World number one Serena Williams overcame a strong start from Madison Keys to claim her first title of 2016 at the Internazionali d’Italia.
The aggressive Keys broke to love in the opening game on Sunday and fired a succession of early winners to boost her hopes of springing a shock and earning a top-16 seeding for the French Open.
However, Williams responded with typical determination, taking the first set on a tie-break before kicking on to triumph 7-6 (7-5) 6-3.
Williams, beaten in her two previous final appearances this year, is now a four-time champion in Rome and boasts 20 successive wins at the event either side of her withdrawal from last year’s tournament due to injury.
This latest victory, which secured Williams’ 70th WTA singles title, followed a similar theme to her last success against Keys in the semi-finals of the 2015 Australian Open, with the top seed taken all the way in the first set.
After seizing the early initiative, Keys seemed to be affected by swirling winds as she gave up a 40-15 lead to be broken in the sixth game, courtesy of two double faults and a pair of forehand errors.
The underdog nevertheless rallied to force a breaker, but Williams prevailed when Keys sent a return long at 5-6.
Two breaks at the start of the second set duly put Williams in complete control, although Keys refused to give in and twice enjoyed success against serve herself before Williams eventually prevailed.
Keys received fulsome praise from her rival at the end of the match, with Williams saying: “I’m so proud of you. You’re going to get to number one for sure.”