Maria Sharapova defied the Rome rain and a fierce challenge from Li Na to retain her Italian Open crown, on Sunday.
The Russian lost the first set, and was 4-0 in the second, before she hit back in stunning style. Sharapova clinched consecutive games to change the complexion of the match.
The world number two then raced into a 4-1 lead in the deciding set, only for Li to mount a comeback of her own. The Chinese player showed plenty of spirit to force a third-set tiebreak.
That is when the rain intervened. The match was interrupted for more than two hours. When the players did return, it was Sharapova who held her nerve to clinch the victory 4-6 6-4 7-6 (7-5), and seal her 26th career title.
Sharapova now heads to the French Open at Roland Garros searching for the title that would complete a career Grand Slam. The Italian Open triumph was her second clay court title of the season, following victory in Stuttgart, in April.
"It was a crazy match. Either one of us could have won it. There really is no loser," said Sharapova.
Li, the reigning French Open champion, admitted Sharapova was the "tougher player", after the players emerged from the rain break, a lull in play she was left to rue.
"The match was a joke – it was like playing a football match in the rain. Even when we were sent off court, you had to still concentrate for every second; it was tiring for both players", said Li.
"But I take some positives away. It is getting close to the Roland Garros, and I think I hit the ball well. I also moved her around the court well."
The French Open begins on May 27. Serina Williams is the favourite to win the title, according to the odds on www.betfair.com.
For more information on the upcoming tennis calendar, including gambling tips for the French Open and Wimbledon, visit http://betting.betfair.com/tennis/wimbledon/