|An elated Maria Sharapova on reaching the French Open final, at Roland Garros, on Thursday.
The Russian star rallied to beat Eugenie Bouchard of Canada 4-6, 7-5, 6-2. (Reuters)
Paris: It wasn’t easy and at times it wasn’t pretty, but Maria Sharapova turned up the heat over three sets against up-and-coming Canadian Eugenie Bouchard on Thursday to reach her third consecutive French Open final.
“Winning a match where I felt my opponent played extremely well, exceptional tennis and I didn’t feel that I was playing my best, I fought and I found a way to win. I’m happy and proud about that,” the 2012 champion told reporters.
“In the third, I thought I was the aggressive one. I stepped up and I was doing things that I had wanted to do, which was I feel maybe I should have done earlier.”
For a time, the woman being labelled the “next Sharapova” looked on course for victory over the current model, until the Russian’s aggression and experience prevailed 4-6, 7-5, 6-2. It was Sharapova’s third consecutive victory from a set down — further proof that when the chips are down there are few players who can equal her for fighting spirit.
Looking close to mirror images on court, each blonde, each dressed in shades of pink with orange trim and each working the angles with flashing groundstrokes, it was Bouchard who called the tune in the first set.
However, by her own admission, she backed off in the second and third sets and despite Sharapova’s service games being peppered with double faults, it was the more experienced player who began to stamp her authority, the shrieks becoming a roar of delight as she snuffed out the 20-year-old.
Sharapova will face Romanian fourth seed Simona Halep in the final, hoping to go one better than her defeat by Serena Williams last year.
A disconsolate Bouchard, seeded 18, knew she had been within touching distance of reaching her first Grand Slam final off the back of her last four run in Australia.
“I thought I was really close to it at the end of the second set, but I made too many mistakes on important points and important moments,” Bouchard, known as Genie, told reporters.
Sharapova, who has battled shoulder injuries during her career, has now won the last 19 three-set matches she has played on clay since losing to Justine Henin in the third round at Roland Garros in 2010. “In these last matches I have lost the first set, but I have lost them in different ways,” she said.
“You know, at the end of the day, it’s not how you finish a first set. It’s how you finish the last set.”
She added: “I would love to win those matches in two sets, but I always feel like I put in the work to be ready to play whatever it takes. If it takes three hours to win the match in three sets, I will be ready for that.”
No questioning, this Siberian was born tough. “I’m not sure if that’s something can you work on, but I think when you’re forced to be in those situations when you’re either not playing good or you find yourself in a losing position, I just don’t want to give up, because I work too hard to just let something go and let a match go,” she said.
“You put so much effort, you and your team, to get to this position. If some things are not working out, I don’t just want to quit in the middle… That’s the type of philosophy that I play with.” Six of her last eight titles have now come on clay. Her feats are made all the more impressive since missing last year’s US Open due to injury.