KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- She looked like the old Steffi Graf, winning the first set 6-0. But Graf wasn't playing the old Gabriela Sabatini yesterday in the Lipton tennis tournament.
The Sabatini of the '90s is a confident player who does not run out of hope or energy. The improved Sabatini climbed out of the hole and beat Graf again 0-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-1.
Sabatini now challenges Monica Seles in tomorrow's final. Seles, the defending champion and the No. 1 player in the world, trounced Mary Joe Fernandez 6-1, 6-2 in last night's semifinal.
If Graf was low on confidence after losing to Sabatini for the third time in a row at the Virginia Slims of Florida two weeks ago, the German may have hit empty now.
"I don't know what happened," said Graf, the top seed. "I was happy with the way I played the first set, and I still had a good feeling in the second set. After I lost that set, I couldn't hit a ball inside the court."
"I don't remember ever losing the first set 6-0 and winning the match," Sabatini said. "I never gave up. I kept fighting after I lost the first set. I knew I could come back."
Fernandez, who took Seles to 9-7 in the third set at the Australian Open, discovered that every time is a new match, too.
Seles, who was pushed to the limit against Jennifer Capriati in the quarterfinals, came out slugging. Fernandez managed a brief flurry, opening the second set 2-0, but there were no shades of a Sabatini-style comeback. Seles swept five games in a row, lost her serve, then broke Fernandez for the victory.
Seles is assured of keeping her No. 1 ranking. The only way Graf could have reclaimed the top ranking was to have won the tournament, while Seles lost in the semifinals.
"Gaby has been the player to beat, but Monica played well tonight," Fernandez said. "It should be quite a match."
The men's semifinals today sent top-seeded Stefan Edberg against David Wheaton and Jim Courier against Richey Reneberg.