How I “Discovered” Gabriela Sabatini And She Umpired One Of My Matches - UBITENNIS
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How I “Discovered” Gabriela Sabatini And She Umpired One Of My Matches

A wildcard at Santa Croce due to a weird homonymy bungle. A Country Club final with Botswana at stake, and yet never visited. The sportsmanship of wheel-chaired interview after an unexpected loss.

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Gabriela Sabatini and Ubaldo Scanagatta - Roland Garros 2019

It seems impossible to me that Gabriela Sabatini is already turning 50. And also – go ahead and call me a sexist macho who gets diverted from the technical analysis of a player in order to dwell on her looks – it seems impossible to me that she can still as dazzling in her raven head. Actually, she might be even more beautiful than she was when she used to bewitch us with her magnificent one-handed stroke despite a bit of an androgynous gait, as if she’d just dismounted from her steed – she had built a broad pair of shoulders as well, in order to keep its harness in check.

 

It just seems impossible because I heard about Gabriela when she wasn’t even 14, and I witnessed one of her matches when she was 14 and a month. From that day onwards I have always cherished her, while keeping a respectful distance. Firstly, because in some way I felt as if I’d discovered her (even if it isn’t true), and, secondly, because she is the only world-famous tennis player who’s ever sat on the umpire chair to officiate one of my matches in their entirety! Factor in the fact that she came into the world on May 16th (St. Ubaldo’s day), and it should become clear why I never forget about her birthday.

As I mentioned, Gabriela wasn’t even 14 when Guillermo Salatino, an Argentinian friend and colleague, called me from Buenos Aires: “My dear Ubaldo, I need you to do me a big favour. There’s a girl here with otherworldly talent, she is yet to turn 14 but I promise you she’s phenomenal. She really wants to play at Santa Croce [Editor’s Note: a junior tournament in Tuscany], but her ranking isn’t high enough to enter the draw, so she is going to need a wildcard to do it. Trust me, she’s 100% worth it!”

Personally, I utterly and completely trust Guillermo and his tennis savviness. Before he became a great journalist, a TV and radio broadcaster for ESPN South America, he was an excellent player, among the Top 20 of his country. Thus, I called the deus ex machina of the Santa Croce event, Mauro Sabatini, a man of extraordinary passion, without whom the tournament would have never seen the daylight. I asked him whether said wildcard could be given to Gabriela, telling him about Salatino’s forecast for her.

As I was trying to play the Italian-roots card (Her grandparents emigrated from Potenza Picena, in the province of Macerata…) he immediately stopped me: “My dear Ubaldo, could I ever deny entry to a player who shares my surname?” Then he erupted in laughter – a great man.

I’ll cut it short. Gabriela arrived in Tuscany in April, if I remember correctly, and dominated the event, winning an all-South American final – her Brazilian opponent, Dias, hardly had the same career though. Mauro Sabatini was so amazed he would have adopted her if he could! He thanked me every single time we met, even if I hadn’t done much – all I’d done, really,  was asking him for a favour – but I have to say that Gabriela herself has thanked me more than once for that little push, even years later.

About a month later, Gabriela triumphed, under my curious gaze since I had not been present at Santa Croce, at a slightly more important junior event, none other than the French Open. At 14. Guillermo Salatino’s hunch was indisputably right, and it made me feel like a bit of a talent scout, albeit not at the same level as my peer’s. A couple years prior, so many of us were there, in Paris, in the press room of Court No.3 (which doesn’t exist anymore), marvelling at another wonderkid, a 12-year-old blondie, slender like reeds but with legs that were already long and a scary forehand – her name was Steffi Graf.

One-year Flash forward, to the April of 1985. Gabriela Sabatini was in Monte Carlo during the men’s tournament, which would be won by Ivan Lendl against Mats Wilander. I seem to recall that a junior event was taking place, either in the princedom itself or nearby on the Cote d’Azur.

As usual, the Country Club was hosting a tournament for journalists, and the final was between Guillermo Salatino and yours truly. The format was a single set to nine games. The winner’s prize was a trip to Botswana for two, paid for by a Monegasque travel agency, while the runner-up’s reward was an Ebel watch – a princely loot, as befits such a land.

That morning Gabriela showed up as well, delightful and incredibly sweet. The match wasn’t slated for the main court, obviously, but rather on one those terraced ones, up above the club. The closest and coziest seat was perhaps the umpire chair, and, for inexplicable reasons, it was Gabriela herself who ended up climbing it.

The match began. Gabriela, always shy but with a radiant smile, whispered the scores. I was appalling out of the gates: “3-0, señor Salatino!” As we switched sides, I told Guillermo: “Remember to send me a postcard from Botswana!”

“4-3 señor Scanagatta!” said Gabriela at even lower frequencies, but she looked like she was having a whale of a time, watching those two Over-35 blokes turn red like tomatoes while giving their all with their outdated game under the Monte Carlo sun.

