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Gabriela Sabatini to Retire

October 22, 1996 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ Gabriela Sabatini is set to retire Thursday, ending a career in which she was once one of the biggest stars in women’s tennis but has been unable to win a tournament in nearly two years.

The announcement is to come at Madison Square Garden in New York, where Sabatini captured the 1994 Virginia Slims Championships, her last victory in an important event.

The WTA Tour would not confirm the retirement, saying only the news conference was ``major″ and concerned Sabatini’s ``future″ in tennis.

A source close to Sabatini said Tuesday the retirement will take effect immediately, and there are no plans for the 26-year-old Argentine to play in selected tournaments or make a farewell tour.

Sabatini has been troubled by a stomach injury in recent months and was unable to play in the French Open and Wimbledon. She did not advance past the third round of the U.S. Open, a tournament she won in 1990, beating Steffi Graf in the final for the biggest victory of her career.

In Argentina, where Sabatini is the greatest female tennis player in the nation’s history, newspapers blared word of her retirement.

``Gabriela is Leaving Tennis″ and ``Gaby is Retiring From Tennis,″ the major newspapers La Nacion and Clarin, announced respectively in front-page headlines. Other papers published similar reports.

``She was one of the very few players who was a great competitor, but as soon as she came off the court she was a normal person,″ Monica Seles, speaking by conference call, said Tuesday. ``She had aura, she just shines. She had something that brings out the best in other people.″

Seles said she is puzzled why Sabatini never lifted her game to a higher level.

``She definitely could have won more grand slams for sure,″ Seles said. ``I don’t know why she didn’t; she had so much talent. Some of the volleys she could hit were unbelievable. It was just pure talent and great touch.″

Sabatini turned professional in 1985. Among the top 10 women players for nearly a decade and winner of 27 tournaments, Sabatini is now 29th in the world rankings, her play having steadily declined the last two seasons.

Her last title came in a tuneup event at the New South Wales Open in Australia in January 1995. In her last match, she lost in the first round to Jennifer Capriati last week in the European Indoor tournament in Zurich, Switzerland.