Tennis: Neiland sends Martinez packing: Wimbledon champion barely puts up a fight and makes a hasty exit

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The Independent Online
WITHOUT suggesting that Conchita Martinez performed like a fly-by-night, it took the Wimbledon champion 40 minutes less to lose in the quarter-finals of the pounds 250,000 international tournament here yesterday than she would have spent travelling on a private jet hired by the organisers to take her to her coach's wedding in Switzerland today. She duly cancelled the return charter and booked a one-way scheduled flight at her own expense.

Such was the disappointment of Martinez's capitulation, 6-1, 6-3 in 51 minutes, against Larisa Neiland, of Latvia, that the majority of the spectators would not care if the top seed had to use crampons in order to reach the mountain-top nuptials.

Even Neiland seemed somewhat embarrassed, if not entirely surprised, at the ease of her victory. 'I had the feeling that if I won the first set I would win the match,' she said. 'You could see in her face that she was not ready to give me a fight.'

The Spaniard was unrecognisable as the player whose breathtaking passing shots had beaten Martina Navratilova in the Wimbledon final. Her serve was broken in the opening game and she became a lethargic victim of Neiland's attacking style until 4-2 down in the second set.

Martinez then flickered to life, pouncing on her opponent's second serve and breaking for the first time with an unstoppable forehand drive. Apparently stunned by the success, she won only one of the concluding nine points.

'I guess I didn't play my best tennis,' Martinez said without fear of contradiction. 'It's difficult to play against her, because she doesn't give you any rhythm.

'I wasn't thinking about the wedding,' Martinez insisted, 'that wasn't a distraction.' Perhaps not, though she is known not to enjoy early matches and would not have relished being scheduled to play at noon. This was done at the request of her coach, Eric van Harpen. The bridegroom-to-be was keen to return to Switzerland last evening to finalise the arrangements, leaving Martinez and Gigi Fernandez to travel by private aircraft this morning.

The Lawn Tennis Association, underwriters of the tournament, had agreed to split the pounds 5,000 cost of the charter with Martinez. This seemed a reasonable deal to persuade her to accept a wild card as a replacement for Steffi Graf.

To meet her deadline for the wedding, Martinez had to play on three consecutive days, with her quarter-final brought forward by 24 hours.

Shortly after the defeat, the charter company was informed that its services were no longer required, and Martinez agreed to her half of the cancellation fee, pounds 600, being deducted from her prize-money, pounds 5,700.

The tournament also lost the fourth-seeded Anke Huber, who was beaten by Nathalie Tauziat, of France, 7-5, 6-4. Jana Novotna, the defending champion, defeated Patricia Hy, of Canada, 6-2, 6-2, to advance to the quarter- finals. Novotna plays the unseeded Katerina Maleeva, of Bulgaria, who outlasted Maria Vento, a qualifier from Venezuela, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4.

Ball debate, page 39