Tennis: Variety of Fernandez settles the finale

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reports from Brighton

The final women's international indoor tournament to be held here for the foreseeable future ended yesterday with the American, Mary Joe Fernandez, receiving pounds 50,000 and lifting the singles trophy, the last in a line of Virginia Ruzici, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Sue Barker, Sylvia Hanika, Steffi Graf, Gabriela Sabatini and Jana Novotna.

The tournament has been sold overseas because of lack of sponsorship, which is not unrelated to the difficulty in attracting leading players in recent years. Fernandez, who defeated the South African Amanda Coetzer, 6-4, 7-5, is the only winner to have entered with a wild card, and she admitted that she would not have come had she been fit to play in Zurich or Filderstadt in the weeks prior Brighton. The autumn schedule is difficult, Fernandez pointed out, "and the last event in Europe is tough to play''.

A semi-finalist in 1992, but eliminated in her opening match a year ago, Fernandez has suffered more from injuries and illnesses than the majority of players on the WTA Tour. She recently discovered that she has a type of asthma, and this event is her first since the US Open in September.

"During the Open," Fernandez said, "Steffi [Graf] came up to me and said she really understands now what I go through, the frustration of having to stop and start again without being able to practise." Brighton was also the scene of Graf's first venture on a court since the US Open, after resting her suspect back and facing tax officials, and the six- times champion was swept aside in her opening match.

Fernandez, seeded No 4 and projected to meet Graf in the semi-finals, made the most of the opportunity created by the Wimbledon champion's abrupt departure. Coetzer, the seventh seed, strode through a lower half of the draw lightened by the early elimination of Jana Novotna, who had won the title in the previous two years.

Although Coetzer had lots of happy returns on her 24th birthday, her serve proved less stable than her opponent's in a final which produced 14 breaks in 22 games. There were seven breaks in the opening set, Coetzer holding once, after Fernandez had created two points for 5-1. The American's double-faults helped to prolong the set.

Coetzer broke in the opening game of the second set, but was unable to build on the success, Fernandez being the first to hold in the fifth game. Even when Coetzer had a chance to level the match after breaking for 5-4, she netted a backhand to lose a rally on the crucial point of the 10th game.

Although errors predominated, Fernandez at least offered a wider variety of stokes, frequently teasing her opponent with drop shots to break the routine.