By Simon Evans
MASON, Ohio (Reuters) - Russia's Maria Sharapova beat Serbia's Jelena Jankovic 4-6 7-6 6-3 to win the Cincinnati Open on Sunday and install herself as one of the favorites for the U.S. Open.
There were 16 breaks of serve in a topsy-turvy final but Sharapova emerged strongest in the end to claim her second title of the season and the 24th of her career in the lead up to the final grand slam event of the season, starting in New York on August 29.
"It was a really tough one out there. It was so physical and in the end, it could have gone either way," said Sharapova.
"We kept breaking each other in the beginning. It felt like one of us played a few good points and than the other one and the levels were up and down throughout the match.
"So, I'm just fortunate that at the end of the day I'm the winner."
Sharapova started the match brightly, serving well and looking swift on her feet as she took a 4-1 lead but then Jankovic fought back and her Russian opponent crumbled in alarming fashion.
Jankovic won the next five games to take the set as Sharapova's serve fell to pieces with five double-faults contributing to her problems.
The second set was riddled with unforced errors from both players, 27 from Sharapova and 21 from Jankovic but the Russian won the tie-break 7-3 to force the match into a third set.
The first six games of the third set were all broken before Sharapova held serve to go 4-3 up and she showed her old killer instinct to finish off the encounter.
Sharapova's other win this season came in Rome.
The former world number one did make the final at Wimbledon but lost to Czech Petra Kvitova. Sharapova was projected to rise to fourth in the world rankings on the back of her latest win.
But what matters most to her now is a shot at her first grand slam title since the Australian Open in 2008 and she said she had gained confidence for that test.
"It's great to have a win under your belt going into a major, absolutely," she said.
"I played some good matches here and it's great to have this win. I came here wanting to play matches and wanting to raise my level, and I think I did that."
(Editing by Julian Linden/Greg Stutchbury)