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Capriati Routs Martinez to Win Title : Tennis: Defending champion wins again, 6-3, 6-2.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The biggest cheers of the day were in history’s honor.

A past tennis great--Chris Evert--was applauded.

A past tennis moment--an Olympic gold medal--was acknowledged.

The featured match of the day? Flatter than a day-old can of soda.

Polite applause followed Jennifer Capriati’s uninspired 6-3, 6-2 victory Sunday against Spain’s Conchita Martinez in the championship of the $225,000 Mazda Tennis Classic.

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After the one-hour match, the sell-out crowd of 5,200 at the La Costa Resort & Spa patiently watched the post-match formalities, including a short, on-court interview by Chris Evert.

Cheers for Evert were surpassed only by those cast at second-seeded and sixth-ranked Capriati for her golden achievement at Barcelona this summer.

Those who came to see Capriati defend her San Diego title may have remembered her rousing three-set victory won in a tie-breaker against Monica Seles last year.

While it may have been unreasonable to expect a replay of a match that caliber, they had to wonder if Evert might have been more competitive.

Even the crowd seemed to hesitate a moment when a television type thanked Capriati and Martinez for a “wonderful final.”

In all fairness, Capriati, 16, of Saddlebrook, Fla., did play well, as she has all week.

But her game Sunday was enhanced by the fact that third-seeded Martinez, 20, was playing hurt.

Since the Australian Open in January, Martinez, ranked eighth, has played with tendinitis that began in her right shoulder and has since moved down to her elbow.

The only time the arm hasn’t hurt was during the Olympics, where she won a silver medal in doubles while using a different forehand grip.

“It was pretty bad today,” Martinez said. “Especially on the serve. And my forehand is not the same. It’s tough to hit the ball.”

Injuries and San Diego crossed Martinez’s path last year, too. In the semifinals, Martinez lost to Capriati, 6-4, 6-0 and later complained of a foot injury.

But the loss was more difficult this time because she’d played well this year. Martinez won the Austrian Open in July and finished second to Seles, Steffi Graf and Gabriela Sabatini in three previous tournaments.

“It’s very disappointing,” she said. “I play some very good tennis (this year), maybe my best. I can’t be 100% because of my arm.”

Capriati broke serve three times--Martinez broke once--to win the first set, at which point Martinez took a three-minute injury time out to have her arm massaged.

“The pain is there, it’s not like I hit the ball and I’ll break my arm, but it’s there,” she said. “I can play, just not as good.”

Capriati was aware of Martinez’s injury, but because she didn’t take a time out earlier, she didn’t think it affected the outcome of the match.

“I thought I played well,” said Capriati, who won her second title in a row for the first time--although the Olympics isn’t an official tour stop. “I know she wasn’t totally on her game, because of her shoulder or whatever, but . . .”

What Capriati did was enough. She wasn’t as sharp as in Barcelona--said she didn’t want to be, yet--but she’s where she wants to be in time for her opener at the U.S. Open Tuesday against Nicole Muns-Jaegerman of Holland.

“I just think I’m playing well,”’ she said. “I didn’t totally want to be playing better than in the Olympics here, and just totally zoning on my games. Hopefully, when I get to the Open, it will be how it was in the Olympics.”

In the second set, Capriati never let Martinez closer than 2-1, when the Spainard broke her. But Capriati broke back and held serve for the 4-1 lead.

Martinez held serve for 4-2, only because Capriati mishit four consecutive shots, then the gold medalist won the next two games and the match.

To get to triple match point, Capriati returned serve with a sizzling cross-court forehand, then closed it out on another cross-court forehand winner.

In her quarterfinal and semifinal matches, and even in her opener early in the week, Capriati made it a bad habit of starting slow and playing comeback in the first set.

She was happy to rid herself of the problem, at least for a day. “I didn’t want to let myself do that again, because she’s a tough player and could probably stay on top of me,” Capriati said.

Now, it’s onto the Open, where she’ll have to stay on top of the media circus that will undoubtedly surround Capriati.

No problem, she said.

“It will be pretty hectic there, but it’s something you get used to,” she said. “You have to develop a thing to block it off and concentrate on your game. It just takes getting used to.”

San Diego’s gotten used to Capriati winning. Maybe during the Open, they’ll see matches where they’ll have more to cheer about.

Tennis Notes

Jennifer Capriati won $45,000 and a bright yellow Miata for her effort Sunday. She joked that the new car she won may go to a friend who is off to college in the fall, or it may stay in the family, to go along with the green Miata she won last year and her own yellow Cabriolet, a “beach car,” she bought earlier this year . . . Not a bad payday for Conchita Martinez either. She won $22,500 for her second-place finish in singles and another $3,375 for a second in doubles with Mercedes Paz of Argentina . . . In two years on the tour, Capriati has netted $1,070,965 in career prize money. In four years, Martinez has earned $1,102,920.


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