Martinez capitalises on error-strewn performance from Dokic

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The Independent Online

Conchita Martinez added another impressive victory to her long list of conquests in this ancient city. The four–time champion defeated ninth–seeded Jelena Dokic 6–4, 3–6, 7–5 here yesterday, in the first round of the Italian Open.

Conchita Martinez added another impressive victory to her long list of conquests in this ancient city. The four–time champion defeated ninth–seeded Jelena Dokic 6–4, 3–6, 7–5 here yesterday, in the first round of the Italian Open.

Aided by cheers of "Vai Conchita!" – "Go Conchita" – from the partisan Foro Italico crowd, Martinez broke Dokic to serve out the match. Now ranked 27th, Martinez won this event four consecutive times between 1993 and 1996, when she was a mainstay in the top–five, and some of her strongest supporters still reside here.

Martinez improved her overall match record in Rome to 46–7. "It's always nice to be in Rome," she said. "I had so much success here."

With Martinez' consistent game contrasting greatly against Dokic's hit–or–miss approach, the Spanish veteran had the last word. "I was surprised how I could keep up with her physically and mentally," Martinez said. "In the last weeks I wasn't practicing so well. I had a shoulder injury and my confidence was not very up."

Martinez took a 6–5 lead in the head–to–head matchups against Dokic. After taking the first five matches against the Serbia–Montenegro native, Martinez had lost the last five meetings, including a semi-final match here in 2001.

"It's hard to find your motivation every day," Martinez said. "But winning like I did against Dokic gives me strength to continue."

Martinez employed her usual style of keeping the ball in play as long as possible, while Dokic produced several outright winners – and unforced errors.

"She didn't do very much," said Dokic, who won this tournament in 2001. "I think she's never played worse with me. Of course I also played my worst, it was as if I was just playing against myself.

"Right now I'm struggling a little against myself and I'm losing a few matches. I just hope a change comes quickly. Mentally I'm not as strong as I used to be."

This US$1.3 million event is a key clay–court tuneup for the French Open, which begins May 26.

American qualifier Ashley Harkleroad got beaten by French veteran Nathalie Dechy 1–6, 6–3, 6–2. Harkleroad has seen her ranking jump 200 points in little more than a year following her semifinal run in Charleston, South Carolina last month. She is now ranked 57th.

After storming through the first set, Harkleroad lost her serve midway through the middle frame before getting broken three times in the final set. The 24th–ranked Dechy held at love and watched as Harkleroad's backhand sailed long on match point.

Playing alongside Harkleroad and Dechy on Foro Italico's outside courts were two more Americans. Chicago native Laura Granville eliminated 15th–seeded Arizona resident Meghann Shaughnessy 7–5, 6–3.

The first seeds to advance were South Africa's Amanda Coetzer (No 14), who rallied past Iroda Tulyaganova of Uzbekistan 2–6, 6–3, 6–0; and Israel's Anna Pistolesi (No 16), who swept aside Elena Tatarkova of the Ukraine 6–0, 6–4.

Top–seed and defending champion Serena Williams has a first–round bye and does not play until Tuesday.

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