WIMBLEDON, England – So what if Maria Sharapova managed to win only two of the first 13 points of her Wimbledon semifinal Thursday, dropping the first three games?
So what if she bungled her serve so badly that she double-faulted 13 times?
All that mattered to Sharapova was that she roared – well, shrieked – her way back into the match, taking 12 of the last 16 games to beat wild-card entry Sabine Lisicki of Germany 6-4, 6-3 and return to the final at the All England Club for the first time since 2004, when she won the title at 17.
“It’s been many years, but it’s a really great feeling,” said Sharapova, a Russian who lives in Florida. “Today wasn’t my best match of the championships, so I was real happy to get through in two sets. But, yeah, it’s pretty amazing to be back on that stage.”
In Saturday’s final, Sharapova will play No. 8 Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, who hit nine aces throughout her 6-1, 3-6, 6-2 victory over No. 4 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus.
Sharapova’s seven-year gap between Wimbledon finals is the longest for a woman in the Open era, which began in 1968.
“I’m in a different stage in my career. I’m 24 years old. I have a lot of experience behind my back,” said Sharapova, who hasn’t lost a set during the tournament. “But I’m still playing tennis.”
That wasn’t always a given: Months after winning her third, and most recent, Grand Slam title at the 2008 Australian Open, Sharapova was sidelined with a serious injury to her right shoulder. When rehab wasn’t enough, she had surgery in October 2008. It was an arduous road back, and only now has she returned to the top of the game.
“You’re going to have certain doubts, I mean, when you go through something like that,” the fifth-seeded Sharapova said, “knowing that not too many players have recovered fully.”
Kvitova, who lost in last year’s Wimbledon semifinals, is the first left-handed woman to reach a Grand Slam title match since Monica Seles at the 1998 French Open. She would be the first lefty to win Wimbledon since 1990, when Martina Navratilova – who was born in Czechoslovakia and was a spectator Thursday – earned her ninth title.
“There’s been so few women lefties that were good,” Navratilova said. “For Petra, I think the key’s always been to minimize those streaks of bad play. She’s very streaky.”
There’s little question who the favorite is: Sharapova will be playing in her fifth major final; the 21-year-old Kvitova in her first. Sharapova seeks her 24th career title; Kvitova her fifth.