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Talk About Net Gains
Bruce Newman
May 02, 1988
At 17, Gabriela Sabatini is starting to realize her vast potential on and off the court At 17, Gabriela Sabatini is starting to realize her vast potential on and off the court
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May 02, 1988

Talk About Net Gains

At 17, Gabriela Sabatini is starting to realize her vast potential on and off the court At 17, Gabriela Sabatini is starting to realize her vast potential on and off the court

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Apey sought to control that passion, and to sustain it for as long as possible, by keeping Sabatini's workouts light. But as her progress began to level off, that strategy increasingly became a source of friction within the entourage.

Daniel (Palito) Fidalgo, Sabatini's first coach in Buenos Aires, believes Apey was guilty of coaching malpractice. "Gaby's problem was lack of physical strength, not tennis," Fidalgo says, "and Apey didn't pay enough attention to that aspect of her training." As early as two years ago, other players recognized Sabatini's problem. "She seemed not to have as much direction as she could have had in her workouts," says Shriver. "I think she was ready to take a step up in intensity." Adds Dell, "Gaby was not happy with the level she was at. She was definitely stagnating."

The situation was complicated by the intensity of the personal relationship that had developed between Sabatini and Apey. "Pato was very much a father figure to her," Dell says. After Sabatini and Gimenez worked out together in San Francisco last year, she decided she wanted him to be her coach and asked her father if he would break the news to Apey. There has been speculation ever since that Osvaldo, jealous of Apey and tired of hearing about "father figures," was the one who wanted to remove Apey from the picture. "I don't think anybody can replace a father," Apey says, "but every time one of my players gets successful, always there is a little bit of jealousy from the parents."

In 1986, after 29 years as an executive with General Motors, Osvaldo left to take over the day-to-day management of his daughter's career. He now travels with Gaby and Gimenez. It seems unlikely that Osvaldo's presence will help Sabatini overcome the extreme shyness that has made her a virtual recluse on the tour. "Having a parent around all the time can be a double-edged sword," says Dell. "It will be hard for her to come out of her shell as long as she always has her father or mother to fall back on."

Sabatini armored herself against anyone who tried to get too close by refusing to learn English. "I think she speaks English better now," says Sukova, "but still she doesn't talk." A friend of the family's who has known Sabatini since she was 10 concedes that the real problem may lie elsewhere. "Gaby has tennis elbow in her personality," he says.

A few players have tried to get to know her better, but most have been politely rebuffed. Shriver decided during a tournament in Brighton, England, last year to break the ice by joining the Sabatini entourage for breakfast. Not once, but twice. "I must say, they were awfully quiet breakfasts," she says. "There's certainly an outgoing side of her, but it doesn't come out in the locker room or anywhere around tennis. The first couple of years, people take that in stride, but after a while it gets old. I think this year everybody would like to see her be more a part of the group."

The group probably shouldn't hold its breath. "I don't talk very much with the girls," Sabatini says. "Maybe I prefer the other players to come to me because I am shy."

"That sounds like a pretty arrogant attitude to me," says Evert. "Nobody wants to pass judgment on Gaby, but we've all gone out of our way to be nice to her." Evert says she understands the need to maintain a certain emotional distance from the other players. "I'm that way, too," she says, "but I at least say hello to people."

Well.

Outside the ladies' locker room, Sabatini's silence seems less a problem, even imbuing her with an air of mystery. "The more of a star you are, the more aloof you have to become," says Tinling. "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."

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