China’s Li Na shattered Maria Sharapova’s dream of completing a set of Grand Slam titles by defeating the double-fault prone Russian 6-4, 7-5 in the French Open semi-finals on Thursday.
In so doing, Li made it back-to back Grand Slam finals for her and she gets another crack at becoming the first player from China to win a major title after losing to Kim Clijsters at the Australian Open at the start of the year.For Sharapova it was a bitter pill to swallow as she had hoped to become just the 10th woman in the history of the sport to win all four Grand Slam titles, having won one apiece at Wimbledon and the Australian and US Opens. But 10 double faults, five in each set, proved to be her undoing.
In Saturday’s final, the 29-year-old Li will go up against the winner of the other semi-final which opposes defending champion Francesa Schiavone of Italy and Marion Bartoli, who is aiming to become the first home winner at Roland Garros since Mary Pierce in 2000.
“I never believed I could be in the final of the French Open,” said Li, better known for her play on hardcourts and grass.
“I hope I can do even better on Saturday. Both players are tough so I will watch them later and just enjoy the day and then get ready for Saturday.”
Sharapova came into the semi-final on a 10-match winning streak on clay following her victory in Rome and with a self-professed new-found confidence on the surface on which she has always struggled.
But it was clear early on that of the two players, she was the one most troubled by the gusts of wind that whipped up the red dirt on the Philippe Chatrier centre court on a sunny, pleasant Paris afternoon.
Regularly waiting for calm conditions before launching into her high ball-tossing service action, the Russian was broken in the second game as the more consistent Li dominated.
Sharapova had two break points of her own in the next game but failed to take them as the 29-year-old Chinese player jumped out into a 4-1 lead.
Some booming groundstrokes from the tall Russian forced a break back to get to 4-3, but three double faults in the next game as the wind played havoc with her serve handed the advantage back to Li.
The seventh seed failed to serve out for the set, but once again had little difficulty breaking Sharapova’s serve to 15 pocketing the first set in 50 minutes.
Sharapova, playing in her second semi-final at Roland Garros after losing to Ana Ivanovic in 2007, saw two break points go amiss at the start of the second set, but a Li double fault on the third put her ahead.
This time Sharapova’s serve did not betray her as she moved out into a 3-1 and then 4-2 lead.
Two games later though her serving woes struck again as she double-faulted on break point to allow Li to level the set score.
Nerves were fraying, but Li staved off a break point to lead 5-4 and then three games later clinched the win with Sharapova once again double-faulting, her 10th, on match point.