Top-ranked Monica Seles beat back a tough challenge from Mary Joe Fernandez Saturday and will de Tennis

roundupfend her Italian Open title against second seeded Gabriela Sabatini.Sabatini breezed into Sunday's final with a 6-1, 6-0 victory over fifth-seeded Conchita Martinez of Spain. Seles, however, needed two hours and 13 minutes to overcome Fernandez, the fourth seed, 7-5, 2-6, 6-4.

Fernandez also had taken Seles to three sets in their dramatic semifinal at the Australian Open earlier in the year.

The Rome semifinal was equally hard fought and dramatic.

"It was a tough match," Seles said.

"We were both running all the balls down, because we didn't want to give the other the slightest advantage. For me, it wasn't a day when all my shots were going in. And you can't have that kind of day against a great player like Mary Joe."

Seles, the world's No. 1 player and the defending champion in Rome, had breezed into the semifinals, barely breaking a sweat while winning six sets out of six in her first three matches.

But Fernandez, who lives in Miami, matched the blonde Yugoslav blow for blow from the baseline, and kept Seles off the baseline to prevent her from setting up for her sharply-angled putaways.

Sabatini had a much easier time in her semifinal match. Martinez, who had played brilliantly while eliminating No. 3 seed Martina Navratilova on Friday night, was helpless against the powerful 20-year-old Argentine.

At Charlotte, N.C., fifth-seeded Jimmy Arias advanced to the finals of the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships with a 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, victory over Javier Frana on Saturday.

Arias will meet seventh seed Jaime Yzaga of Peru in Sunday's finals at Olde Providence Racquet Club.