Tennis / Wimbledon '92: Sabatini ready for revenge - Ian Tasker on today's women's semi-final encounters

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The Independent Online
ONE GAME, lasting just two minutes and consisting of only three rallies and four points, was all that Gabriela Sabatini needed to complete her victory over Jennifer Capriati yesterday.

Sabatini, whose quarter-final was suspended at 9.01pm on Tuesday when she was about to serve for the match, strolled into the last four for the fourth time at Wimbledon, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, when Capriati, the 16-year-old sixth seed, played a weak forehand return of serve into the net.

Today's semi-finals will therefore feature the best four players in the world: Martina Navratilova, chasing her 10th title, against Monica Seles, in hot pursuit of the Grand Slam, in a re-run of the 1991 US Open final; and Steffi Graf, the defending champion, against Sabatini, in a repeat of last year's final here.

Sabatini, the 22-year-old No 3 seed from Argentina, will be anxious to dispel the memory of that three-set defeat by Graf, when she twice failed to take advantage of serving for the match.

'I think I have the game to beat her on grass,' Sabatini, the US Open champion of 1990, said. 'I was very close last year. I'm just going to have to be aggressive again and try to be very tough mentally.'

Sabatini, whose game has advanced towards the net under the guidance of her coach, Carlos Kirmayr, is certainly in the form to beat Graf, having lost just 27 games and only one set so far in the tournament. She has also beaten the German in seven of the last eight of their 32 meetings - the one recent blemish being here 12 months ago.

In contrast, Graf has been made to look ordinary in scrappy three- set victories over Mariaan de Swardt and Patty Fendick - opponents she would have taken apart a few years ago - and is anticipating 'a tough one'.

'I think for both of us the return is going to be a big key,' Graf, the 23-year-old No 2 seed, said.

The key to Sabatini's success over Capriati was, according to her victim, the variety in her play. 'One minute she is top-spinning and the next she is coming to the net and hitting these little dinky volleys,' the American said. 'She is hard because you don't know what she is going to do.'

The same could not be said of Graf. With three Wimbledon triumphs and seven other Grand Slam titles to her name, including the Golden Slam in 1988, there is no doubting her class, but equally there is no doubt she will prefer to stay deep and attack with her most potent weapon, her forehand. But as far as Sabatini is concerned, forewarned is forearmed.

That, however, might not be enough for Martina Navratilova. The 35-year-old nine-times champion, seeded fourth, knows exactly what Monica Seles will do. She will cling to the baseline and hammer the ball as hard as she can on every inelegant double-handed shot she can get her racket to.

Navratilova, who played her first Wimbledon before her 18- year-old opponent was even born, will have to serve well, consistently, and dominate from the net. If she does not, Chris Evert's passing shots will become a pleasant memory under a barrage of winners.

In last year's US Open final Navratilova managed to stay with Seles for the first set, which went to a tie-break, but crumpled to defeat in the second. A similar pattern saw her slump to 6-0 in the fourth set of the Virginia Slims Championship.

Her nerves, as well as her stamina, have become more suspect the older she gets. Seles, in contrast, seems nerveless, witness her gripping 10-8 final set against Graf at Roland Garros last month.

The pair have never met before on grass and Seles has never before reached the semi-final at Wimbledon, having been a celebrated absentee last year. However, she is on course for the Grand Slam after winning the Australian and French Opens, and has not lost in a Grand Slam event since the US Open in 1990. Astonishingly, she has lost only 25 matches in her entire professional career.

Navratilova - 'I've nothing to lose, I'm the underdog here' - will have the weight of her Centre Court experience, and expectation, with her; but if she is to inflict defeat No 26 on the world No 1 she will have to play one of the games of her life.