Maria Sharapova beats Samantha Stosur in Rome final

By Oliver BrettBBC Sport
Maria Sharapova
Sharapova looks to be back among the contenders for Grand Slam titles

Maria Sharapova collected her first tour title since Strasbourg in May last year as she beat Samantha Stosur in the final of the Italian Open.

After rain had delayed the start for several hours, Stosur began slowly, winning just three points in the first four games to trail 0-4.

Having claimed the first set with ease, world number eight Sharapova then found her opponent in more competitive mood.

But Stosur could not win the important points and Sharapova prevailed 6-2 6-4.

"It's a new journey. It's not about me looking back and getting better or worse," said the 24-year-old Russian, who won Wimbledon aged 17.

"This is about starting from the beginning and getting better than I was before and improving.

"I don't think about how I played years ago. I'm not a 17-year-old girl any more and the tour has changed with different players.

"You can't rely on what you had in the past how you were in the past. You have to look to be better."

Australia's Stosur, 27, the world number seven, had beaten French Open champion Francesca Schiavone and then fourth seed Li Na to reach the final in good shape.

But she initially struggled to get her first serve going and dished out a number of unforced errors to make Sharapova's task a relatively easy one in the first set.

The Russian, 24, who has not won a Grand Slam event since the 2008 Australian Open and subsequent shoulder surgery, was put under more pressure in the second set.

Stosur reacted well after being broken in the first game of the second set and converted a break point of her own with a big forehand and then opened up a 2-1 lead.

She began to win her share of baseline rallies, and had some joy when pulling Sharapova across court with the Russian's reluctance to slide on the clay beginning to hamper her.

But Sharapova did not allow Stosur to get on top of her, breaking the Australian for a second time and saving two break points in the next game to open up a 4-2 lead.

With the next three games going with serve, the Russian found herself serving for the match at 5-4 and duly triumphed with a winning forehand hit wide to the Stosur backhand.

The victory, achieved on top of a semi-final victory over world number one Caroline Wozniacki in the semi-finals, will give Sharapova belief she can win the first French Open title of her career in the tournament starting at the end of the month.

"It would be the most challenging Grand Slam for me to win but I accept challenges," she said.

"I love them and that's why I'm a tennis player It would be wonderful to be able to achieve that. It's just a coincidence I have won other Grand Slams."