Maria Sharapova overcame a frustrating rain delay to defeat Li Na 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 in the final of the Rome Masters yesterday.
Li did not take long to underline her reputation as an up-and-down player. Striking the ball beautifully from the baseline, she took the first set 6-4 in 46 minutes.
When Li took a 4-0 lead in the second set a crushing victory seemed likely, but with the finishing post in sight the Chinese player tightened up like a marathon runner with cramp.
As Li sprayed the ball to all corners, Sharapova (above) hit the ball more cleanly. Remarkably, the world No 2 took the second set 6-4 and had won 10 out of 11 games by the time she led 4-1 in the decider. The Russian seemed on the brink of completing a remarkable comeback, but the conditions had become increasingly tricky.
From 4-1 down Li won four games in a row before Sharapova held serve for 5-5. Li went 6-5 up and had a match point after a dreadful error by Sharapova, whose forehand-volley hit the net.
The Russian stayed alive by hitting a winner with a tougher forehand on the next point to take the decider into a nerve-racking tie-break, which she won to earn a 26th career title.
The rain washed out the men's final between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic which will start today.