Cincinnati: Belgian fourth seed Kim Clijsters saved three match points just before a 74-minute rain break and rallied to beat Russia`s Maria Sharapova 2-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 in the WTA Cincinnati Open final.
Clijsters won her third crown of the year at the same two million-dollar hardcourt event where last year she ended a two-year layoff to have a family on her way to winning the US Open title for her second Grand Slam crown.
The victory game Clijsters her 38th career singles title, having already taken crowns in 2010 at Brisbane and Miami.
Clijsters, 27, denied the 15th-ranked Russian beauty her 23rd career title and third of the year after prior titles at Memphis and Strasburg.
Sharapova, 23, squandered three match-point chances with Clijsters serving at 3-5 in the second set just before rain stopped the match, adding to the tension and drama of the moment.
"When the rain started falling, I was like, `Oh, no,`" Clijsters said. "I was feeling like I could hold here and get a chance for a break.”
"I didn`t feel like I was really in trouble. Before the break, I thought the match could go either way."
"I felt comfortable playing my groundstrokes. That was good, because my serve was nowhere to be found. When we came back out, I knew I had to battle throughout, because you`re not starting 0-0. You have to be ready to go."
Clijsters held serve once play resumed, then quickly grabbed two break points on Sharapova`s serve. The Russian saved both but Clijsters forced a third and Sharapova then issued her fifth double fault, falling level at 5-5.
Sharapova said the earlier break allowed Clijsters to regroup after all seemed lost.
"I think it certainly gave her time to relax," Sharapova said. "More than the conditions themselves, I think it was about just maybe her going in and having a chance to think about what she needs to do differently.”
"She came out and started playing really good tennis."
Sharapova said she began feeling pain in her left heel late in the second set, but was uncertain if it would keep her from next week`s event in Montreal.
"It just kind of flared up out of nowhere, so we`ll see how it is," said Sharapova.
In the tie-breaker, a second-serve ace - Sharapova`s seventh ace of the match - put the Russian ahead 2-0 on the way to a 3-0 edge.
But Clijsters again fought back, pulling level at 3-3 on Sharapova`s sixth double fault on her way to a 5-3 lead and Sharapova issued another double fault on the penultimate point before Clijsters forced a third set.
Sharapova`s ninth double fault handed Clijsters a break for a 2-1 lead in the third and the Belgian broke again in the fifth game on the way to a 5-1 lead.
Sharapova held serve, then denied Clijsters on two match points before Clijsters withstood a break point and finally closed out matters on her third match point after two hours and 30 minutes.