The American then broke serve and held serve for a 2-0 second set lead by executing a
winning mix of powerful baseline play and forward movement to the net.
However Safina steadied her game to take six of the next seven games to even the match at one set all after striking a forehand lob winner on setpoint.
In the final set, Safina continued her overall gameplan of hitting each groundstroke early and forceful to take a 3-1 lead. Williams drew even at four all before losing her final service game to trail 4-5.
The match's final game echoed the match as a whole as the epic contest could have gone either way. Williams held three breakpoints with Safina serving for the match before the American would send a backhand return long on the Russian's third matchpoint after three hours and nine minutes of play.
“She was a little bit passive (at the end of the match),” Safina said. “I think she showed me she was
maybe nervous too and I went for the shots and I did the right thing. She pushed me to play my best.”
Williams, the 1999 Rome champion, had never lost before to Safina before. However today was the players' first meeting on clay, arguably Safina's best surface and Williams' worst. Last year Safina won the WTA Tour title in Berlin before finishing as finalist at the French Open.
“She went for every shot,” Williams said. “She just hit every ball as hard as she could. Obviously she didn’t want me to have the first shot or to take control. If she can hit every ball that hard and keep it in, then congratulations to her.”
Safina and both Williams sisters, Venus Williams and the second ranked Serena Williams are entered in next week's Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open to be played at Madrid, Spain. Venus could meet Serena in the quarterfinals and Safina in the final. The Madrid WTA Tour event is one of several warm up tournaments for the French Open, which begins May 24th.
In Saturday's Rome final, Safina will meet her fellow Russian and the 7th seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova who in today's first semifinal beat the 6th seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 6-2, 6-4.