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Martinez’s Play Magnifies Pierce’s Faults : Tennis: Raymond defeats Testud to advance to today’s final.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Conchita Martinez calmly dismantled Mary Pierce in their Toshiba Classic semifinal match at La Costa on Saturday--slicing, dicing, spinning the ball and generally driving Pierce to distraction in a 6-1, 6-3 victory.

Afterward, she just as methodically dissected one of Pierce’s statements. Pierce contended that she should have led, 4-0, in the first set instead of trailing, 3-1, as she missed converting five break-point opportunities in that stretch.

“I don’t feel that way,” Martinez said. “I think I played good tennis to force her to make the errors. The last thing I will remember was that it was 6-1, 6-3.”

Game, set, match.

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Martinez, seeded second, will be trying to win her fifth title of 1995 when she plays No. 9 Lisa Raymond in today’s final. Raymond, 22, of Wayne, Pa., reached the third final of her career with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over unseeded Sandrine Testud of France.

Martinez and Raymond have played twice before, with Martinez winning each match in three sets, in 1993 at Philadelphia and in 1994 at Manhattan Beach. In fact, Raymond has made a habit of pushing many of the top-10 players to three sets before losing--Steffi Graf, Gabriela Sabatini and Jana Novotna, to name a few.

“Too many close matches and not enough wins,” Raymond said.

Here, Raymond has lost one set in four matches, mostly helped by her strong serve. She was broken once--by Gigi Fernandez in the quarterfinals--in 41 service games and her fastest recorded serve here was 100 m.p.h.

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“Lisa played much better than me, there’s nothing to say,” Testud said. “The main problem was that she served pretty good and I didn’t. It makes the difference today.”

Meanwhile, Martinez seems to be getting better in the later rounds. She needed to go three sets in each of her first two rounds and has lost only five games in the last two matches.

What helped her the most was an adjustment to the hard courts, coming off the grass-court season and then clay-court matches two weeks ago in Fed Cup play in her native Spain. Additionally, she altered her racket tension, decreasing it by a couple of pounds.

“It makes a huge difference, I think I can get more speed off the ball now,” Martinez said.

Pierce beat Martinez in their first meeting earlier this year, in the Australian Open semifinals. But Martinez has won two consecutive matches against Pierce.

“In Australia, Conchita didn’t hit high, heavy balls [like today],” Pierce said. “She played flatter and more aggressively. When they [the players] come to play me again, they do something differently and realize my weakest points. People change the way they play.

“It just depends on how Mary’s playing,” she added, speaking of herself in the third person. “Mary’s her own friend and her own worst enemy.”

Martinez has been trading places with Pierce in the rankings the last couple of weeks. Saturday’s result means that Martinez will go back to No. 3 and Pierce slips to No. 4. By reaching the final, Raymond breaks into the top 20 for the first time in her career when the weekly rankings are released Monday. WTA Tour officials said that she could either be 16th or 17th, depending on today’s final. Raymond, who is now ranked 22nd, lost to Magdalena Maleeva at Chicago in February and to Lindsay Davenport at Lucerne, Switzerland, last year in her two other finals.

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“Hopefully, the third time will be the charm,” Raymond said.


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