Sabatini, Gabriela: 1970—: Tennis Player, Fragrance Designer

views updated Jun 27 2018

Gabriela Sabatini: 1970: Tennis player, fragrance designer

Over her 12-year pro career, tennis player Gabriela Sabatini won 27 career singles titles, including the 1990 U.S. Open and two season-ending Virginia Slims Championships. She came close to winning Wimbledon in 1991, and from age 15 to 26, spent most of those years in the top ten ranking of tennis. She retired from tennis in 1996 to devote her time to a career in the perfume industry.

Showed Natural Talent

Sabatini was born on May 16, 1970, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She grew up watching her father and older brother play tennis at a country club in their home town, and she began playing when she was six years old, quickly showing a natural talent for the game. Her brother, Osvaldo, later told Ron Arias in People, "She begged me to let her play. So I gave her an old racket and sent her off to go hit against a wall. All day she'd pound the ball. She was only six but right away we could see she could hit." Sabatini's father soon signed her up for a local clay court program.

By the time she was ten, Sabatini was ranked number one in the country's 12-and-under division, and she continued to hold the number one spot as she moved up through the age group levels. Her brother told Arias, "She hated to lose. In those days she'd fight me all the wayon and off the court. Tennis, Ping-Pong, it didn't matter. She'd fight me, yelling and crying." At the age of 14, Sabatini was number one in the junior world rankings. After a year of junior high school, having beaten all the local competition, she decided to take her game farther. She signed with coach Patricio Apey, a former Chilean Davis Cup player, and moved to Key Biscayne, Florida, to train with him and the other players he coached.

Apey was impressed with Sabatini's ability, and so were her fellow Argentineans, who quickly turned her into a tennis idol. Apey told Bruce Newman in Sports Illustrated, "Suddenly in the middle of all the depression and bad news, when everything seemed to be wrong in Argentina, there comes this little angel who makes only good news. I think that is what made her an idol." At the time, Argentina was recovering from the Falklands war as well as the aftereffects of a long-lived dictatorship.

At a Glance . . .

Born on May 16, 1970, in Buenos Aires, Argentina; daughter of Osvaldo (an executive with General Motors) and Beatriz Sabatini.

Career: Professional tennis player, 1984-96; fragrance designer, 1996.

Awards: Tennis magazine's Rookie of the Year, 1985; ranked fifth in the world, 1988; silver medal, Olympic Games, 1988; Virginia Slims Championship, 1994, 1998; winner, U.S. Open, 1990; Twenty-seven career singles titles, including the 1990 U.S. Open and two season-ending Virginia Slims Championships.

Addresses: Office c/o Cosmopolitan Cosmetics GMBH, Venloer Strasse 241, D-50823 Cologne, Germany. Agent Program Corporation of America, 711 Westchester Avenue, White Plains, NY 10604. Web site

Intensity Won Tournaments

Sabatini's rapid rise to success at such a tender age caused concern among other observers. Dick Dell, who became her agent when she was 14, told Newman that Sabatini was focusing too much of her energy on tennis at a very young age and was thus losing her only chance to have a normal childhood. "I am for anything that would give her an outlet outside tennis," he said. "Instead of being in school every day with girls her own age, she was thrown into an adult world." Sabatini dropped out of school after moving to the United States, and she did not learn to speak English for three more years.

Sabatini's inability to speak English, combined with an innate shyness, led some to believe she was cold and aloof. However, this quality appealed to other observers. Tim Tinling, a tennis official, told Newman, "I think that aloofness is part of her charisma. There's a great arrogance about Sabatini, and it all shows in the carriage of her head. She looks almost goddesslike. Taken together, her beauty and her arrogance form a contradiction. And I don't think one should try to solve a contradiction in a beautiful woman. One has simply to accept her as she is."

Sabatini began making a mark on the international tennis world in 1984, when she won seven of the eight junior tournaments she entered. In that same year she became the youngest player ever to win a round at the U.S. Open, and when she won a second Open round, the press and other players began calling her "The Great Sabatini." She turned professional shortly afterward, and in June of 1985, she beat two top-ten-ranked players in one morning at the Family Circle Magazine Cup Tournament. Two months later, she reached the semifinals of the French Open, the youngest player ever to do so, and was ranked number 15 in the world. In July of 1985 she competed at Wimbledon, and in August she beat the top seed, Pam Shriver, in the quarterfinals of the United Jersey Bank Classic. In that same year, she was named Tennis magazine's Rookie of the Year.

