her temperament. And also Caroline Garcia, I really like the way she plays, even if she left this tournament early.