Russia’s Maria Sharapova has warmed up for the defence of her French Open title by securing a 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 on Sunday at the Foro Italico where the players faced sweltering conditions.
The Spanish 10th seed broke the world No.3 midway through the opening set and had Sharapova on the ropes in a tight second before Sharapova found the breakthrough.
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.
Sharapova admitted she had too many errors in the opening set and beginning of the second, but said: “I thought the errors I was making… were really close. I felt like I was doing the right thing and I’m glad I gave myself a chance to cut those down.
“She’s a really all-around player who can step in, can step back. She was really far behind the baseline and I feel like I took advantage of that.
“I felt that I was the fresher one, felt like I was more aggressive.”
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.
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.