Monica Seles and Gabriela Sabatini played a match for the ages.
The Result: Monica Seles def. Gabriela Sabatini (New York, 1990), 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2
The Setting: After a couple of seasons of historic dominance by Steffi Graf, parity crept back into the women’s game in 1990. Nowhere was this more evident than at the game’s biggest events, the Grand Slams, where there were four different winners. Two of those champions—Monica Seles (French Open) and Gabriela Sabatini (US Open)—battled through the 16-player field at the WTA Championships in New York to face each other for the second time in their careers.
Sabatini had won their previous match in 1988, when Seles was only a 14-year-old amateur. But a lot had changed in two years for Seles, who had established herself as a threat to Graf’s reign.
The Final: As was her style, Seles got on top quickly, winning the first set 6-4. Sabatini, though, wasn’t dismayed. No longer content with looping heavy groundstrokes, the Argentine became more of an attacking player—a style that contributed to her upset of Graf at the US Open that year for her first Slam title. Mixing it up with an all-court style on the quick carpet surface, Sabatini won the second and third sets. However, sustaining momentum against Seles was hard to do, with her two-fisted groundstrokes and devastating return. She won the next two sets fairly easily, becoming the youngest year-end champ, right before her 17th birthday.
That’s how many years had passed since the last five-set women’s match was played, in 1901 at the U.S. National Championships.
Seles finished the year ranked second behind Graf.
The Championships was Seles’ ninth title of the year.