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Champion’s Alley: A series looking at the former champions at the WTA Finals. This week, Mark Hodgkinson focuses on 2-time champion Gabriela Sabatini.

Such was Gabriela Sabatini's poise and style on a tennis court that she would produce and sell a perfume called 'Elegance'. But elegance can only take you so far. What people tend to forget is that the Argentine wouldn't have twice won the WTA Finals at New York's Madison Square Garden if it wasn't for her mental hardness, her toughness. Perhaps that could have been bottled as 'Fortitude'.

The first of her titles came in 1988; it was the biggest prize of her career to date, and she won it, beating Pam Shriver in the final, by having a strong mind (though her topspin forehand helped, too). The year before she had made the final, but had lost to Steffi Graf. "To be tough mentally is the biggest thing of all. Graf is the best at that, but it's what I have been learning to do. Before the match, I had a feeling I was going to win in three straight sets," said Sabatini, who appeared in her third final in 1990, when she lost a five-setter to Monica Seles, with the match lasting the best part of four hours. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of that final, Sabatini and Seles returned to Madison Square Garden this March to play an exhibition match, and it was plain how much affection the New York tennis public still has for both women. Sabatini and New York have always had a strong connection as it was in that city, in 1990, that she won her only Grand Slam.

Winning the WTA Finals is a special moment for any player; it was even more so for Sabatini in 1994 as it was her first tournament victory anywhere on the tennis map for two and a half years. "It's been very tough," Sabatini said after defeating Lindsay Davenport. "The best thing that could have happened to me is to finish the year winning and playing this way. It shows that the tennis is still there, and that I haven't lost my game."
Mark Hodgkinson is the author of 'Game, Set and Match: Secrets of the World's Top Tennis Players' (Bloomsbury, May 2015).