One of the most affable women's tennis players ever to have held a racquet, 1990 US Open champion Gabriela Sabatini recently talked about her admiration for Roger Federer. The former World No. 3, who celebrated her 50th birthday on 16 May, has long shared cordial relations with the 20-time Grand Slam champion.
In an interview with the Argentine newspaper La Nacion, Sabatini spoke about how she has always enjoyed watching Federer in action.
"Obviously I admire Roger Federer. It is a pleasure to see him play," Sabatini said.
Federer recently floated the path-breaking idea of merging the ATP and the WTA tours, a move that he thinks would help tennis players fight their challenges together. His suggestion immediately found support from some of the biggest names of the sport including Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Billie Jean King. And now Sabatini has joined the list of people in favor of the idea.
Speaking to Argentine news website Infobae, Sabatini encouraged the move and called it a positive step. The 50-year-old is of the opinion that a merger would only serve the best interests of both the men and the women, and empower them immensely.
"I think it can be something positive, very positive," Sabatini said. "They are going to be strengthened and I think that it will be easier to defend the interests of each one, they will be a greater power and everything will be much easier. I see it very positive."
Sabatini's connection with Federer stretches beyond her admiration for the Swiss maestro's style of play. The Buenos Aires-born retired tennis ace now resides in Switzerland, which has brought her closer to the former World No. 1.
Being in the same country as the eight-time Wimbledon winner has led to Sabatini occasionally spotting Roger and Mirka strolling on the streets of Zurich. The Seoul Olympic silver medalist shared one such anecdote with German newspaper Bild, where she crossed paths with the Federers purely by accident.
"When we met once in the streets of downtown Zurich, it was a total coincidence," Sabatini said. "But it happened. I happened to be walking along Bahnhofstrasse, the city's main street, and he was there with his wife and daughters. That was a few years ago. It was pure coincidence, although we are always in contact. When he came to Buenos Aires, he visited me. I really admire him very much.
Mutual respect between Roger Federer and Gabriela Sabatini
Roger Federer on his part has always been in awe of the Argentine trailblazer. As he was coming up the ranks, a young Federer was even coaxed by the press to admit that she was his childhood crush.
That reverence and admiration for the Argentine phenom have remained intact over the years. Ever since Sabatini moved to Switzerland, she has shared a very good rapport with the Federer family. That was evident when she took the opportunity to show her gratitude to Federer during his exhibition tour of South America with Alexander Zverev last year.
The Argentine icon sent a lovely video message for the 38-year-old for coming to her native country.
"I had the chance to get to know you," Sabatini said. "We are very lucky in the tennis world to have you for all the good that you represent. And as a person you are the best."
That message made Federer reminisce his childhood days, and he recalled with great fondness how much of a fanboy he was of the popular Argentine.
"Gabriela Sabatini for me was like one of my favourite players growing up," Federer said. "I watched her rivalry with Steffi Graf and then Martina Hingis came. She also played Gaby."
Talking about the special friendship they share now, Federer went on to recount Sabatini's wonderful gesture of inviting Federer and his team to dinner on his earlier visit to Buenos Aires.
"Gaby's been fantastic. She invited me last time to her apartment here in Buenos Aires. I remember she did dinner for us."
Federer showed the same respect for Sabatini in a recent Twitter post, praising her both as a person and a player.