The reshaping of women's tennis into a three-division competition is gathering pace. The French Open semi-finals here underlined how far Serena Williams has stretched clear of all her rivals, while the two women beneath her in the world rankings continue to fight over the scraps from her table. While Williams destroyed Sara Errani 6-0, 6-1 in just 46 minutes, Maria Sharapova fought toe-to-toe with Victoria Azarenka for more than two hours before winning 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 to reach the final for the second year in succession.
Williams, who is now unbeaten in her last 30 matches and has lost just three times since her remarkable defeat in the first round here 12 months ago, was merciless in her demolition of Errani, last year's beaten finalist. The 26-year-old Italian won just eight points in the first set and raised her arms in ironic celebration when she won her only game midway through the second. Williams had far too much power for the world No 5 and sealed her victory appropriately with an ace.
Although Sharapova is the defending champion, the outstanding favourite when the world's two highest-ranked players meet in Saturday's final will be the woman who won her only Roland Garros title 11 years ago. Williams has beaten Sharapova in their last 12 meetings and last lost to her nine years ago.
Sharapova's victory over Azarenka was hard won. Both women went for their shots, particularly when returning second serves, and most of the rallies were won by the player who got in the big hit first. Double faults are a recurring problem for Sharapova and she made 11 here, such was the pressure applied by Azarenka.
Twenty-four hours after losing the first set against Jelena Jankovic 6-0, Sharapova dropped her opening service game to love after two double faults. This time, however, the recovery was swift as she won the next six games to take the first set.
Azarenka fought back to win the second set, after which Sharapova was grateful for a 35-minute rain delay. The Russian made the decisive break at 2-2 in the decider, though Azarenka saved four match points when Sharapova served for the match at 5-2, the Belarusian breaking back thanks to her opponent's two successive double faults. Two games later, however, Sharapova served out for the match, clinching victory with an ace.
The home focus in the men's semi-finals this afternoon will be on the meeting of David Ferrer with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who is bidding to be the first French male singles champion here for 30 years. The eyes of the rest of the world, however, will be on the earlier battle between Rafael Nadal, the defending champion, and Novak Djokovic, the world No 1.
Attention will switch to grass when the Aegon Championships and Aegon Classic begin at Queen's Club and Edgbaston respectively next week, but many of Britain's leading players have taken the opportunity to get an early feel for the surface at this week's Aegon Trophy in Nottingham.
Johanna Konta is through to a semi-final against the Czech Republic's Karolina Pliskova after beating Alison Riske, of the United States, 6-2, 5-7, 7-5. Dan Evans earned a quarter-final meeting with Australia's Matthew Ebden after a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Brydan Klein, who recently changed from Australian to British. Evans, James Ward, Ed Corrie and Kyle Edmund have been awarded wild cards at Queen's next week.
Meanwhile Sergei Krotiouk, a 34-year-old Russian who reached a career-high No 486 in the world rankings, has been banned for life and fined $60,000 (about £38,000) after he was found guilty of 41 charges, including attempts to "solicit or facilitate any player to not use his or her best efforts in any event".
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