Maria Sharapova won her second straight Rome title on Sunday, defeating China's Li Na in a match full of momentum shifts, a lengthy rain delay and noisy distractions from football fans.
The world number two claimed the 26th trophy of her career triumphing over Li 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7/5).
But the Russian was nearly down and out at 6-4, 4-0 down before making a big comeback.
Then, after Sharapova and Li had battled to 6-6 in the final set, and the decisive tie-break was about to commence, the players were forced off by rain for over two hours.
"It was a crazy match," said Sharapova.
"Either one of us could have won it. There really is no loser."
The win gave Sharapova her second Rome crown to add to the Stuttgart claycourt title she earned in April.
For her opponent, it was so near, yet so far, as she came close to her first title since claiming her historic French Open title last June.
During the final, hovering helicopters, exploding fireworks and chanting fans - heading for the Italian Cup soccer final between Juventus and Napoli at the nearby Olympic Stadium - made for distractions.
"The match was a joke, it was like playing a football match in the rain," said Li.
"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 and Li were sent off court with the third set poised at a tiebreaker to decide the match. They came back more than two hours later and played seven additional minutes before Sharapova prevailed.
The Russian looked flat in the first set, losing an early break and the set.
With Li leading a set and 4-0, the momentum suddenly shifted as Sharapova woke up to reel off eight consecutive games, winning the second set to level the match and going 2-0 up in the third.
But with victory in sight Sharapova suddenly went off the boil, leading 4-1 before dropping two serves as Li recovered.
As steady rain fell, the determined pair played on, with a brief stoppage at the two-and-a-half-hour mark while players sat in their chairs.
Once it resumed, neither seemed inclined to close it out, with Sharapova saving a match point in the 12th game from a forehand winner, before the rain finally forced the players off before the tie-break.
AFPTags: sport, tennis, italy First posted May 21, 2012 06:45:08