Conchita Martinez, the four-time defending champion, moved into the Italian Open semifinals today with a 6-0, 6-4 victory over South Africa's Joannette Kruger.

Mary Pierce, the 10th seed, also advanced in straight sets, eliminating No. 14 Ruxandra Dragomir 6-3, 6-4. Pierce displayed the same stinging groundstrokes she used to oust top seed Monica Seles the day before.But Martinez, seeded third in the clay court tournament, showed some vulnerability in the second set of her match, dropping three straight games to fall behind 3-2 and later wasting four match points in the ninth game.

The Spaniard has struggled this season, failing to reach any final and slipping to No. 6 in the WTA rankings. But now she's at the friendly Foro Italico, where she has won 23 consecutive matches. Her last Italian Open loss was to Gabriela Sabatini in the 1991 semifinals.

Austrians Barbara Paulus, the 11th seed, won her quarterfinal match, beating No. 7 Irina Spirlea 6-4, 6-2.

A former top-10 player, Paulus has battled assorted injuries, including to both wrists, throughout her career.

The remaining quarterfinal pairing had No. 2 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario against Patty Schnyder.

Pierce was never in trouble against Dragomir, a 19-year-old Romanian who upset fifth seed Iva Majoli in the third round.

The 1995 Australian Open champion and a finalist there this year dictated the match with her groundstrokes, running Dragomir from side to side along the baseline.