ROME (Reuters) - Unseeded Spaniard Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez produced a major surprise by beating world number seven Jelena Jankovic 7-6 7-5 in the Italian Open final Saturday.
“I’m so happy to have won in Rome,” Martinez Sanchez told a news conference. “It hasn’t sunk in. There are so many emotions.”
Jankovic, who frequently looked bewildered by her opponent’s unorthodox style, pulled back from 4-1 down in the first set and had a set point on serve at 6-5 before losing the tiebreak.
The Serb then twice recovered breaks in the second set but Martinez Sanchez clinched the biggest title of her career after breaking for the third time.
Former world number one Jankovic beat Serena and Venus Williams earlier this week but fell short in her bid for a third Italian Open title.
Martinez Sanchez, ranked 26th, played with courage and showed that drop shots and forays to the net can bring results on clay.
“It was really difficult,” said Jankovic. “She plays very differently to most girls, lots of drop shots, serve and volley and she’s left-handed.
“She mixes up her game, she doesn’t have one weapon. She’s tricky with all these things she does.”
Martinez Sanchez employed the same approach to surprise other opponents used to baseline battles on red dirt, defeating Ana Ivanovic and world number two Caroline Wozniacki on the way to the final.
The Spaniard signaled her intent from the start on Saturday, getting Jankovic scrambling to the net to recover drop shots.
The Serb crouched down on her knees for a few seconds after going down 4-1, seemingly seeking an answer to the left-hander’s well-stocked box of tricks.
Martinez Sanchez let Jankovic back in the match with some unforced errors and wasted a set point at 5-4 but still managed to take the set with a smash at the net.
She kept mixing it up and proved her groundstrokes were not shabby either, rifling a splendid backhand winner to break for the third time in the second set to go 6-5 up.
Martinez Sanchez then clinched victory by nailing her second match point with a serve and volley winner.
“I have a different game, it’s not typical,” she said. “That’s the idea of my game, do lots of different things.
“Maybe it’s because I used to watch Martina Navratilova on TV when I was seven, eight. When I was little I always shoved the ball and went to the net.
“The key is to fight, fight, fight till the end,” Martinez Sanchez added when asked if she had ambitions of winning a grand slam on clay at this month’s French Open or on Wimbledon’s grass, a surface that should be even better suited to her style.
“You should never put limits on yourself. I think I could do well on grass with my serve and volley game and being left handed.”
Jankovic, the 2007 and 2008 champion, will climb to fourth in next week’s rankings after reaching the final.
“Unfortunately I had to (beat the Williams sisters) earlier in the tournament and that takes a lot of energy out of you,” said the Serb, who won the Indian Wells title in California in March.
“Last year I wasn’t doing so well. I’m glad I’m back doing well. I’m still happy with (reaching) the final, I have to stay positive and keep working hard.”
Editing by Tony Jimenez