In a final that featured a little bit of everything, Maria Sharapova successfully defended her title at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia winning the Rome 2012 championship 4-6 6-4 7-6 (5). There were huge momentum shifts, brilliant shot-making, not so brilliant errors and even rain delays. Li Na came out on fire, while Masha was shaky with her serves. The 2011 Roland Garros champion built a 6-4 4-0 lead and looked to have Sharapova ready to pack for Paris. But no matter how awful things are going for Masha, and they were pretty awful midway through the second set, it is extremely rare to see her give up, unless she has something physically wrong with her. Mentally, there are few tougher than Sharapova. On the other hand, Li Na has been known to have huge mental swings if you press her. And Masha did. Pulling together one of the greatest comebacks I’ve seen this year under championship conditions, Masha stormed back to win the final 6 games of the second set to go from 0-4 to 6-4. When Li Na was building her lead I sat thinking it was the best I’ve seen her play since the Austalian Open and Roland Garros in 2011. When Masha pressed her and her game went astray, she looked like she didn’t quite have any answers.
During a changeover at 4-3, her husband/coach came on court, in part telling her to believe in herself. By this time, Sharapova was rolling and broke early in the final set to go up 2-0 and then broke again for 4-1. Li Na was having to come up with spectacular shots just to win points, having lost 10 of the previous 11 games. However, Li Na would not quit. She broke Sharapova to pull to 2-4, but still one break down. After holding serve, Li Na broke Masha again to come back from the brink of defeat to even the final set at 4-4. With Li serving at 5-5 30-all, the rain became so hard, the players were forced to stop playing. They stayed on court and resumed quickly as the red clay can absorb some water. But at 6-6, with a championship deciding tie-break about to start, the rain became so severe the players were forced off the court as the stadium was cleared. Before I get to that, Li Na had match point up 6-5 in the set with Sharapova serving down a break point chance after a missed overhead at the net. Li couldn’t convert and Masha capitalized. When play resumed after the rain delay, Masha was able to outlast Li Na 7-5 in the breaker.
It was a fantastic match for both players, but in the end despite reaching the final I don’t know if Li Na really was able to get that breakthrough win she needs this year. She’s getting closer and closer. Counting her out to play well at Roland Garros would definitely be a mistake. For Masha, not having to face Vika or Serena might take some luster off this championship for some. However, she had to get through an improving Ana Ivanovic, maybe the fourth best player this year in Angelique Kerber and a revitalized Li Na. That’s a pretty good run of victories. And let’s not forget she beat Vika the last time they played, which was in the Stuttgart final. Anything can happen is tennis. A top ranked player can lose in the first round. That said, I have to favor Maria and Serena going into Roland Garros. Of course, I need to wait to see the draw to see if they are on opposite sides and if they run into somebody who gives them problems. Besides Serena, I think the only player Masha would want to avoid until the final would be Vika, but since they are ranked #1 and #2, they will automatically be on opposite sides of the draw. I think Caroline Wozniacki is potentially a tough match-up for Serena, having beaten her in Miami and taking her to 3 sets in Madrid.