Russia’s Maria Sharapova warmed up for the defence of her French Open title by securing her third Italian Open crown with a 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 win over Spain’s Carla Suarez.
Suarez, bidding for only the second title of her career but first from the Masters 1000 series, made a stunning start at the Foro Italico where the players faced sweltering conditions.
The Spanish 10th seed broke the world number three midway through the opening set and had Sharapova on the ropes in a tight second before Sharapova found the breakthrough.
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Sharapova broke the Spaniard in the eighth game of the second set for a 5-3 lead and after going on to hand her opponent three break points in the next game she recovered to level the match.
The diminutive Suarez struggled with Sharapova’s movement and variety of shots, in particular the Russian’s two-handed backhand, which she used to devastating effect throughout.
However Sharapova will be looking to improve several aspects of her game – notably in terms of unforced errors – if she is to go all the way in Paris in the coming weeks.
American rival Serena Williams, the winner in Rome the past two years, withdrew before the third round earlier this week citing an elbow injury and will be desperate to avenge her first round defeat in Paris last year.
Sharapova, who secured her final spot with victory over Victoria Azarenka, handed Suarez a break point in the opening game of the third set and despite twice saving the game Suarez moved ahead when Sharapova hit an easy return just wide.
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That setback only served to spur the Russian, who broke back immediately, sealing the game with a two-handed backhand return that Suarez did not even bother to try and reach.
Sharapova moved 3-1 ahead when Suarez, having first saved break point, conceded the game with a weak return that hit the net – effectively ending her challenge.
The Russian held her serve for a 4-1 lead and, with Suarez’s confidence deserting her, earned a double break point before taking her lead to 5-1, holding serve on her final game to seal the victory.
Swiss Roger Federer beat countryman Stan Wawrinka 6-4, 6-2 in the Italian Open semi-final to set up his third final of the year against Serbian rival Novak Djokovic.
Wawrinka had caused the first major upset of the week when he battled Rafael Nadal throughout a thrilling quarter-final on Friday to send the seven-time Rome champion crashing out.
But despite a blistering start which saw Wawrinka race to a 3-0 lead in the opening set, the 30-year-old from Lausanne appeared to pay for his efforts late into the night at the Foro Italico.
Federer bounced back from losing the early break to break back twice on his way to sealing the first set 6-4.
Wawrinka was even more out of sorts in the second set, unforced errors steadily creeping into his game as Federer eased into his stride and reached a stage where he was able to pick his shots comfortably.
After trailing 0-3, Roger Federer beats Wawrinka 6-4, 6-2 to reach Rome final. He’ll get another shot at elusive title tomorrow vs Djokovic.
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) May 16, 2015
Federer, bidding for his maiden title in Rome having lost three finals — two to Nadal — earned three break points in the third game of the second set and won the game when Wawrinka attempted a wild half-volley from a tight angle which he netted.
Federer moved 3-1 up on his next service game and broke his fellow Swiss again for a 4-1 lead before wrapping up the set.
So far this year it’s one apiece between Djokovic and Federer, the former winning their last final at Indian Wells on a hard surface to make amends for Federer’s hardcourt win in Dubai.
Career-wise, Federer holds the advantage with 20 wins to Djokovic’s 18, although the Serb has shown glimpses of brilliance this week and a variety of shots that put all of his rivals in trouble.
The women’s final of the Italian Open will be contested by Russian third seed Maria Sharapova and Carla Suarez, the 10th seed from Spain.
Sharapova, the favourite following the third round withdrawal of defending champion Serena Williams, overwhelmed compatriot Daria Gavrilova 7-5, 6-3 to book her second final since claiming a second successive title in 2012.
Spanish 10th seed Suarez kept herself in contention for only her second career title by squeezing past Simona Halep (2-6, 6-3, 7-5) and into the final of the Italian Open earlier on Saturday.
Suarez, whose only tournament win to date was at Oeiras in 2014, defeated both Jelena Jankovic of Serbia and Czech fourth seed Petra Kvitova on her way to a last-four match-up with Halep in Rome.
— WTA (@WTA) May 16, 2015
But the Barcelona-based player had to dig deep against the second-seeded Romanian before securing a final against Sharapova.
Halep, who had ended the hopes of Venus Williams in the third round before sweeping compatriot Alexandra Dulgheru aside in the quarter-finals, was unstoppable in the first set. But the Romanian fell victim to unforced errors throughout a second set that saw her Spanish opponent level the match.
It could have gone either way in the decider after Suarez took her lead to 6-5 in the final set.
The 26-year-old Spaniard secured match point with a great shot down the right hand side of the court with Halep stranded at the net, and sealed the win when the Romanian netted a return.