Maria Sharapova will face Serena Williams in the women's French Open final
Russia's Sharapova holds her nerve to beat Victoria Azarenka in three sets
Williams destroys Italian Sara Errani by winning 6-0 6-1 in just 46 minutes
The world’s top two players will battle it out for the French Open title on Saturday, but their route to the Roland Garros final could not have been more different.
Relief was evident on the face of defending champion and world No. 2 Maria Sharapova who survived a third-set comeback from Victoria Azarenka to nail down a hard-fought 6-1 2-6 6-4 victory.
Conversely, Serena Williams, the world No. 1, was so dominant against Sara Errani that the Italian ironically celebrated the only game she won in a match that lasted just 46 minutes and ended 6-0 6-1.
Sharapova must now try and arrest her poor record against the American, having won just two of their 15 encounters. Saturday’s meeting will be the first time since 1995 that the top two seeds have faced each other in the final.
Sharapova, from Russia, had been coasting in the first set but her Belarusian opponent battled back to exert similar dominance over the second.
But a delay for rain allowed Sharapova to regroup and when she returned to Court Philippe Chatrier the 26-year-old fought off a late Azarenka charge to book a second successive final.
“I really had to play to the end today and I am extremely happy to be back in the final,” Sharapova told reporters at a press conference.
“(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 the short rain break had stalled her comeback and played into her opponent’s hands.
“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.”
There were no such twists and turns in the other semifinal as Williams punished Errani, the No. 5 seed, right from the first point to reach only her second final in Paris.
Williams hit 40 winners while Errani could only manage two. The Italian managed to claim just five points on Williams’ serve.
“I told myself: ‘Serena, just concentrate’ and that’s what I did,” Williams, who beat sister Venus to win the 2002 French Open, said in an on-court interview.
“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.”
Errani, a losing finalist to Sharapova last year, was philosophical after her sixth straight defeat to her American opponent.
“I enjoyed it,” she told reporters. “It was a great court, great weather. What she did today was unbelievable. She is so strong and is an unbelievable player.”
“It was a great day. I tried but that’s sport. Sometimes you lose, but you have to stay in there and try until the last point. I gave it my all, but there was nothing I could do.”