NEW YORK, NOV. 14 -- U.S. Open champion Gabriela Sabatini capped a roller-coaster match tonight by taking the third-set tiebreaker and edging Jana Novotna, 6-1, 5-7, 7-6 (7-3), in the final first-round match at the Virginia Slims Championships.
Second-seeded Monica Seles ousted Barbara Paulus, 6-2, 6-2, and No. 4 Mary Joe Fernandez defeated Nathalie Tauziat, 6-1, 7-6 (7-3). No. 7 Zina Garrison was the only seed not to win in the first round of the 16-player tournament. In the quarterfinals, top-seeded Steffi Graf goes against No. 6 Katerina Maleeva, Sabatini vs.t Conchita Martinez, Fernandez vs. No. 8 Manuela Maleeva-Fragniere and Seles vs. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.
No. 3 Sabatini zipped through the first set, dominating baseline and net. Whatever she tried worked, and she tried everything. "I think I was playing perfect tennis until 5-2" of the second set, she said.
Twice she served for the match -- and even had a match point, only to lose it on a net cord.
Then Novotana won five straight games to tie at a set apiece.
They traded breaks to begin the third set, and again in the fifth and sixth games. With Sabatini serving at 4-5, Novotna won the first three points, giving her triple match point. But Sabatini won the next five points to hold. In the 12th game, Novotna had a fourth match point. Again Sabatini held. Sabatini took a 5-2 lead in the tiebreaker en route to the win.
"Suddenly, in a match I was very much down and I didn't expect much, I had three match points," Novotna said. "I was a ball away from the match. . . . I should have won it."
Martina Navratilova had arthroscopic surgery on both knees today in Vail, Colo., and faces six to eight weeks rehabilitiation.