PARIS – The top two seeds — Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova — will contest Saturday’s French Open final, but they took starkly contrasting routes to get there from Thursday’s semi-finals.
Top seed Williams bulldozed her way past an outclassed Sara Errani of Italy 6-0, 6-1 in just 46 minutes. Defending champion Sharapova survived a second-set slump and a glut of double faults to ease past Victoria Azarenka 6-1, 2-6, 6-4.
It will be the first time since 1995, when Steffi Graf defeated top seed Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, that the two top seeds have contested the women’s final at Roland Garros.
The two have met 15 times with Williams ahead 13-2 and Sharapova has not won since she defeated the American as a 17-year-old newcomer at the season-ending WTA Championship in 2004.
The way Williams demolished the lightweight Errani, who gave Sharapova some problems in last year’s final, will mean that she will start a strong favouriite to bag her 16th Grand Slam title.
Williams, at 1.75m and 70kg, was just too powerful for Errani, whose slight stature of 1.64m and 60kg, was never going to intimidate the American.
The 31-year-old American blasted 40 winners to Errani’s two while the Italian won just five points on the American’s serve.
It will be Williams first French Open final since she won her only title in Paris in 2002, beating sister Venus in the final, and she will take a career-best 30-match winning streak with her.
“I told myself: ‘Serena, just concentrate’ and that’s what I did,” said Williams, who had been pushed to three sets and almost two hours by quarter-final opponent Svetlana Kuznetsova.
“Against Maria, I will have to prepare slightly differently. She’s a great player. But it’s magnificent to be back in the final after 11 years.”
Sharapova blew hot and cold against Azarenka who was bidding to become the first woman since Jennifer Capriati in 2001 to win the Australian and French Opens in the same year.
The 26-year-old Russian dropped her serve in the opening game with the first two of what would turn out to be a messy 11 double faults, but then produced her best tennis of the tournament so far to run off six games in a row.
Azarenka, playing in her first French Open semi-final at 23, steadied the ship at the start of the second set and then applied extra pressure on the Sharapova serve, reaping immediate dividends as the Russian lost her way.
But just when the momentum had switched sides, a brief rain shower sent the players back to the locker room for a 35-minute delay.
On the resumption, it was Sharapova who was back in command. She moved out into a 5-2 lead on the back of an array of big hits from the baseline, but then three more double faults and four missed match points had her wobbling again.
Two games later though she held firm to end Azarenka’s challenge and reach the eighth Grand Slam final of her career.
“I really had to play to the end today and I am extremely happy to be back in the final,” said Sharapova.
“(The rain delay) gave me a little bit of time to think of what I did well in the first set and try to get that back again for the third.”
Azarenka agreed that the rain delay had not helped her cause.
“I think the break kind of changed the momentum, for sure,” she said.
“When we got back out I kind of didn’t start the same way I was playing in the second set. I was just trying to make things happen too quick and started missing the ball.
“You know, it was a little bit unfortunate and inconsistent in that particular moment.”