ROME (REUTERS/AFP) - Russian Maria Sharapova ground down Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro 4-6 7-5 6-1 to win the Rome Masters final on Sunday, the 35th WTA Tour title of her career.
Third seed Sharapova looked sluggish against her Spanish opponent in the first set and Suarez Navarro fought back from 1-3 and 3-5 down in the second to level at 5-5. But Sharapova reeled off the next two games and tore through the decider against the tiring 10th seed, sealing victory in more than two and a half hours with her 39th winner.
Suarez was 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.
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.
Sharapova will climb to number two in the world rankings next week and will be seeded second in the French Open starting next Sunday.
Top seed Novak Djokovic plays Roger Federer in the men's final later on Sunday.