Tennis: Martinez lands on right flight path: Love match results in complicated schedule for Wimbledon champion at Brighton

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The Independent Online
CONCHITA MARTINEZ, the Wimbledon champion, used to be so lazy, according to her coach, Eric van Harpen, that she kept a stick in her room so she could switch out the light without troubling to get out of bed. Here in Brighton, an alarm call could be in order.

The week had been set aside for Van Harpen to prepare for an important match: his wedding on Friday. Martinez had kept her diary clear of tournaments so that she could attend the ceremony in Switzerland. The WTA Tour then asked if she would help them out by playing at Brighton in place of Steffi Graf, the world No 1, who has a back injury.

Martinez agreed, with the proviso that, come what may, she would be able to attend the service. With this in view, the organisers have scheduled her first round match against Wiltrud Probst, of Germany, for today. Should the top-seeded Martinez advance, she will play again on Wednesday, and her possible quarter-final has been brought forward to Thursday so she can be guaranteed Friday off.

It has been arranged for a courtesy car to take her to Gatwick, where a private jet will transport her to Zurich. From there, a car will take Martinez to the lake of Lucerne, where she will join fellow guests on a four-mile boat trip before ascending Mount Rigi by cable car for the wedding ceremony and reception at the summit.

If Martinez is still involved in the tournament, the private aircraft will return her to Gatwick by 1am on Saturday. The first of the semi-finals is due to start at 2pm. Martinez will share the cost of the trip, pounds 5,000, with the organisers, the Lawn Tennis Association.

As far as George Hendon, the tourament director, is concerned that represents a bargain after the problems encountered in endeavouring to assemble a top-class field for the pounds 250,000 event.

Even before Graf was declared unfit for the second consecutive year, Hendon offered wild cards without success to the rehabiliating Jennifer Capriati and to Gabriela Sabatini. He was then asked to provide a wild card for Martina Hingis, the 14-year-old Swiss prodigy, only to discover that he was being used as back-up in case she failed to gain entry to next week's event in Essen.

Yesterday, Magdalena Maleeva, who would have been the No 4 seed, withdrew because of bruised ribs. The Brighton event none the less boasts five players from the top 20, with Martinez projected to contest the final with Jana Novotna, the defending champion.

Van Harpen has not always succeeded in vitalising his Spanish protege; indeed, the Swiss has been known to vent his frustration by interrupting Martinez's press conferences with invective, and on two occasions their association deteriorated to the point where they decided it was best to part company.

The way the long-suffering coach's methods and the player's undoubted ability clicked spectacularly at Wimbledon, particularly in the final, when a stream of passing shots left Martina Navratilova gasping, was a testimony to persistence.

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