Maria Sharapova to play surprise finalist Sara Errani in French Open final

 

Maria Sharapova booked her
place in her first French Open final and guaranteed she will overtake
Victoria Azarenka as world number one with a hugely impressive 6-3 6-3
victory over Petra Kvitova this evening.

It was a rematch of the Wimbledon final, which Kvitova won, but Sharapova was much the better player today and ensured it was third time lucky after two semi-final defeats at Roland Garros.

The 25-year-old Russian, who last topped the rankings before her shoulder troubles in 2008, will meet surprise finalist Sara Errani on Saturday after the Italian defeated US Open champion Sam Stosur 7-5 1-6 6-3 earlier.

Sharapova had won both meetings with Kvitova since Wimbledon, including a semi-final at the Australian Open, and she looked like she meant business from the start.

Her serve has been her one major weakness since her shoulder problems, and the windy conditions provided a real test, but she was rock solid.

The second seed broke for the first time in the fifth game and then again to win the set, and in the second set she quickly moved 3-1 ahead.

Kvitova fought back to level with some big groundstrokes but Sharapova simply broke again and she clinched victory with an ace - mirroring her opponent's finish at Wimbledon.

The Russian will now have the chance to win the only grand slam title to have so far eluded her and her first since the Australian Open in 2008.

Errani's success means there will be an Italian in the women's final for the third year in a row after Francesca Schiavone's two runs in 2010, when she beat Stosur, and last year's defeat by Li Na.

But the 25-year-old is an even more unlikely finalist - she had won only one match at Roland Garros prior to this year and had never beaten a top-10 player.

She broke that duck in the quarter-finals against Angelique Kerber and followed it up with a hugely impressive performance today, maintaining a very high level despite the windy conditions, while the match was more than an hour late starting because of rain.

Errani edged a very tight first set but it looked like Stosur was making her extra power count when she began the second with a run of five games in a row.

But the Italian, who is also in the women's doubles final, was always the more consistent and in the end Stosur's 48 unforced errors proved decisive.

The sixth seed clawed her way back from 3-0 down to level in the decider but Errani never wavered and she broke serve again before clinching the victory with a love game.

Errani let the emotion show as she sobbed into her towel at the end of the match, but she said of the final moments: "I was very nervous but at the same time I was really focused on the game.

"Maybe she had more pressure. I just wanted to think about what I had to do and try to forget everything, forget where I was."

Errani, who is less than 5ft 5in tall, is having the best season of her career - helped by the change to a longer racquet - and today's win means she will climb into the top 10 from her current ranking of 24th.

She said of her run: "It's incredible for me. I didn't expect it, and I'm here. So I don't know what to say. I'm very happy about how I've played because I think I've played good matches. It's not finished, I have one match more. I have to think about that.

"I don't feel like I'm top 10 but now I will be, so it's a strange sensation. Maybe my problem always was that I couldn't believe that I could beat the strong players.

"But now I've beaten three in a row. I'm in the final of a grand slam. So I have to maybe try to think a bit different."

It was particularly disappointing for Stosur given she appeared to have conquered her mental weaknesses with last year's brilliant US Open final victory over Serena Williams.

The 28-year-old said: "I don't know if it was the conditions or whatever it was.

"I had a good start with 2-0 then I probably wasn't playing the way that I needed to be throughout that first set from that point on.

"I really turned it around in that second then it was too up and down, it wasn't consistent enough. I didn't do it at the times when it really mattered.

"It just sucks that it happened here today. You do it somewhere else, you don't maybe worry about it so much, but here it obviously hurts a lot more."

PA

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