WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND, JULY 2 -- There would be no 10th Wimbledon singles championship for Martina Navratilova today, no last victorious grand hurrah at Centre Court. There would be only tears of joy -- tinged with a touch of sadness for what might have been.

Navratilova and her legion of fans had dreamed of her winning this most prestigious title in her final expected appearance here. Instead, 22-year-old Conchita Martinez of Spain, unsheathing a brilliant backhand passing shot as deadly as any sword, left the old place with a title won honorably and decisively, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, in 1 hour 59 minutes.

"When you write a script, you can make it any which way you want," Navratilova said. "If you want reality, you can't affect that. ... But no regrets. I'm sad I didn't win, but very proud about getting this far and having the opportunity. That's all I asked for, and I got it. It didn't quite come through, but that's life."

Said Martinez, "I'm really sorry to beat her, but I'm really pleased that I did."

Martinez served superbly, returned serve splendidly and made huge shots on many of the biggest points. She also had 28 passing shot winners with Navratilova -- as usual -- at the net; Navratilova managed only two passing winners all day.

As a little girl growing up in the northern Spanish town of Monzon, Martinez first learned to play tennis against the wall of the factory where her father worked. She called that wall "Martina" and has said many times that her 37-year-old finalist foe has been her tennis idol for years.

Now, children all around Spain may begin hitting their shots against walls named Conchita, for she became the first Spanish woman to win a singles championship at Wimbledon. Her first Grand Slam triumph also followed another Spanish conquest at the French Open last month, when Arantxa Sanchez Vicario won the women's singles title and Sergi Bruguera captured his second straight championship there.

Martinez, the third seed and third-ranked player in the world, was a 33-1 shot here because her baseline game is far more suited to clay than grass. Those odds may have jumped higher 53 minutes into the match, midway through the second set, when she had to summon a trainer to treat her on the sidelines for what she later said was tightness in her lower back. She described the pain as being in her "butt," later amended to a strained hip muscle.

"I was thinking 'She's fine,' " Navratilova said. "I certainly didn't see anything in her play that indicated anything, and I knew she'd come back."

It did not happen right away. Navratilova was holding a 3-0 lead in that second set after breaking Martinez's serve with a brilliant backhand rally in the first game. Then she did it again in the third with a lunging backhand volley that just slipped across the net for a winner.

Navratilova won the set to the great joy of most of the 13,000 in the crowd when Martinez, facing break point in the ninth game, tried to rip a backhand topspin passing shot, but found the middle of the net.

Still, that very same shot -- hit with huge velocity from just behind the baseline and occasionally cross court -- did not fail Martinez very often this muggy afternoon of high drama on Centre Court.

"She never passed me better off the backhand then she did today," Navratilova said. "She passed me as well as anyone ever has, even Monica Seles.

"Conchita has a lot of dip on the ball, so it comes over lower by the time it gets to you, which makes it more difficult to volley well. And she stands back further behind the baseline for the return of serve, which gives her extra time to line up her shots."

In the third set, Martinez used that wicked shot -- and two nervous double faults by Navratilova -- to seize control of the match.

Navratilova saved three break points on the opening game of the deciding set, only to double fault and lose it. Navratilova got the break back in the fourth game with a forehand passing shot as Martinez made one of her rare rushes to the net. Navratilova pumped her fist in ecstasy and shouted "Yessss" as the shot hit cleanly down the line, but it would be her last major celebration of the day.

Immediately, Martinez came right back. She got the fifth game to deuce with a running topspin lob over Navratilova's head, converted a weak Navratilova volley into an easy backhand putaway for the advantage and won the game for a 3-2 lead when Navratilova double-faulted again.

"Terrible, terrible," Navratilova said. "I was trying to figure out if I should serve and volley or stay back, but my toss was a little off. I should have caught the ball and started over. I guess you'd have to say {it was} nerves, because there's no reason to miss other than nerves."

Martinez did not waste the opportunity, holding serve for a 4-2 lead, then doing it again in the eighth game, despite Navratilova's valiant effort to get back into the match.

Navratilova actually had two break points at 15-40 in that game. But Martinez saved one with the killer topspin backhand from the baseline, then another when Navratilova hit a backhand volley deep as she rushed to the net. Martinez got the ad with a booming forehand pass, then saved the game and took a 5-3 lead with yet another sonic speed backhand pass.

For emphasis, she broke Navratilova one last time for the set, the match and the championship with a low, sliced backhand Navratilova hit back down the line and out, never even close to staying in. With that, Martinez threw her racket high in the air, then embraced her foe and one-time idol at the net.

Later, Martinez had a brief encounter with Diana, the Princess of Wales, who attended with her son, William. "She said that it was a great match, that I'm a terrific player and that she really loved it."

Anyone who watched this match today might also say they loved it, and probably hated it too. It was that kind of day at Centre Court, a day one last dream of glory died, a day when a new one also came true.

Wimbledon Notes: Gigi Fernandez of the United States and Natalia Zvereva of Belarus, the top-seeded and No. 1 women's doubles team in the world, won the women's doubles title today with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Jana Novotna of the Czech Republic and Sanchez Vicario. ... The Australian team of Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde won the men's doubles over Grant Connell of Canada and American Patrick Galbraith, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, 6-1. ... In the boys' doubles, Paul Goldstein of Rockville, Md., and his partner, Scott Humphries of Tampa, lost in the semifinals to the top-seeded Australian team of Ben Ellwood and Mark Philippoussis, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.