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Mentally I’m not as strong as before: Conchita

Rome: Veteran Conchita Martinez is not ready to give up tennis, despite the young and hard-hitting opponents she must face at every turn.

Martinez proved her resolve on Monday by ousting ninth-seeded and 2001 champion Jelena Dokic of Serbia and Montenegro from the $1.3 million Italian Open.

“I was surprised by how I played and how I could keep up with her mentally and physically,” Martinez said.

The 31-year-old Spaniard overcame Dokic 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 in a long-fought first round match. Martinez was solid from the baseline and allowed her opponent to make most of the mistakes.

“She didn’t do very much,” Dokic said. “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.”

Martinez broke Dokic to serve out the third set, aided by cheers of Vai Conchita! from the partisan Foro Italico crowd. Martinez, now ranked 27th, won this event four consecutive times between 1993 and 1996 and some of her strongest supporters still live here.

Martinez, the 1994 Wimbledon champion, says her current goal is to climb back into the top 10, but “my dream is to win the French Open.”

The Italian Open is considered a key clay-court tune-up for Roland Garros.

Still, the patience and consistency that Martinez hopes will bring her new glory are in stark contrast with the way most of today’s top female players conduct their game.

“Everybody wants to hit really hard these days,” Martinez said. “They are all very good players and they all are very fit these days, so it’s hard to be motivated every day to play.”

But having strong opponents doesn’t mean the veteran player wishes to retire.

“I’m not ready yet. I guess there is a day that comes and you say ‘ok, this is it. I can’t do it anymore,’ but we’ll see,” Martinez said. “Matches like this, beating Dokic today, give me the strength to go on.”

In the second round, the Spaniard will play Emmanuelle Gagliardi of Switzerland, who beat Jelena Jankovic of Serbia and Montenegro 7-5, 2-6, 7-5.

Earlier Monday, Frenchwoman Nathalie Dechy beat qualifier Ashley Harkleroad of the US 1-6, 6-3, 6-2.

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