Mary Pierce was more than a pain in the neck for Conchita Martinez.

The Spaniard had won 24 straight matches at the Foro Italico, stormed through the draw without dropping a set and seemed poised for her fifth consecutive Italian Open title, a streak that would have tied her with Chris Evert.Then, early in the first set, Martinez felt a twinge of pain in her neck.

"I couldn't look up or to the right," the 1994 Wimbledon champion said after relinquishing the clay-court title she held for four years. "I couldn't do anything" from 2-2 in the first set, despite frequent treatment by a trainer during court changeovers.

Pierce, battling to get back into the top 10, took advantage and rolled to a 6-4, 6-0 victory in Sunday's women's final.

Martinez's ailment was reported as a cervical muscle spasm. She said she played in pain most of the match, although she did manage to break Pierce's service twice in the first set.

She also played her doubles final, explaining, "I have trouble when I serve, but you only serve every four games."

That didn't work out much better. Martinez and Patricia Tarabini of Argentina were beaten 6-2, 6-4 by Nicole Arendt of Gainesville, Fla., and Manon Bollegraf of the Netherlands.

The $2.3 million men's edition of the Italian Open started today, with top-ranked Pete Sampras looking to get his clay-court game in order ahead of the French Open, the only Grand Slam tournament played on the slow surface and the only one he hasn't won.

First-day action featured two-time defending champion and third seeded Thomas Muster against Italian wild card entry Marzio Martelli. Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek, seeded fifth a year after reaching the final in Rome, was slated to play another Italian, Diego Nargiso.

The draw features nine of the top 10 and 17 of the top 20 men's players, including No. 2 Michael Chang and No. 4 Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the reigning French Open champion.

It was Pierce's first title of the season, although she did reach the Australian Open final in January.

After a 52-minute first set, Pierce needed just 18 more minutes to nail down the match and a $150,000 payday.

Pierce missed three months with a shoulder injury before returning to the circuit in January. En route to the final, she ousted top-seeded Monica Seles, whose schedule has been limited to three events this season in part because of a broken finger.