In 1987 Sabatini changed coaches, hiring Angel Gimenez, a former Davis Cup player from Spain. She and Gimenez both worked on increasing her stamina and conditioning. Her training included running for up to an hour each day and practicing for longer hours on the court. By 1988 this training led to results: Sabatini was ranked fifth in the world. And at the end of the 1988 Virginia Slims tournament in Boca Raton, Florida, Sabatini won the final two sets against Steffi Graf, a player whom she had never been able to beat before. Ironically, although she had often been intimidated when it came to the task of beating Graf, she often played successfully with Graf in doubles tournaments.

Reached Peak of Tennis Career

Despite her improvement, Sabatini lost both the U.S. Open and the Summer Olympics finals to Graf in 1988. However, she still won $1 million during that year. In 1989 she continued to win money and tournaments, but failed to gain any major titles. After losing at the 1990 French Open, Sabatini decided to change coaches again. She hired Carlos Kimayr, a top-ranked Brazilian player. Under his guidance, she stopped lifting weightsthey had added muscle, but what she really needed was speedand began seeing a sports psychologist. Kimayr suggested this because he believed she was spending too much time thinking about tennis. He told Alison Muscatine in the Washington Post, "She was thinking about her job all the time. It is impossible to act and work like a professional when you live your job twenty-four hours a day." Kimayr and the psychologist encouraged Sabatini to pursue other interests, such as photography, studying French, and sightseeing. In addition, they convinced her to end her doubles partnership with Graf. Kimayr told Muscatine that Sabatini "was not benefiting from that relationship. Steffi was mentally stronger. I didn't think that was a good thing."

The changes in her coaching and lifestyle paid off in 1990, when Sabatini won her first Grand Slam title, the 1990 U.S. Open, beating Graf in the process. Sabatini was now ranked number one in the world, but a new rival soon appeared on the scene: Monica Seles. Seles beat Sabatini at the Virginia Slims Championships, in a five-set final that lasted almost four hours.

By April of 1991, Sabatini had earned $4 million, the fifth-highest amount on the women's tour. Like other players, she made a great deal of money from product endorsements; unlike other players, she had had a perfume named after her. She endorsed the fragrance at the 1991 U.S. Open; it cost $50 for a quarter-ounce.

Retired From Tennis

In early 1992 Sabatini won five tournaments, but she was losing her enthusiasm for the game. By 1994, she had gone two years without winning a tournament, and she was further disgraced at the French Open, when Silvia Farini, who was ranked 108 in the world, beat the number-eight ranked Sabatini. It was only the second time in her pro career that Sabatini had failed to make it past the first round in a Grand Slam event. Of this apparent slump, she told Sally Jenkins in Sports Illustrated, "People keep asking me [if I'm burned out]. They want to know if I'm tired, do I need more time off? No. I doubt the solution is in a vacation." She said she would keep playing. "I love this sport. I'm happy to be out there. I like to keep trying and I like to work hard. I just don't like to lose."

However, she did continue to lose, and in 1996, she suffered a pulled stomach muscle that kept her out of the French Open and Wimbledon; her ranking had already dropped to 31. On October 15 Sabatini played what would be her last match, against Jennifer Capriati at the European Indoor in Zurich, Switzerland, and lost 6-3, 6-4. In the locker room after the match, she wept. According to Josh Young in the Washington Times, "She said she wasn't crying out of sadness, but out of relief, giving us a glimpse of the real Sabatini." At a news conference announcing her retirement, Sabatini said, "This is what I want to do for my life, this is what makes me happy, and this was the right time to do it," according to Young. Her coach at the time, Juan Nunez, said, "She lost the fire to compete because of the pressure she's put on herself over the years to make other peopleher fans, her family, her coacheshappy, and in doing that I think she left aside a big part of herself. It broke my heart to see her suffering out there. I felt like I was pushing her to do things she didn't want to do anymore."

During the press conference where she announced her retirement from tennis, Sabatini said that she wanted to devote her attention to her perfume business. She has lived quietly and has remained out of the public eye since then. Her perfumes are marketed by Cosmopolitan Cosmetics, which also sells other celebrity fragrances.



Contemporary Newsmakers 1985, Issue Cumulation, Gale Research, 1986.

Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale Research, 1996.

Great Women in Sports, Visible Ink Press, 1996.


Maclean's, November 4, 1996, p. 15.

People, September 7, 1987, p. 127.

Sports Illustrated, May 2, 1988, p. 52; September 17, 1990, p. 22; March 18, 1991, p. 66; June 6, 1994, p. 60.

