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At Slims, Sabatini Finds Security in UCLA Safety Gallatin : Tennis: World's fifth-ranked player has requested that the 6-foot-1, 215-pounder football player be assigned to her.

August 13, 1993|IRENE GARCIA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Donovan Gallatin has earned kudos as a collegiate football player, but in tennis circles the UCLA senior strong safety is best known as Gabriela Sabatini's favorite escort.

Gallatin, a former standout defensive back at El Segundo High and El Camino College, has spent the week working as a security guard at the $375,000 Virginia Slims of Los Angeles at the Manhattan Country Club in Manhattan Beach.

His assignment? Sabatini's safety.

On Wednesday, Gallatin spent 10 hours with the world's fifth-ranked player.

"I just took her around," Gallatin said. "I took her all over the tournament site."

Gallatin accompanied Sabatini to practice and watched as she trained for 45 minutes. Then he walked Sabatini to the locker room, where she prepared for a doubles match.

After watching Sabatini and partner Lori McNeil's match, Gallatin escorted Sabatini to the locker room, then had lunch with her.

When Sabatini went to watch Tracy Austin play singles on center court, Gallatin was at her side. He accompanied her to dinner that evening.

The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Gallatin met Sabatini at the Slims two years ago when he was a sophomore at El Camino.

As he walked by the locker room, Sabatini grabbed him and asked that he walk her out.

"Then her mother invited me to dinner," Gallatin said. "But I wasn't dressed for it so I didn't go that night."

For the past five years, El Camino football Coach John Featherstone has provided tournament coordinators with players to supplement professional security at the event.

Featherstone says Sabatini liked Gallatin from the start.

"She just fell in love with him," Featherstone said. "Gabriela specified that she wanted him."

Security has become a top priority for players in the aftermath of the April 30 stabbing of Monica Seles at the Citizen Cup tournament in Hamburg, Germany.

Tournament promoter Jerry Diamond says Sabatini has requested that Gallatin be assigned to her. On Tuesday night, he stood behind the courtside box seats while Sabatini played singles.

"She likes him and he takes care of her," Diamond said. "She feels safe with him. I'd feel safe with him too."

Gallatin says Sabatini, despite her success and popularity, is shy and down to earth. During the '91 Slims, Gallatin and Sabatini went to a movie and dinner on several occasions.

"The first time we saw 'Terminator II,' then we went to the Kettle in Manhattan Beach," Gallatin said. "Everywhere we went everybody recognized her. The only time we were truly alone was when we were driving."

And who paid for the outings? Although Gallatin is a student and Sabatini a millionaire, he insisted on treating.

"She's still just a girl and when you take a girl on a date you pay for it," he said. "I made her drive, though."

Gallatin says he learned a lot about Sabatini during their time away from tennis.

"She's just a normal person," he said. "We talk about everything except tennis."

Gallatin was not at the tournament Thursday because he had to move into the dorms and take a physical and conditioning test for football camp.

He may not make it today because UCLA has scheduled media day and he must also attend a team meeting.

Depending on his football schedule, Gallatin may work the event Saturday and Sunday.

Gallatin, a 1991 community college All-American, holds El Camino records for most tackles in a game (20) and career (205).

Last year, as a reserve for the Bruins, he had 28 tackles and a sack. Gallatin is contending for a starting position this fall.

"He's good enough to play in the NFL," Featherstone said. "He was just a fabulous player for us."

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