Sharapova lifts trophy in rainy Rome

Maria Sharapova won the 26th title of her career after beating Li Na in three sets

Story highlights

  • Maria Sharapova beats Li Na 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5) to win Italian Open
  • Deciding tiebreak delayed by 2 hours because of rain in Rome
  • Men's final between Nadal and Djokovic postponed until Monday
  • Sharapova heads to French Open with two clay-court titles this year

Maria Sharapova beat Li Na in three sets to defend her Italian Open title in Rome on Sunday in a bizarre match played in sometimes heavy rain and amid the distraction of football fans gathering nearby.

Sharapova was 6-4 4-0 down but fought back to take the match into a deciding tiebreak -- after saving a match point at 6-5 in the third set.

By the time the tiebreak came around, the rain was falling heavily, making conditions unplayable, and it even started to rain again when the players returned two hours later to complete the match.

Sharapova eventually won it 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5) and the two players burst out laughing when they shook hands at the net.

"It was a crazy match," Sharapova said. "Either one of us could have won it. There really is no loser."

The men's final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal was postponed until Monday because of the weather -- prompting some fans to throw objects onto the court in disgust.

Nearby, Napoli and Juventus fans were gathering for the Italian Cup final at the nearby Stadio Olimpico, and the final was punctuated by the sound of fireworks going off and police helicopters flying overhead.

"The match was a joke, it was like playing a football match in the rain," said Li, who came close to her first title since winning the French Open almost a year ago.

"Even when we were sent off court, you had to still concentrate for every second, it was tiring for both players.

"You could not relax. It was tense. When we came back out, she was the tougher player. But I take some positives away. It's getting close to Roland Garros and I think I hit the ball well. I also moved her around the court well."

Sharapova heads to Roland Garros with a second clay-court title of the year under her belt. Not traditionally a threat on the slow surface, the world No. 2 has only lost once on clay in 2012 -- to Serena Williams.

"This is a great win for me going into Roland Garros," Sharapova said. "It will be nice to have a week off now, after playing three tournaments in the last four weeks. I'll have to time to recover, mentally and physically."

Sharapova can complete a career Grand Slam if she wins in Paris.