Washington Post, July 6, 1991.

Washington Times, October 30, 1996, p. 5.


"Gabriela Sabatini," Biography Resource Center, (May 7, 2003).

Gabriela Sabatini Official Website, (June 12, 2003).

Kelly Winters

Sabatini, Gabriela

views updated Jun 08 2018

Gabriela Sabatini


Argentine tennis player

Argentinean Gabriela Sabatini was a teen tennis phenomenon in the mid-1980s who, while popular on the circuit, never lived up to her potential as a player. While she had a great tennis game, she only won one grand slam singles title, the U.S. Open in 1990. Sabatini left professional tennis behind in the mid-1990s to concentrate on her work in the perfume business.

Born May 16, 1970, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sabatini was the daughter of Osvaldo and Beatriz Sabatini. Her father was an executive at General Motors, who later gave up his career to manage his daughter's tennis career.

Buenos Aires was the leading tennis city in South America, and Sabatini began playing when she was six years old. She wanted to play because her older brother was a junior player. Sabatini began taking private lessons a year later, and by the time she was 10 years old, she was the number one under-12 player in Argentina. From an early age, she was motivated to win and hated to lose.

Trains in Florida

Within a few years, Sabatini left Argentina to train with coach Patricio Apey in Key Biscane, Florida. In 1983, she began playing on the world junior tennis circuit. She was the youngest to win the Orange Bowl Girls 18 singles tournament. After being the number one ranked junior in the world in 1984, Sabatini felt she had nothing left to prove on the junior circuit.

Turns Professional

In 1985, Sabatini turned professional. Her first big splash was at the Family Circle Magazine Cup where she beat three ranked players. She later made the semifinals of the French Open, the youngest to do this at the time, but lost to Chris Evert . She finished the year ranked number 11 in the world.

Because of her young age, observers were afraid that Sabatini would burn out. She dropped out of school

when she was 14 to concentrate on tennis, though she planned on completing her education later. Sabatini had no close friends, and constantly dealt only with adults. She was also isolated on the professional tour, in part because she did not speak English for the first three years.

In 1986, Sabatini made the semifinals of Wimbledon. As her star rose in women's tennis, her looks, not unlike those of a movie star/model, led to a number of endorsement deals. She ended the year ranked in the top 10, where she would remain until 1996.

In 1988, while Sabatini won a silver medal in ladies singles tennis at the Summer Olympics, won the Virginia Slims Tournament, and made the finals of the U.S. Open, she had problems with endurance during matches. She changed coaches to Angel Gimenez, who challenged her to work on her conditioning and kept her intrested in the game. When she began as a professional, she was a baseline player, but later developed a potent serve-and-volley attack. The graceful Sabatini had a great backhand, but her serve was never strong.

Contemplates Quitting

In 1989, Sabatini was ranked number three, but she was generally regarded as not reaching her full potential as a player. Many tennis observers thought she could be a great rival to Steffi Graf , and one of the futures of women's tennis, but she never made it. Though Sabatini would appear in a semifinal of a Grand Slam every year and win a tournament every year from 1985-95 (except 1993), she did not win big.

Martina Navratilova told Robin Finn of the New York Times, "She's so erratic. Her game is more complicated than Steffi [Graf]'s, and she's got better ground strokes. But." In the late 1980s, Sabatini thought about quitting, admitting that she did not have the mental edge to win.

Wins U.S. Open

Sabatini addressed these issues by working with a tennis psychiatrist and hiring a new coach, Carlos Kirmayr, after losing in the first round of the French Open in 1990. She became more aggressive on the court, and won that year's U.S. Open women's singles title. She defeated Graf 6-2, 7-6.

In the early 1990s, Sabatini reached her peak as a professional, earning $4 million on the women's tour in 1990-91. She was more interested in the game than ever and played well. In 1991 and 1992, she won both the Bausch & Lomb Championship and Family Circle Magazine Cup. She also became more social with other players.

In 1992, Sabatini began having problems with tendonitis. Her relatively weak serve began being a problem in matches. Though many of her advisors thought she should take a hiatus to recover from her injuries and mentally recharge, she elected to play through her problems. After making the semifinals of the Australian Open in 1993, she did not play well in 1993 and 1994. She lost in the first round of the French Open in 1994. Sabatini switched coaches several times, but eventually returned to Kirmayr.

