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Maleeva stops Fernandez in Bank of the West Classic

OAKLAND, Calif. (Nov 5, 1995 - 02:42 EST) -- Magdalena Maleeva took advantage of Mary Joe Fernandez's sudden back problems to post a 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 victory Saturday in the semifinals of the Bank of the West Classic.

Sunday's championship match will pit the second-seeded Maleeva of Bulgaria against Japan's unseeded Ai Sugiyama, who advanced by default when third-seeded Lindsay Davenport withdrew with a lower back injury.

Sugiyama, 20, will be playing in her first WTA Tour tournament final. She has faced the 20-year-old Maleeva once, dropping a 6-1, 6-2 decision in a Tokyo indoor meet earlier this year.

"She's improved a lot since then, but if I play as well as I did tonight, I should win," Maleeva said.

Fernandez and Maleeva had met once before, in the quarterfinals of a 1991 tournament in Milan, Italy, where Fernandez won in three sets.

Saturday's match pitted two players riding hot streaks. Fernandez, seeded fourth and ranked 11th in the world, was 10-1 in her last 11 matches. The seventh-ranked Maleeva is now 14-1 since being upset in the second round of the U.S. Open.

Trailing 15-30 at 5-5, Fernandez won the next three points to earn the match's first service break, then closed out the set with an ace.

But back problems in the second set plagued the much-injured Fernandez, who stopped play briefly to attend to her injury. She appeared all but ready to retire in the third set after Maleeva broke twice to go up 3-0, before rallying to bring it back to 4-5 with the serve. But Fernandez double-faulted on match point.

"This was my best match of the tournament," Maleeva said. "I did things I didn't know I could do."

Davenport withdrew from the tournament 10 minutes before her match with Sugiyama was to begin. After she apologized to the crowd and left, tournament officials staged an exhibition match between Sugiyama and Pam Shriver as a substitution.

"I tried to do everything I could to make it feel better," Davenport said. "I tried hitting some balls Saturday morning, but I can't go forward at all and I can't touch my knees, so any lower balls would have been tough."

Davenport's exit is the latest in a series of injuries draining the Bank of the West Classic of its biggest draws.

Monica Seles pulled out one day before her first match with knee problems, and Conchita Martinez took herself out of the draw with a leg injury. Defending champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario never planned on entering.

Sugiyama's toughest opponent on her way to the final was sixth-seeded Irina Spirlea, against whom she won a 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 second-round decision.