Russian superstar Maria Sharapova will take on Romanian upstart Simona Halep in the French Open final on Saturday following wins for both players in Thursday’s semi-finals.
Sharapova, the 27-year-old seventh seed and winner in Paris in 2012, again showed her never-say-die spirit in downing fast-rising Canadian Eugenie Bouchard 4-6, 7-5, 6-2.
Halep, a 22-year-old from the Black Sea port city of Constanta who has broken into the top bracket of the women’s game in the last 18 months, was too strong for Germany’s Andrea Petkovic, winning 6-2, 7-6 (7/4).
Sharapova, the biggest-earning sportswoman in the world, will be gunning for a fifth Grand Slam title, having completed her career Grand Slam sweep in Paris two years ago.
Halep, who once underwent breast reduction surgery to improve her game, will become the first Romanian since her manager Virginia Ruzici 34 years ago to contest a Grand Slam final.
The Roland Garros finalists have played each other three times with Sharapova winning all three.
The Russian once again did it the hard way against Bouchard, a 20-year-old star-in-the making from Montreal, battling back from a set down in a match full of beefy baseline shot-making.
It was the 19th time in a row that the steely Sharapova had won a three-set match on clay, dating back to a loss against Justine Henin at Roland Garros in 2010.
For the fast-rising Bouchard, it represented the second time she has reached a Grand Slam semi-final, after this year’s Australian Open, and the second time she has failed to go a step further, having lost to eventual champion Li Na in Melbourne.
“She played an unbelievable match. Her level was extremely high today and I am just fortunate to be the winner,” Sharapova said.
“I would prefer to win in two sets, but she started so well. It was tough losing the first set, but that’s not when the match is over. I fought and I scrambled and I found a way to win.”
Bouchard said that she had had her chances of reaching her first Grand Slam final but had been unable to take them.
“It was a diffcult match for me today and I was really close to winning it, but it was not enough,” she said.
“I didn’t play at the right level at the important moments. It was so close and I feel I am very close to winning a major tournament and being the player I want to be.”
Halep a former world junior number one had never previously got beyond the second round in Paris, but the woman voted the most improved player of 2013, has raced through the tournament without losing a set.
On Thursday, she was 4-1 ahead in just 14 minutes courtesy of two breaks of German 28th seed Petkovic who was also playing in her first major semi-final.
Halep, at fourth the highest-ranking seed left in the tournament since the third round, fired three aces in the opener and allowed her 26-year-old opponent just seven points off her serve.
Petkovic briefly rallied with a break to lead 3-1 in the second set but then handed the advantage straight back to the speedy Halep.
The German was finally undone in the tiebreak when Halep wrapped up the semi-final with a sweeping, running forehand.
“It’s very emotional to win and reach my first Grand Slam final,” said Halep.
“Andrea’s a great player but I think I was a little bit stronger. I tried my best and did everything I could to win the match.”