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2012 champ Sharapova advances to French Open final

Sharapova Into Third Straight French Open Finals
BY HOWARD FENDRICH
AP TENNIS WRITER

PARIS (AP) -- Might be easier said than done. Still, Maria Sharapova offered a tidy aphorism to sum up the formula that's carried her to a third consecutive French Open final.

"It's not how you finish a first set," Sharapova said, "it's how you finish the last set."

Right now, no one is a better closer than she is on clay. Nearing a second championship at Roland Garros, and fifth Grand Slam trophy overall, Sharapova gritted her way to yet another comeback victory, beating 18th-seeded Eugenie Bouchard of Canada 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 in the semifinals Thursday.

"If some things are not working out, I don't just want to quit in the middle. Because when you lose the first set or a few games or you're down a break, that's not the end of the match," Sharapova said. "That's the type of philosophy that I play with."

She famously described herself years ago as feeling like a "cow on ice" on clay, but Sharapova now has won her past 19 matches that went to three sets on the demanding surface.

In Saturday's final, the No. 7-seeded Sharapova will face No. 4 Simona Halep, a 22-year-old Romanian who never before had been past the quarterfinals at a major. Halep turned in a much more straightforward victory than Sharapova, eliminating No. 28 Andrea Petkovic of Germany 6-2, 7-6 (4).

"I have a lot of confidence in myself now," said Halep, who a year ago was ranked only 57th and lost in the first round in Paris for the third time since 2010. "I played really well here; a few good matches. But next round will be very tough. I know Maria. She's a great champion."

She is 0-3 against Sharapova. But Halep has claimed seven titles since the start of last season - "Impressive 12 months," she called it - and used her smooth movement and smart angles to win all 12 sets she's played these two weeks.

Sharapova took a more difficult route to her ninth Grand Slam final.

In the fourth round against 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur, Sharapova trailed 6-3, 4-3, then won the last nine games.

In the quarterfinals against 20-year-old Garbine Muguruza, the woman who stunned Serena Williams last week, Sharapova trailed 6-1, 5-4, then won nine of the last 10 games.

That pattern continued against another 20-year-old, Bouchard. After dropping the first set, then standing two games from defeat at 5-all in the second, Sharapova won eight of the last 10 games.

She did it by playing aggressively in crunch time, risking more but also coming through more. After Bouchard's ability to take the ball early helped her build a 13-8 edge in winners in the first set, Sharapova had a 25-16 edge in that category over the last two, celebrating most by shaking her left fist and crying, "Come on!"

"She kind of elevated her game a little bit," said Bouchard, who had been 9-0 in Grand Slam matches when winning the opening set.

This was only Bouchard's fifth major tournament, her second in a row reaching the semifinals.

Less than two years ago, Bouchard was at the junior level, winning the Wimbledon girls' title.

"She is literally just scratching the surface," said Nick Saviano, Bouchard's coach. "She can play a much, much higher level as she goes along. She's going to get faster. She's going to get stronger."

The 27-year-old Sharapova already owns a career Grand Slam, with titles at Wimbledon in 2004, the U.S. Open in 2006, the Australian Open in 2008, and the French Open two years ago. And for someone who used to have a hard time on clay, she is 53-4 with six titles on it since the start of 2012; three of those losses came against Williams, including in the 2013 French Open final.

"Sharapova does a good job of trying to stay in the moment," Saviano said. "She's got a lot of experience and a lot of fight. And she's been around a long time."

Sharapova put aside various problems she had Thursday, including nine double-faults, two that wasted set points at 5-3 in the second. She showed terrific defense and court coverage when it counted most, forcing Bouchard to hit extra shots.

Most important, at 2-1 in both the second and third sets, Bouchard raced to 40-love leads on her serve, only to have Sharapova steel herself and wind up breaking.

"I didn't feel that I was playing my best," Sharapova said. "I fought, I scrambled, and I found a way to win."

Join the discussion

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rude June 05 2014 at 9:28 PM

Was rooting for Bouchard. Halep will have to do now!!

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1 reply
macsportsvt rude June 06 2014 at 9:07 AM

Do not bet your piggy bank.

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pftaylor June 06 2014 at 1:00 AM

The tennis world is letting screamApova get away with her screaming distraction and getting in the heads of her rivals. She and Asserscanka are a cheating disgrace to the game. When you are still screaming after your hit and until the ball reaches your challenger on the other side of the net, there is obvious foul and distraction involved.

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1 reply
chuck pftaylor June 06 2014 at 9:23 AM

There are a lot of other tennis players that grunt or groan in some sort of fashion when they are serving or even returning a volley. Why single out Maria?

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bsulzberger June 05 2014 at 9:33 PM

Hope she loses. She is a cheater. That screeching should be eliminated. That and her turning her back while server is waiting.

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1 reply
florinni bsulzberger June 06 2014 at 6:22 AM

I totally agree! I hope Halep crushes her!

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1 reply
macsportsvt florinni June 06 2014 at 9:06 AM

Is not going to happen.

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a99centcoin June 05 2014 at 10:04 PM

Alright maria

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billcdaly June 06 2014 at 11:21 AM

Hope Maria wins.
Unfortunately I have to turn off the sound because of her shrill grunts.
I thought women's tennis was going to do something about that, as they
indicated they would?

Flag Reply +1 rate up
rcpaf83 June 06 2014 at 10:09 AM

Use to like Maria.. But her screaming at each shot has gotten out of control.. When will Tennis make them stop the screaming... They do it as an intimidation factor of their opponent.. STOP THE ADDED NOISE !!!! I believe it started with Monica Sellis(sp) from Germany several years back.. Time to stop....

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abbafan320 June 06 2014 at 11:03 AM

Cheer for Maria! She will win!

Flag Reply 0 rate up
halt1025 June 06 2014 at 10:18 AM

obomacare

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chuck June 06 2014 at 9:20 AM

Best of luck Maria, just keep your concentration level up !!!

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macsportsvt June 06 2014 at 9:05 AM

What an inspirational champion. What a lovely woman. She is to her supporters and many tennis fans what Phil Mickelson is to his golf supporters - scary, tension, nail-biting or as Irish golf columnist and commentator best put it: "Watching Phil play golf is like almost all the timewatching a blind man chase a butterfly beside a cliff" but unlike Phil, Maria gets it done!

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