There are comebacks. And then there are comebacks. And then there’s what Mary Joe Fernandez did in her 1993 quarterfinal versus Gabriela Sabatini. Though each was a skilled clay-courter, Sabatini was even more dangerous on the dirt, her game at its best a smorgasbord of high and angled topspin, carved slices and deft volleys. She’d also won eight of her last ten matches versus Fernandez – though Fernandez’s two victories had come at Grand Slam events.
A trip to the semis seemed likely for Sabatini as she took a 6-1, 5-1 lead. With this match played on the circular, intimate Roland Garros court informally known as “The Bullring,” the Argentine appeared ready to spear her helpless opponent.
But then, toothpick by toothpick, Fernandez began to assemble points. Or did Sabatini start to lose them? Her first match point was lost ominously: a double-fault. Four more vanished. Fernandez won the second set in a tiebreaker, 7-4.
The third was tight, but not once did Sabatini hold a match point. Her serve, always the weakest part of her game, precluded the chance of any knockout blows. Fernandez, patient and calm, continued to drive deep groundstrokes, just forceful enough to jar Sabatini – and after three hours and 36 minutes, struck a backhand down-the-line winner to take the match, 10-8 in the third.
Said Fernandez after the match, “Never in doubt.”
She’d go on to crush Arantxa Sanchez in the semis, 6-2, 6-2, before losing a three-set final to Steffi Graf.
(with thanks to Randy Walker and Mikki Singh for their app, On This Day in Tennis History)
Read more articles by Joel Drucker
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