June 6, 2014 in Sports

2012 champ Maria Sharapova awaits Simona Halep in French final

Howard Fendrich Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Maria Sharapova stood two games from defeat before winning the final two sets to beat Eugenie Bouchard in the French Open semis.
(Full-size photo)

PARIS – 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.

Rojer, Groenefeld win mixed doubles

Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands and Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany won the mixed doubles title at the French Open by defeating eighth-seeded Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia and Julia Goerges of Germany 4-6, 6-2, 10-7 on Thursday.

Rojer was playing his first Grand Slam final while Groenefeld won the mixed doubles title at Wimbledon with Mark Knowles of the Bahamas in 2009.

“I gained a friend this week. I lost one, because I had to tell some other player that I’m not playing with her,” Rojer said. “So I hope she understands, especially now.

“But I apologized like 18 times to her.”

Rojer and Groenefeld were teaming up for the first time.

“Actually, I was asking around,” Groenefeld said. “No one wanted to play with me, and then he said yes.”

Zimonjic and Goerges took the opening set when the Serb hit a forehand return winner off Rojer’s serve.

Rojer and Groenefeld evened the match as Goerges dropped serve twice in the second set. They won four straight points in the final-set champions tiebreaker to lead 5-2 before clinching the victory when Goerges netted a backhand volley.

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