Steffi Graf outlasted Jennifer Capriati, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3, last night in New York, beginning defense of her Virginia Slims Championships title.

It took the top-ranked player six minutes short of two hours to overcome Capriati, who also walked off a winner as far as the 13,719 at Madison Square Garden were concerned.

In other first-round matches, Conchita Martinez upset seventh-seeded Zina Garrison, 6-3, 6-0, and No. 6 Katerina Maleeva ousted Helena Sukova, 6-3, 6-3, in this season-ending, 16-woman $3 million tournament.

"I'm happy even though I lost," Capriati said. "I could have come to the net more. I could have hit down the line on the backhand more and I could have returned better."

It was their third meeting. At Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, Graf won in straight sets. This time, on carpet, it wasn't so easy.

But Graf, with that forehand, started off as if she would blast Capriati off the court. It took exactly one minute to win the first game -- at love, with an ace.

Graf led 3-1, 40-0 before Capriati won a point on the German's serve. A point later it was 4-1. The first set took 23 minutes, and it appeared it was going to be another routine Graf race to beat the clock.

But after Capriati held at love to begin the second set, Kathleen Stroia, the tour physical therapist, went onto the court during the changeover and talked to Graf. Stroia returned during the next changeover and gave Graf a pill.

Afterward, it was announced that Graf is suffering from flu and nausea. She skipped the postmatch news conference. In a statement, Graf said: "I felt weak. I felt shaky. I tried to drink on the court, but it kept coming up."

Perhaps because of Graf's illness, the one-sided match turned into a tense battle.

"It shows me I'm getting confidence," Capriati said. "I keep getting better and better."

ATP Finals: Since losing the U.S. Open final to Pete Sampras in September, Andre Agassi has been working on his serve.

It paid off as Agassi fired 10 aces, whipping Sampras, 6-4, 6-2, on the opening day of the ATP Tour World Championships, the season-ending, round-robin event featuring the eight top-ranked men.

"I was not really out to prove I can beat Pete, I was more out to prove that the U.S. Open was just a day out in New York," said Agassi, ranked fourth.

Also in Group A, No. 1 Stefan Edberg rallied past No. 8 Emilio Sanchez, 6-7, 6-3, 6-1.

No. 3 Ivan Lendl made short work of No. 7 Thomas Muster in a Group B match, 6-3, 6-3.

Sampras, ranked fifth, developed shin splints at the Open, and has had pain much of the time since, withdrawing from an event last week.

"He was on fire. He beat me fair and square," Sampras said, adding he still has pain in his left shin, but "healthy or not healthy, I was going to get beaten."

Edberg, Agassi, Sampras and Sanchez are in the same group. After round-robin matches, the two top players from each group advance to the semifinals of the $2 million event. Lendl and No. 2 Boris Becker head Group B, which also includes No. 6 Andres Gomez.

Becker can grab the top ranking if he wins the tournament and Edberg gets no further than the semifinals. But Becker tore a thigh muscle 11 days ago and is far from 100 percent.