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Martinez Gets Revved Up Against Raymond : Tennis: As U.S. Open approaches, clay-court specialist tunes her hard-court game.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Conchita Martinez, full-time tennis player and free-lance motorcyclist from Spain, used to rarely stray from clay, acting as if she had cement phobia in her early pro days.

She conquered grass by winning Wimbledon in 1994. Now, Martinez has pushed herself into a select group of contenders for the upcoming U.S. Open on hard courts by winning the Toshiba Tennis Classic in decisive fashion. Martinez, seeded No. 2, passed and lobbed at No. 9 Lisa Raymond almost at will in a 6-2, 6-0 victory Sunday at La Costa in front of 5,924.

So, is she ready to win the Open?

“Well, why not?” Martinez said.

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Raymond is a believer. “A year and a half ago, I would have said no,” she said. “Conchita’s not just a clay-court player anymore. She’s a good hard-court and grass-court player now.

“She had an answer for everything today.”

Raymond struggled during the 68-minute match in all categories. She had five double faults, including two in a row to lose the first set. She had 11 unforced errors off the backhand and 30 in all. At the net, she converted only 18 of 51 points.

Martinez broke Raymond’s serve six times Sunday. Leading up to the final, Raymond had been broken only once in 41 service games. Additionally, Martinez fought off three break points during her second service game to take a 3-0 lead.

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In the second set, Martinez subdued the last Raymond surge by breaking serve again in an 18-point game to go up, 2-0.

“Right after the first set I felt it slipping away,” said Raymond, who for making the finals will move up to No. 17 in the world from No. 22.

“Down, 2-0, in the second, I knew I was in trouble. Those are the type of games that are very important. Winning a long game could have been a big boost. I think that was a very important game in the match.”

Martinez had more problems figuring out why she was assessed a code violation for time delay in the third game of the second set when she ran to the side of the court to throw some water on her hair. “I guess I was too slow,” Martinez said, smiling. “My hair was getting in my eyes. I finished the point and I went running. I said, ‘Next time, I’m going slow.’ I was really bad.”

After the code violation, Martinez whipped a backhand passing shot and pumped her first, yelling, “Come on,” at the chair umpire. “I wasn’t naughty,” she said.

Three games later, the match was over and Martinez took home a check for $79,500 and Raymond earned $35,000 for finishing second. The difference in experience was obvious. Raymond, of Wayne, Pa., was playing in her third final, and Martinez has appeared in 39. This was the fifth title for Martinez in 1995, but the other four were on clay.

Martinez believes her season changed on the clay courts at Hilton Head, S.C., in March and even pointed out the match.

“To be exact, 6-3, 3-0 down against [Iva] Majoli,” Martinez said. “I came back and won that match and won four straight tournaments. That seems to be the turning point.”

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Martinez will move back to No. 3, and she is taking at least one other present with her to this week’s event at Manhattan Beach. A 10-year-old ball boy from Chula Vista gave her a charm bracelet for luck.

“This sweet boy . . . he bought it with all his savings,” Martinez said. “I said, ‘Oh, my God.’ My heart was broken.”

No word on whether tournament organizers will let Martinez take the motorcycle she has been using here this week.

Said Martinez: “L.A. is not so far, only 45 minutes with this bike. One and half hours, I could handle it [driving]. With this bike it’ll be a little faster.”

Tennis Notes

In the doubles final, the No. 1-seeded team of Gigi Fernandez and Natasha Zvereva beat unseeded Alexia Dechaume-Balleret and Sandrine Testud, 6-2, 6-1, and did not lose a set in four matches.


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