Maria Sharapova to face Simona Halep in French Open final of contrasts

Story highlights

  • Maria Sharapova into French Open final in Paris
  • Beats Eugenie Bouchard 4-6 7-5 6-2 on Philippe Chatrier
  • Sharapova won title in 2012 and lost in last year's final
  • She will play Simona Halep who beat Andrea Petkovic in second semi
Maria Sharapova continued her run of tough three-set victories Thursday while Simona Halep maintained her flawless record of not dropping a set as the contrasting pair made it through to the title match at the French Open.
The statuesque 1.88 meter Sharapova took two hours and 40 minutes to see off the semifinal challenge of Eugenie Bouchard, who came close to upsetting a player she idolized as a youngster growing up in Canada.
Fourth seed Halep, a bundle of pugnacious energy at just 1.68 meters, was merely detained for 90 minutes in dispatching Germany's Andrea Petkovic 6-2 7-6 on the same Philippe Chatrier Court.
The 22-year-old Halep is the first Romanian to reach a grand slam final in 34 years.
Russia's Sharapova will be playing in her eighth, including her third in a row at the French Open, having won the title in 2012 and lost to Serena Williams last year.
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Sharapova has beaten Halep on the three occasions they have played, including the final on clay in Madrid earlier this year, but she will need to avoid the slow starts that have made her passage to the final so testing.
Bouchard, just a few centimeters shorter than Sharapova and with the same powerful ground strokes, looked set to cause an upset when she achieved two breaks of service to take the opener 6-4.
Seventh seed Sharapova steadied her nerves by taking an early break in the second set, but when Bouchard hit back to level at 5-5 it might have raised doubts for a lesser player than the four-time grand slam winner.
She responded in the style of a champion by breaking Bouchard again to win the second set 7-5 before racing into a lead she never surrendered in the decider.
Bouchard, who was playing in her second straight grand slam semifinal -- losing to eventual winner Li Na in Australia -- bravely saved four match points at 2-5 down but succumbed on the fifth.
Sharapova had repeated her feat of her previous two matches against Samantha Stosur and then Garbine Muguruza, who shocked title holder Williams in the second round, by coming back from a set down to prevail.
After her victory, the 27-year-old Sharapova paid tribute to her 18th-seeded opponent.
"She played an unbelievable match. Her level was extremely high today and I am just fortunate to be the winner," Sharapova said in her court side interview.
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"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."
Halep, whose manager Virginia Ruzici was champion at Roland Garros in 1978 and runner-up two years later to Chris Evert, was never seriously troubled against the German 28th seed Petkovic.
She raced to a 4-1 lead in just 14 minutes with two breaks of service and quickly closed out the opener.
Petkovic rallied to lead 3-1 in the set but gave up the advantage immediately and always trailed in the tiebreak, which she lost 7-4.
"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."
Halep has risen swiftly through the ranks and won sixth titles in 2013 to be named the WTA's most improved player.
A promising junior, her career stalled until she had breast reduction surgery four years ago, helping her to increase her athleticism around the court, much in evidence on her favorite surface of clay.