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OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Tennis: Spaniards fall to rising stars

A STRANGER to tennis might have assumed yesterday's women's doubles final in Barcelona was an all-Spanish affair; Fernandez and Fernandez has an Hispanic ring to it after all. But the home country won only the silver medal, the gold went to the United States.

Gigi and Mary Joe Fernandez (no relation) beat Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Conchita Martinez (little playing relation) 7-5 2-6 6-2 to complete an American clean sweep of the women's medals after Jennifer Capriati won the singles. Someone, somewhere in Spain, will be distant cousins to the winners, but to everyone else the result was not what was required.

The Fernadezes are American by extension, Gigi having been born in Puerto Rico and lived there for 20 years, while Mary Joe hails from the Dominican Republic. But both willingly clung to their adopted country yesterday, decorating their caps and dresses with Stars and Stripes. 'I'm happy to win for my country,' Gigi said afterwards, although which was a matter of debate.

'When I chose to play for the US it was controversial,' she said, 'but perhaps people now will understand why I did it. If I'd played for Puerto Rico I'd be back home because there's no way I'd have had as good a partner as Mary Joe. I'm pleased for the people of America and Puerto Rico.'

The match was a less happy pile of breakages, the server surrendering games 13 times. What remained intact throughout, however, was Gigi's awareness of where the ball should go for maximum effect. Usually that was straight down the middle as the Spanish duo, both Barcelona residents, clearly are not happy neighbours on a tennis court. After you Conchita, no after you Arantxa, was the theme.

Gigi Fernandez, who has topped the women's doubles rankings twice in her career while never rising above 17 in the singles, is the Wimbledon and French Open champion with her partner Natalia Zvereva and yesterday she used all her experience to guide her relatively inexperienced partner. She held more talks than a trade-union official, calling the shots and deciding the tactics.

It went wrong only for a spell of six games when the King of Spain arrived and inspired his subjects to a higher plane. Gigi's serve disintegrated - 'I've been serving well for three months so I don't know what happened' - and it was only when she pieced it together again that the Americans rattled off four games in succession to win in two hours exactly.

It was a victory of transient importance because both winners have different partners for the US Open. Of more significance is Capriati's first ever victory over Steffi Graf in the singles final on Friday. The United States has not had an American-born woman winner of a Grand Slam event since Chris Evert retired, so Capriati's gold medal in Barcelona is being seized upon gratefully as the next best thing.