ROME (AP) _ Mary Pierce overcame her own early inconsistency and battled past Barbara Paulus 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 Saturday to reach the final of the Italian Open.

She will face four-time defending champion Conchita Martinez in Sunday's championship match. The Spaniard rolled past Swiss teen-ager Patty Schnyder 6-2, 6-2 for her 24th consecutive match win on the clay courts of Foro Italico.

Martinez had her serve broken by Schnyder in the first game of each set, but responded by immediately breaking the unseeded 18-year-old each time. The third-seeded Martinez often seemed content to keep the ball in play, waiting for the less experienced Schnyder to err _ which she did more frequently than was the case when she upset No. 2 seed Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the quarterfinals.

By contrast, Pierce did not have an easy time, dropping her first set of the week by repeatedly missing her patented groundstrokes and serving poorly.

``I started off just really slowly today. I felt tired and didn't really get into the match at first,'' said Pierce, who lives in Florida but plays out of France.

Pierce, who surprised top-seeded Monica Seles in the third round, double-faulted five times and missed assorted shots erratically in the first set.

Paulus saw her upset hopes fade, however, as Pierce began finding lines when she needed them. The two stayed mostly anchored to the baselines, and once Pierce got her rhythm, the outcome wasn't much in doubt.

At the start of the second set, Pierce got a break to go up 2-0, aided by two of Paulus' seven double-faults during the match. Pierce ended the game with a deep backhand that the Austrian couldn't handle.

She got another break in the sixth game and once her serve was on target, Pierce was able to dictate the pace and she simply overpowered Paulus in the decisive set.

Paulus complained that Pierce upsets the rhythm of her opponents by taking the maximum time before serving. Pierce said it wasn't deliberate and that ``it's just something I've always done.''

Pierce advanced to her third final of the year. She was runnerup at the Australian Open, where she won her lone Grand Slam title in 1995, and at Amelia Island.