“Ubaldo, you’re the one who’ll have to send that postcard,” panted Guillermo, to which I retorted: “I’d rather send it to Gabriela!”

We chugged along till the tie-break, at 8-8. I’m pretty sure I saved three match points at 6-8 down, but don’t hold me to that, and for sure I won’t be asking Gabriela for confirmation – and yet, somehow, I won.

Comes the denouement. I kept calling that shady travel agency for months, but it disappeared, bankrupting without fulfilling its due. Never been to Botswana, never sent any postcard. On the other hand, though, Guillermo flaunted his Ebel watch for years. A year later, to be fair, Bernard Noat, the then tournament director, gifted me with an Ebel too… and is to this day the favourite watch of my wife, Tiziana, whom I began to date the very same year.

About a month and a half after that unforgettable refereeing, Gabriela reached, at 15 years of age, the semifinals of the French Open, the youngest in the history of the tournament.

Other articles will dwell a little more on her sporting achievements, whereas I prefer to end on a further anecdote bonding the two of us. In 1990, I was sent for the first time to the Australian Open by the TV channel I worked for. A very humid and sticky heat, on Rebound Ace hardcourts that were a bona fide carnage for the players’ ankles, often sprained due to their owners’ shoes getting glued to the surface. Gabriela was among the victims, despite her N.2 seed, right behind Graf.

I had booked a TV one-on-one with her at the end of her third-round match. Gabriela had steamrolled past Frazier and Bollegraf, and was expected to do the same against Claudia Porwik, a German. Instead, she tripped during the opening set, and, despite getting promptly bandaged, there was little she could do, losing it with a score of 6-2 and retiring after a solitary game in the second set.

She left the centre court at Flinders Park – back then it was still called like that – on a wheelchair. Now, you tell me who else, man or woman, would have had the strength to show up in the press room after such an upset. But Gabriela showed up as if nothing had happened, and gave the interview she had promised. What an act of sportsmanship, and how amazingly educated had she been by her father Osvaldo – she’s just a fantastic person.

I took it badly when she retired at 26. I was distraught, because I thought it was happening far too soon, but her spark was extinguished. However, just like Bjorn Borg, another who had precariously retired at 26, Gabriela had already spent half her life, 13 years, fully immersed in professional tennis, breathing tennis, dreaming of tennis.

How could I not be fond of her, when, every time I’m lucky enough to run into her, she’s still so nice, so sweet, so caring? 50? I just cannot believe it.

Article translated with the assistance of Tommaso Villa

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Donna Vekic Splits With Coach, Disputes The Reason Behind Move

The world No.24 has questioned a statement from her ex-coach concerning the reason behind his departure.

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Croatia’s top women’s player has been left searching for a new mentor on the Tour after parting ways with her coach after more than two years.

 

Donna Vekic has confirmed that she is no longer working with Torben Beltz, who previously guided Angelique Kerber to two of her Grand Slam titles. Under Beltz’s guidance, the world No.24 reached three WTA Finals as well as the quarter-finals of her first Grand Slam at the 2019 US Open. Last year the 24-year-old also broke into the top 20 for the first time in her career.

News of the split was confirmed by Beltz after the German coach posted a statement on his Instagram account. In it, he cites ‘different views’ in practicing and scheduling as the reason behind them going separate ways.

“Unfortunately Team Donna and I had different views in setting up the practice and tournament schedule for the restart of the tour which is why we will go separate ways! Thanks Donna for the last 2.5 years, it was a great ride and I always enjoyed our time together. Good luck for you in the future. Ready for a new adventure,” Beltz wrote.

However, it appears that there is more to it than what Beltz has said. Taking to Twitter, Vekic called him out by questioning his view on why the two split. Although she didn’t comment on why the decision was made.

“Well this is the first time I’m hearing of different views in practice and tournament schedules…?” She wrote on Twitter.

The separation comes after what was a mixed start to the season for Vekic prior to the Tour suspension. In her first five tournaments she only won back-to-back matches in Adelaide and at the Australian Open. Her 2020 win-loss record currently stands at 5-5.

So far in her career Vekic has earned more than $4.2 million in prize money which is the fourth highest tally ever made by a female Croatian player. Petra Martic holds the record with $5,128,866 in earnings.

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Elina Svitolina Cast Doubt Over Playing Tournaments Without Points

Ukraine’s top tennis player says she still has many questions concerning the upcoming resumption of the WTA Tour.

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Elina Svitolina (@TennisChannel on Twitter)

Elina Svitolina has hinted that she may decide not to play in certain tournaments if they are unable to offer any ranking points due to the restrictions that will be in place.

 

The world No.5 has cautiously welcomed the upcoming return of competitive tennis, which will resume at the start of August in Italy. Since March all events have been either suspended or cancelled due to the worldwide health crises. Svitolina’s last played at the Monterey Open in Mexico where she defeated Marie Bouzkova to win her 14th WTA title.

