WIMBLEDON, England — This was Gabriela Sabatini’s coming-out party. She sat down, her eyes flashed, and the male reporters swooned.
At least, I think they swooned. Actually, I’m not sure what a swoon is. I’ve never seen a swoon. I’ve heard about a swoon. And from what I’ve heard, Sabatini is the kind of girl you swoon over.
“Gabriela, how did you feel you played?” someone asked.
The voice that answered was soft and delicate. And it spoke — for the first time at this tournament — in English.
“I lose,” she said, softly and delicately, “but . . . I play good.”
Did you hear that? She played good. Who cares? She had just lost to Martina Navratilova, 6-2, 6-2, and who cares? Everybody was staring. Those eyes, those lips . . .
“Was she a tough opponent?” someone asked.
“She was, I think . . . very good,” she said.
Did you hear that? Who cares? Her skin was olive, her hair cascaded down her back, her eyes were deep as a flamenco night, her smile was . . .
But wait. I’m rambling. Let me explain. In this line of work, you seldom see gorgeous creatures on the other side of your notepad. Creatures, yes. Big, ugly creatures with knee scars and tobacco in their cheeks and noses bent in half.
They smell, usually, like last week’s socks, and their voices are a cross between Mario Lanza and a Georgia state trooper.
SO MAYBE YOU CAN UNDERSTAND the light-headedness that comes over weary male sports writers when suddenly they are looking into the eyes of a South American beauty.
And maybe you can’t.
“Gabriela, what about her serve?” someone asked.
“It was . . . very good,” she said.
“Were you nervous playing her?”
“Yes. It was . . . good.”
All right. So she’s no Winston Churchill. Hey. She’s 16 years old — 16 going on 25, with every newspaper in this country putting words before her name such as “stunning Argentine beauty” or “cover girl” or, more to the point, “gorgeous.”
And it’s not just the newspapers. She played Navratilova at Centre Court Thursday — the youngest woman to ever reach a Wimbledon semifinal — and I will tell you this: The amount of camera time she got on British TV was not commensurate with the way she played.
She won only four games. She was lucky to last 53 minutes. But, boy, was she on that screen! Sitting down. Standing up. Grimacing. Smiling.
Some of you might see this as sexist behavior. And you are probably right. Then again, a lot of women here screamed for Pat Cash and Boris Becker this week. And mostly the men just shrugged and went for a beer.
So it doesn’t hurt tennis to have a pretty girl out there, provided she has talent, which Sabatini does. And if the male fans let their tongues hang out, the women can whack them with a program.
Or go have a beer.
USUALLY, SABATINI speaks through a translator. But Thursday, she went solo. I have to say it was all kind of fun, watching my colleagues stammer and drool as they interviewed her.
Fortunately, I did not sink to this level. I barely noticed Sabatini’s soft shoulders and gently sloping nose and sparkling white teeth and . . .
Excuse me. I have to wipe off my notebook.
Yes, I must admit, it is a different feeling addressing your interview subject as “Gabriela.” Say it. Gab-ri-eyyyllla. It rolls off your tongue with a gentle twist.
Not like “Bubba.”
And yes, it is not often you talk to someone who earns more than six figures, and can still walk into a high school and have 20 invitations to the prom.
So? Who cares?
“Did you read the newspapers that write how beautiful you are?” she was asked.
“Yes . . . sometimes,” she said.
“Well, what do you think?” she was asked.
“I think . . . ” She giggled and didn’t finish.
“Well?” someone persisted. “Do you think you’re as pretty as they say you are?”
“I think . . . yeah.” And she smiled, proving her point.
All right, you say, she’s conceited, too. Rich and young and conceited. Somebody ought to expose her for the pampered little fraud she is.
Yes. You are right. Absolutely. And the male sports writers of America will get right on that breaking story.
As soon as we come down from the ceiling.
CUTLINE Gabriela Sabatini