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Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez made it a Spanish double in Rome, winning the women’s singles title with a straight sets victory over Jelena Jankovic
Unlike her more heralded male equivalent Rafael Nadal, she crept almost unnoticed through the tournament before beating the two top Serbs Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic on consecutive days to lift only the third singles title of her career and by far and away the most prestigious to date.
She led almost throughout the final, and despite a few nervous moments in either set, always seemed to have the better of her opponent who was looking for her third Rome title and 13th on the circuit, having defeated the Williams sisters in the quarters and the semis in the space of less than 24 hours. Come Saturday’s showdown however, an at times tired-looking Jankovic had no response for her opponent’s style of play which is almost a throwback to Martina Navratilova’s day, with serve-and-volley, outrageous sliced drops and a bag of tricks so deep that she has a different shot ready for every occasion.
Jankovic fought doggedly throughout the two-and-a-half hour contest and will rue a number of missed chances. Martinez Sanchez broke early to lead 3-1 but at 5-3, she suffered an attack of nerves and allowed the Serb to break her back as her service faltered.
Jankovic added a second break and served for the set herself, but this time it was the No.7 seed’s turn to wilt under pressure, netting a forehand on set point. After a see-saw tie-break full of points won against service, Martinez Sanchez rode her luck at the right moment. At 6-5, the line judge called her second service out but chair umpire Eva Asderaki overruled, much to Jankovic’s chagrin. The Spaniard’s “third” service was strong, and a volley later she was a set to the good.
Again Martinez Sanchez broke early in the second set, this time in the opening game, and again she had a chance to serve out, but she double-faulted at 15-40 to allow Jankovic to level matters at 5-5. The Serb had a point for a 6-5 lead but this was when Martinez Sanchez demonstrated her full repertoire, laying down a sliced drop from behind the baseline, carving out a break point with the flattest of backhands then pouncing on a second service. She was not about to let the second chance go begging, and served out to take the second set 7-5 and with it the match, securing her first ever WTA Premier tournament with a characteristic serve-and-volley.
Formerly known only as a doubles specialist – and an excellent one at that – Martinez Sanchez may well find herself in the top 20 of the singles ranking when she wakes up on Monday morning, having become the first Spaniard to win the women’s title here since Conchita Martinez won the last of her four consecutive titles in 1996. What is more, Roland Garros is a mere two weeks away (with another WTA Premier tournament in Madrid between now and then), wehere she will suddenly be catapulted into the role of one of the favourites for the next Grand Slam. From unheralded and unseeded to the epitome of clay court savvy in the space of one short week – Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez may have a long name but it is one that is going to be on everyone’s lips between now and the end of the French Open.