Yet to outline her calendar for the remainder of 2020, the 25-year-old says she still has many questions regarding the resumption of the sport. This year’s US Open will be taking place behind closed doors with players being kept in what essentially is being described as a ‘bubble.’ They will also be undergoing COVID-19 testing throughout. Serena Williams has confirmed her intention to play in New York, however, rivals Simona Halep and Petra Kvitova are both undecided.

“It’s great that everything is coming back, of course, but there are a lot of questions. I think that it’s not just me,” Svitolina said during an interview with btu.org.ua. “At the moment, the conditions that we are offered are not ideal, because there will be many tests, plus isolation, it’s not clear what will happen with the points, with the money … It’s very difficult to say something.’
“If there are no points in a tournament, I don’t know if it makes sense to go and play, because the conditions are enough If you need to spend so much time in isolation, this also plays a big role.”
“I know that there will be more meetings, that this will be decided in the coming weeks.”

The WTA has yet to publish what the ranking point system will be like for the rest of the year and if there will be any changes. On Saturday Spanish newspaper Marca reported that the Palermo Open, which is set to be the first WTA event to get underway when the Tour resumes, is contemplating not issuing points.

Tournament director Oliviero Palma has confirmed that $225,000 in prize money will be awarded and they are hoping to welcome a limited crowd of roughly 500 people to the event in line with local rules. However, he has not commented on the possibility of not awarding any points.

“We believe that around 500 spectators can be present in the stands, divided between the two stands . At the entrance, the fans will have to go through a thermoscanner (to check their temperature),” Sky Italian quoted Palma as saying.

In regards to the US Open, Svitolina says she is confident that the event will be held in the safest possible way. Although it is unclear if she will be playing there or not. Last year she reached the semifinals of the Grand Slam before falling in straight sets to Williams.

“I believe that the conditions are still quite stringent. For example, according to the rule, if you get sick or you have any symptoms, then you can be removed from any round and isolated for 14 days,” she said.
“Some points that are still not known exactly how they will go are quite difficult for all players. I think that they will do everything the best for us. We will watch in the near future how everything goes. I hope that everything will turn out and we will slowly return.”

When and where Svitolina will return to action remains unclear, but she has already returned back to training. Over the coming weeks she will also play in a series of exhibition matches before the Tour starts again.

“I’m already starting to slowly get back into shape, I will play several exhibition matches: in Switzerland in a couple of weeks, also in Berlin . I’ll prepare, it’s good that there are such exhibition tournaments. They are small, there are 8-10 people participating, so the risk is less, everything is done without spectators. For me, these are good intermediate tournaments that now give me motivation to train and prepare.” She concluded.

Svitolina started 2020 by winning 11 out of 17 matches played. She is currently just 10 points adrift of Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin in the world rankings.

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Madison Keys ‘Looking Forward’ To Tennis Return Ahead Of Charleston Exhibition

Madison Keys is happy tennis is returning ahead of next week’s team exhibition in Charleston.

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Madison Keys (@AustralianOpen - Twitter)

Madison Keys is looking forward to the return of competitive tennis as she competes in an exhibition event in Charleston. 

 

The defending Volvo Car Open champion will play for the first time since the Australian Open next week when she competes in an exhibition event in Charleston.

Speaking to Journalists in a Zoom call, Keys is delighted that tennis is making its return, “Being able to have some of these tournaments back on the calendar has been really great even just for my mentality, just because I know I’m working for something,” Keys told wtatennis.com.

“I love that I not only get to work towards Charleston, but to be able to use this as momentum into getting back into matches and getting back into competing. I think all of us are super happy and lucky that we’re going to be able to do this.”

The American’s last match was a third round defeat at the Australian Open to Maria Sakkari but will start her preparations for August’s US Open next week.

Keys will captain Team Kindness against Bethanie Mattek-Sands’ Team Peace in a five day event that begins on Tuesday.

The two captains will get to choose seven other players to join their teams, with the following players also competing next week: Sofia Kenin, Sloane Stephens, Victoria Azarenka, Amanda Anisimova, Monica Puig, Ajla Tomljanovic, Danielle Collins, Alison Riske, Shelby Rogers, Genie Bouchard, Jennifer Brady, Leylah Fernandez, Emma Navarro and Caroline Dolehide.

Next week’s event will see a number of difference to a normal tennis event, with players calling their own lines as well as only one official being used, socially distancing applying for the players that are not participating, players holding their own towels and drinks and also no fans and media attending the event.

However none of these regulations affects Keys as she admitted to missing the thrill of competing, “Now we’re all like, please put me on a center court, break point down in the third, because I would love to have that feeling again,” Keys said.

“I think we all really just take for granted how much we love competing. And even those days where you lose, you get to go out and compete and you get to play a sport that you love, and I don’t think we’re ever going to forget that.”

Here is the schedule for next week’s event, which will be shown on the Tennis Channel for those in America:

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