Sabatini's last win as a professional was the Virginia Slims championship in 1995. With injury problems, she retired in 1996, after winning no titles that season. When Sabatini retired, she primarily focused on the perfume business that she had been a part of since 1989. That year, she introduced her first fragrance, Gabriela Sabatini, and went on to develop at least eight others. She also had her own line of clothing, linens, and watches. Sabatini remained marginally involved in sports as an athlete representative to the IOC (International Olympic Committee). While she played in some exhibition tennis matches on occasion, she did not enjoy playing the game much.

When she retired, she was ranked 29th in the world. While she earned about $8-11 million from playing tennis, Sabatini made $20 million from endorsements. As Josh Young wrote in The Washington Times, "She was beautiful to watch but dull in conversation, talented but lacking killer instinct. In the end, it seems she should have gone further in tennis, but perhaps she went further than she should have."


1970Born May 16, in Buenos Aires, Argentina
1983Joins the world junior tennis circuit
1984Top-ranked junior player in the world
1985Turns professional in January at the age of 14; youngest player to reach semi-finals of French Open
1988Ranked fifth in the world
1989Has first perfume on the market, Gabriela Sabatini
1992Begins having problems with tendonitis
1996Plays at the Summer Olympic Games, losing in quarterfinals; retires as professional tennis player

Awards and Accomplishments

1983Wins the Orange Bowl Girls 18 singles tournament
1985Named rookie of the year by Tennis magazine
1988Wins silver medal in ladies singles at Olympic Games; wins Virginia Slims tournament
1990Wins U.S. Open women's singles title; briefly ranked number one
1991Wins the Bausch & Lomb Championship; wins Family Circle Magazine Cup
1992Wins the Bausch & Lomb Championship; wins the Family Circle Magazine Cup; wins the Italian Open; has rose, Gabriela Sabatini Rose, named in her honor
1995Wins Virginia Slims Championship


Address: c/o Cosmopolitan Cosmetics, GmBH, Venloer Strasse 241-245, 50823 Koln Germany. Online:



Christensen, Karen, et al, eds. International Encyclopedia of Women and Sports. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2001.

Johnson, Anne Janette. Great Women in Sports. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1996.

Layden, Joe. Women in Sports. General Publishing Group, 1997.


Arias, Ron. "Look out, Chris & MartinaGabriela is Gunning for You." People (September 7, 1987): 127.

Finn, Robin. "Critics' Carping Follows Sabatini." New York Times (November 12, 1989): section 8, p. 11.

Finn, Robin. "Sabatini Shifts Gears and Learns to Enjoy the Ride." New York Times (April 13, 1992): C3.

Finn, Robin. "Shedding a Demon, Sabatini Flourishes." New York Times (November 15, 1990): D23.

Finn, Robin. "Unhappy Anniversary for Stumbling Sabatini." New York Times (May 5, 1994): B23.

Frey, Jennifer. "She's Long on Talent, Short on the Serve." New York Times (September 7, 1994): B17.

"Goodbye, Gaby! Farewell With Few Regrets." The Advertiser (October 26, 1996): 58.

Honeyball, Lee. "Don't Cry for Me." Sunday Herald Sun (April 7, 2002): Z14.

Honeyball, Lee. "Whatever Happened To? Gabriela Sabatini." The Observer (February 3, 2002): 22.

Jenkins, Sally. "A New World Order." Sports Illustrated (March 18, 1991): 66.

Jenkins, Sally. "Gabriela Sabatini." Sports Illustrated (June 6, 1994): 60.

Kervin, Alison. "Model Competitor Setting Example by Continuing to Court Success." The Times (July 2, 2002): 36.

Newman, Bruce. "Talk About Net Gains." Sports Illustrated (May 2, 1988): 52.

Penner, Degen. "Egos & Ids; Tennis, Music and Perfume on Her Mind." New York Times (November 14, 1993): section 9, p. 4.

Picker, Al. "Game, Set, Match: Sabatini Bows Out." Star-Ledger (October 23, 1996): 59.

Roberts, John. "Sweet Smell of Success Off Court for Sabatini the Underachiever." The Independent (January 7, 2002): 7.

"Tennis player Gabriela Sabatini." Christian Science Monitor (August 31, 2000): 19.

Wolff, Alexander. "Upset Time." Sports Illustrated (September 17, 1990): 22.

Young, Josh. "When the Competitive Fire Finally Went, So Went Sabatini." Washington Times (October 30, 1996): 5.

Sketch by A. Petruso

About this article

Gabriela Sabatini

All Sources -
Updated Aug 24 2016 About content Print Topic