On this day: Monica Seles downs Gabriela Sabatini in first WTA five-setter!



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On this day: Monica Seles downs Gabriela Sabatini in first WTA five-setter!

Between 1984-1998, the WTA Finals had a unique feature that required the very best from all the competitors to win the last and one of the season's most important titles, with the best-of-five finals! In the first seven editions, the title matches were wrapped up in three or four sets.

The tennis crowd had to wait until 1990 to finally see women's five-setter, the first one since 1901 when Elisabeth Moore made a stunning comeback against Marion Jones in the US Open final, prevailing 4-6, 1-6, 9-7, 9-7, 6-3.

Eighty-nine years later, the 16-year-old Monica Seles advanced to the final in only her second WTA Finals appearance, defeating 1988 champion Gabriela Sabatini 6–4, 5–7, 3–6, 6–4, 6–2 to write tennis history as the youngest winner of this event.

Super talented Serb born in Novi Sad became a force to be reckoned with that season, winning 54 out of 60 matches and conquering Rome, Roland Garros, and the WTA Finals among nine titles overall, enough to finish as world no.

2. Seles had to give her best to oust Sabatini on November 18 at the Virginia Slims Championships at Madison Square Garden, needing three hours and 47 minutes to bring the match home and lift the trophy that completed her fantastic season.

It was an impressive encounter between two young girls who just won their first Majors earlier in the season, providing a battle of contrast and different styles that kept the crowd on the edge of their seats for almost four hours.

Sets and time passed by as they both refused to surrender, giving their best not to think about the physical exhaustion and set eyes on the prestigious trophy. Monica drew first blood in game three with a return winner before Sabatini pulled the break back immediately with a forehand down the line winner.

Seles gained another lead after a double fault from Sabatini at 3-3, cementing the advantage to move 5-3 in front. In game nine, Gabriela had to work hard to stay in the set, holding after eight deuces and two set points offered to Monica, with the Serb serving for the opener in the next game.

She did that in style after a drive volley winner, clinching the set 6-4 and taking the first leg of this marathon duel. Carried by this momentum, Monica broke at the beginning of the second set after another lengthy game, placing a return winner far away from Sabatini's reach to seize full control.

Nonetheless, Gabriela recovered her game and was back on level terms following a break in game six thanks to another good net approach, only to lose serve at 4-4, allowing Monica to serve for the set. With no room for errors, Sabatini broke back in the last moment, delivering another classy volley to level the score at 5-5 and prolong the set that she had to win if she wanted to stay in contention.

The Argentine held at love in game 11 and forced Monica's error a few games later to notch her second straight break and steal the set.

In 1990, the 16-year-old Monica Seles defeated Gabriela Sabatini in five sets.

Seles couldn't convert a break chance in the third set's third game and Sabatini fended off another one with a smash winner at 3-3 to keep her serve intact.

Monica missed her chances to gain the lead, but Gabriela didn't, scoring a break at 4-3 with another slice approach and a good volley to forge the advantage and serve for the set in the next game. She wrapped it up with an ace and was the favorite to bring the victory home, moving just a set away from the title.

With no room for errors, Monica repelled two break points at the beginning of the fourth set, gaining a boost and breaking in game two with a cracking forehand down the line winner. Sabatini didn't stay behind for too long, pulling the break back in game five after a massive error from the young Yugoslav.

Seles stepped in again in game eight, opening a 5-3 lead when her rival sprayed a forehand mistake. Monica had everything in her hands, although it wasn't to be for her in that game, as Sabatini broke back to reduce the deficit to 5-4, looking good to seal the deal in four sets.

Almost nothing could separate the rivals at that point, with 146 points for Sabatini and 145 for Seles. The younger player grabbed the momentum after breaking her opponent at 5-4 following a double fault from the Argentine, clinching the set 6-4 and forcing a decider, the first fifth set in women's tennis in 89 years!

Both players scored seven beaks so far, and Gabriela was in the position to catch another one in game two, only to be denied by Seles, who closed the game with an easy winner right after the serve to make the result even at 1-1.

She saved more energy for the last part of the encounter and Sabatini failed to follow that pace, getting broken in game four after netting a forehand, a shot that indicated the beginning of her downfall. Monica held at love in game five to jump into a 4-1 lead, and a service winner pushed her 5-2 in front, forcing Sabatini to serve for staying in the match.

The Argentine had nothing more left in the tank, suffering another break and allowing Seles to complete a fantastic victory with a crosscourt forehand winner. Monica finished a remarkable season in the best possible way and sent a clear sign to her rivals that she would come back for more in 1991.