Gabriela Sabatini stepped on the brick dust of Roland Garros again on Tuesday. At the age of 53 – and 27 years after his last match as a professional – he debuted in the Tournament of Legends of the French Grand Slam with Gisela Dulko as a partner. But it was not a celebratory debut for the Argentine duo, who fell 6-4, 6-1 to France's Nathalie Tauziat and Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki. Equally, the porteña made it clear that her magic is still intact by throwing a "Great Willy" that made the audience explode in the second game of the final set. And beyond the defeat, they enjoyed the game very much.
"The beautiful thing about coming back here is being with the people and feeling the affection. There are always many Argentines. Stepping on this court is also a privilege. It was a nice match, I think the idea is that too, enjoy it and we did it," said Sabatini, who – like Dulko and his two rivals – spent a long time after the game signing autographs and posing for selfies with fans.
"It's a pleasure to be here again in Paris, playing with Gaby is another dream. Very grateful and very happy. The result, honestly, is what matters the least," Dulko said.
On the court, Wozniacki and Tauziat were more, especially because the Dane, 32 years old and retired just three seasons ago, brought out great tennis, almost at the level of the one that led her to be number one in the world in singles and win Australia 2018 and the WTA Masters in 2017.
The match lasted an hour and two minutes, in which Sabatini starred in a moment that filled Argentine tennis fans with nostalgia. It is that the second game of the second set, when he took 0-1 and 40-30, he was encouraged to throw a Great Willy with an amazing naturalness, to return a balloon of Wozniacki and stretch a point, which ended up closing his partner with a backhand volley.
"The nicest thing is to be in Paris, enjoy, to walk in this magical city and meet girls with whom I played and with others that I did not know so much. And start chatting about life," Sabatini added.
Despite the defeat, the Argentines were not left out of competition. On Saturday they will play another match of the women's draw against rivals to be confirmed. But they will also be on opposite sides of the net for a mixed tournament duel, which Dulko will play with Ukrainian Andrei Medvedev and Sabatini, with Sweden's Mats Wilander.
Sabatini and Dulko had already played the tournament last year. They passed the group stage with two victories (against the Americans Lindsay Davenport and Mary Joe Fernandez and against the Croatian Iva Majoli and the French Mary Pierce) and one defeat (with the also local Tatiana Golovin and Nathalie Tauziat). And in the final, they fell 1-6, 7-6 (7-4) and 10-6 to Italians Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone.
The porteña was never able to lift the trophy in Paris. He did win the junior title in 1984. The following year, already as a professional and with just 15 years, he played for the first time the main draw. He reached the semis and lost to Chris Evert. It reached that stage again in 1987, 1988, 1991 and 1992.
Although he was left with the desire to be crowned in Paris, Sabatini's career was full of successes. She won 27 titles, including the 1990 US Open, the 1988 and 1994 WTA Championships and silver at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. She also reached the third step of the world ranking, an achievement that no other player could match the singles.
Dulko, meanwhile, stood out as a doubles player, a modality in which she led the ranking and conquered, among others, the titles of the WTA Finals of 2010 and the Australian Open of 2011, together with Pennetta.
Three Argentine victories
In the run-up to Sabatini and Dulko's presentation, three Argentines celebrated at Roland Garros.
The most outstanding triumph, for the instance and the rivals, was that of Horacio Zeballos and his partner Marcel Granollers. The Marplatense and the Spaniard, tenth seeded of the men's doubles draw, went down to the top favorites, the Dutch Wesley Koolhof and the British Neal Skupski. It was triumphed by 6-3 and 7-6 (7-4) in an hour and 33 minutes, to get into the semifinals.
In that instance they wait for the Germans Kevin Krawietz and Tim Puetz (11th) or for the American Austin Krajicek and the Croatian Ivan Dodig (4th). The pair will try to get into the final of a "big" for the third time, after the US Open 2019 and Wimbledon 2021.
Gustavo Fernández debuted on the right foot in the draw of the men's wheelchair tournament. The Cordovan, third seed, defeated American Casey Ratzlaff 6-0, 6-3. In the quarterfinals, he will face Japan's Takuya Miki, who beat local Stephane Houdet 6-4, 6-2. The Cordoban seeks his third title in the contest, which he already won in 2016 and 2019 (that year, also in doubles), and his sixth Grand Slam.
Florencia Moreno did not suffer the same fate and was eliminated in the first round of the women's wheelchair draw. The player born in Cañuelas lost 6-3 and 6-2 to the German Katharina Kruger.
On the other hand, Fernando Cavallo advanced to the third round of the junior tournament by beating Spaniard Alejo Sanchez Quilez 7-6 (7-5), 2-6, 6-4. His next opponent will be Austrian Joel Schwaerzler, seeded 15th.