Tennis: Martinez makes the most of her conditioning: A Spaniard wins the Italian women's title for the first time since 1930 as Sabatini's serve lets her down

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The Independent Online
CONCHITA MARTINEZ defeated Gabriela Sabatini 7-5, 6-1 here yesterday to become the first Spaniard to lift the Italian title since the inaugural championships in Milan in 1930. On that occasion, Lili de Alvarez defeated Lucia Valerio, who was among the spectators yesterday, aged 88.

The female players have not always been an attraction at the tournament. Indeed, for five years in the 1980s, their event was not only held separately, but also moved to Perugia. Sabatini's arrival did much to improve matters, and the usual banners of support were unfurled in the Argentinian's honour for yesterday's final.

She was hoping to mark the 50th staging of the championships by equalling Chris Evert's record of five singles titles. Instead she was worn down by a determined opponent who eagerly attacked the weakest part of Sabatini's game: her serve.

The contest lasted two hours and one minute - 26 minutes of which was taken up by a marathon third game. Having held serve to love in the opening game and failed to convert a break point in the second, Martinez duelled through lengthy rallies to save eight break points. She was broken on the ninth, when Sabatini volleyed a backhand winner. The game comprised 13 deuces and 32 points.

One would have imagined Sabatini's form and confidence to have been lifted by taking a 2-1 lead after such a strenuous game. In fact, though breaking her opponent three more times and serving for the first set at

5-4, she was unable to hold serve in seven of her next eight service games. But for an impetuous forehand return into the net by Martinez off a second serve, Sabatini would have lost the second set 6-0.

It could be that the excitement of Sabatini's semi-final victory against the No 1 seed, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, 6-1, 6-3, on Saturday night had produced a sense of anti-climax, though she denied this. 'Yesterday's match was tough, but I didn't think the tournament was over,' she said. 'I knew I had another match to play.'

Dennis Ralston, who has coached Sabatini for three months, certainly had to console himself with thoughts of seeing her outplay Sanchez Vicario, who is now guided by his predecessor, Carlos Kirmayr.

For Martinez, who added dollars 150,000 ( pounds 97,000) to career prize money of dollars 1.44m yesterday's success was her most prestigious so far. Her resilient baseline style, allied to a hefty, if sometimes awry forehand, proved too much for Sabatini on the day. 'I think my conditioning is the biggest difference in my game now,' she said.

The men's event begins today, headed by the world's top two, Pete Sampras and Jim Courier, but in the absence of the Wimbledon champion, Andre Agassi, who has withdrawn because of tendinitis of the right wrist.

Michael Stich realised a childhood ambition when he beat Russian Andrei Chesnokov to win the German Open in Hamburg yesterday. Stich needed more than three hours to win 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 and become the first German to take the title since Wilhelm Bungert in 1964.

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