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TENNIS PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIPS : 'Hometown' Crowd Helps Sabatini Defeat Graf

March 20, 1992|From Associated Press

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — Gabriela Sabatini fell behind before overtaking Steffi Graf with the help of a wildly supportive crowd.

Jennifer Capriati fell behind and stayed there.

An aggressive Sabatini rallied past her archrival, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1, in Thursday night's semifinal in the International Players Championships. Earlier, a weary Capriati lost to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, 6-2, 6-4.

Sabatini will try for her third tournament title this year Saturday against Sanchez Vicario, seeking her biggest championship since taking the 1989 French Open.

In the men's semifinals today, top-ranked defending champion Jim Courier plays Michael Chang and Jakob Hlasek faces Alberto Mancini.

A crowd of 11,554 was firmly behind the third-ranked Sabatini, an Argentine who has a home in Key Biscayne. Many fans chanted "vamos Gaby" (let's go) early in the match, and when she won the tiebreaker, they gave her a standing ovation.

"It's very special to play here," said Sabatini, who won the 1989 title at Key Biscayne and has won seven matches in a row against Graf in Florida. "The crowd always supports me so much. It helps me to keep fighting and staying in the match."

Sabatini twice rallied from a service break down in the second set before taking charge of the match. Trailing 40-love in the opening game of the third set, she won five consecutive points to break Graf, then held her own serve at love.

"I let the crowd get into it," the second-ranked Graf said. "They got psyched up when it was close. They realized Gaby had a chance to win. She was getting confident at the end."

In the final set, Sabatini had 12 winners and just one error.

"I played a very good third set," she said. "I came to the net much more. At the end it looked like Steffi wasn't trying very much."

"I was so tired," Graf said.

Sanchez Vicario used relentless groundstrokes to beat Capriati, who had defeated Monica Seles on Wednesday.

"I changed the pace and moved the ball very well, and she was not in a position to hit it hard," Sanchez Vicario said. "When she runs is when she makes mistakes."

Capriati, who said she had trouble falling asleep Wednesday night after upsetting Seles, made 32 errors to 14 for Sanchez Vicario. Capriati never broke serve.

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