Romania’s Simona Halep rallied from a set down to defeat Russia’s Maria Sharapova 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 and reach the final of the Italian Open for the second consecutive year.
The World No. 1 needed two hours and 23 minutes on Saturday to earn her second straight win over Sharapova, a player she had lost to in their first seven meetings, reports Efe.
The players broke each other’s serves a combined 19 times over the course of the back-and-forth match.
Sharapova, a former World No. 1 who is now ranked No. 40 but will move up to No. 29 on Monday, broke her rival’s serve eight times but managed to win only three of her 14 service games.
After dropping the first set, Halep won nine of the next 11 games and seemed to have the match in hand against a tiring opponent who had battled for more than three hours in a narrow three-set win on Friday over reigning French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.
But Sharapova, who has showcased her renowned competitive mettle all week in Rome, rallied and levelled the match at 4-4 with a rare service hold.
In the end though, fatigue and an inability to control her service games proved to be the Russian’s undoing.
“I felt like I was hitting the ball well in the first set, but I didn’t serve well throughout the match,” Sharapova was quoted as saying afterwards on the WTA’s Web site.
“I just didn’t have enough velocity and pace on that shot, and I lost the accuracy on the return in the last few sets.”
The Russian refused to use fatigue as an excuse for the loss.
“It’s obvious that the amount of hours that we played (before the match) is quite different, but when you go on court that doesn’t really matter. That’s all thrown away, and you still have to play the match. I think I battled well.”
Halep has advanced to her second Italian Open final and will have a chance for revenge on Sunday against Ukrainian world No. 4 Elina Svitolina, who defeated her in last year’s championship match 4-6, 7-5, 6-1.
The defending champion, who has a 3-2 head-to-head record against Halep, advanced to the final with a 6-4, 6-3 victory Saturday over Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit.