ROME, Italy - Maria Sharapova isn't the only two-time champion at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia this year - there's another one, and a fellow former World No.1 too, who has been quietly working her way through the draw. But on Thursday afternoon that all changed, as she made quite a lot of noise.
Jelena Jankovic, who won the Premier-level tournament in 2007 and 2008 - and even made it to the final again in 2010, beating both Williams sisters along the way - surprised No.5 seed Li Na in a marathon third round match, battling past the Chinese in a two-hour, 39-minute grinder, 76(2) 75.
Li had her chances in the 69-minute first set - she led 2-0 with a point for 3-0, and seemed to have some momentum later on after saving five set points down 5-3 and pushing the set to a tie-break - but Jankovic reeled off the first four points of the breaker and never really let the stranglehold go.
Though the second set lasted 90 minutes, Jankovic was in front the whole time, breaking in a 12-deuce seventh game and - after missing out on her first match point serving for the match at 5-4 and getting broken for 5-all - breaking serve one more time then holding at love to close the match out.
"I felt like I wasn't playing so badly today, it was just a really long, tough match between me and JJ," Li said after the match. "I was trying a lot of things out there on the court today. Sometimes it was working, sometimes it wasn't - but I'm still happy I was trying those things. I still have some work to do.
"We showed a pretty good match out there. Congratulations to her for the win today."
Awaiting Jankovic in the quarterfinals is Romanian qualifier Simona Halep, who followed her second round stunner over No.4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska with a 64 62 win over No.13 seed Roberta Vinci. She is now in her second Premier-level quarterfinal - she was a finalist at Brussels 51 weeks ago.
"Playing the third round here after coming from the qualifying, it was a very difficult match for me - I feel a little bit tired," Halep said. "But I'm still working hard and doing my best, and even though Vinci is very tough and slicing it a lot, and the crowd was more on her side, I did well and I'm happy I won today."
Jankovic and Halep are tied in their head-to-head, 1-1. And those two meetings were tight: Jankovic won the first meeting at the US Open in 2010, 64 46 75, but not before Halep served for it at 5-4 in the third; and Halep won at Brussels last year, 62 36 76(3), but Jankovic had three match points.
Elsewhere, No.1 seed Serena Williams was having none of that marathon business, needing 66 minutes to beat No.14 seed Dominika Cibulkova, 60 61. Williams blasted 12 aces in the match, including five in one game at one point - she also held two game points in the only game she lost.
"Nothing is ever perfect - I learned that last year when I felt perfect," a cautious Williams declared afterwards, referring to her first round loss at Roland Garros. "I am still in the danger zone."
The World No.1 has, however, tied her longest ever winning streak, having won her last 21 matches in a row. She has had two previous 21-match winning streaks, the first in 2002 (which was snapped at Los Angeles by Chanda Rubin) and another in 2003 (snapped in Charleston by Justine Henin).
"I can't remember the other winning streaks, but I hope I can get to 22 and the rest of the matches that I have here," she said. "Plus seven, and Wimbledon too, so it would be dangerous to lose now."
Awaiting Williams in the quarterfinals is Carla Suárez Navarro, who beat Spanish lucky loser Lourdes Domínguez Lino, 62 63. Suárez Navarro is one win away from her biggest semifinal - she is a two-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist and two-time Premier-level quarterfinalist, but has never gone further.