Maria Sharapova sets up French Open final date with Simona Halep

Russian shows fighting spirit to win 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 against Eugenie Bouchard

Maria Sharapova on her way to a 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 win over Eugenie Bouchard of Romania at the French Open semi-final in Paris yesterday. Photograph: Getty Images

Maria Sharapova on her way to a 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 win over Eugenie Bouchard of Romania at the French Open semi-final in Paris yesterday. Photograph: Getty Images

 

At first, the patrons of a packed Court Philippe Chatrier were not sure which of the two ladies in pink might win their affection on this sunny day. Would they remain faithful to their old flame, Maria Sharapova, or did the charms of the younger Eugenie Bouchard hold more long-term promise?

At the end of this very public menage a trois, they went with the Russian, rising to acclaim a 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 win that takes her into tomorrow’s final of the French Open against Simona Halep. The gifted little Romanian, the number four, beat Andrea Petkovic, 6-2, 7-6 in the second semi-final.

At the beginning the suitors in their straw-boater finery dithered, ecstatic when Sharapova, dragging them into her vortex of suffering, would win a point, or save one, through the sheer force of her will, and then cooed with equal ardour for Bouchard, rising from their seats when she unleashed a terrifying forehand to scorch the lines. One shot that cut the clay at an angle for a second break at 5-4 in the first set raised a roar to rival a Sharapova scream.

When the diva’s metronomic backhand malfunctioned and the last point of the set strayed wide, the cheers for the French-speaking Canadian sounded genuine. “The crowd just made it fun to play,” Bouchard said later, “with a full stadium like that.”

Core appeal

She is a phenomenal fighter. Even when she was a set down, there would not have been many witnesses prepared to write off her chances of reaching a third successive final here, a suspicion confirmed when she rattled Bouchard to grab a 4-1 lead.

Despite a wretchedly uneven serving performance (she mixed nine double faults with four aces) she found a way – just as she did when coming from behind to beat Sam Stosur and the more resolute Spaniard Garbine Muguruza.

She won despite herself, almost, but her effort might have foundered in the remarkable ninth game of the second set. She aced for set point, hit two double faults, found another ace on her second serve to save break point and could only watch as Bouchard’s winner eluded her.

Nevertheless, she broke and held to level the set scores, and on they went to the third, where Bouchard’s admirable resistance crumbled after she had saved four match points, leaving Sharapova’s followers happy enough after two hours and 27 minutes of exquisite if ugly struggle, her 18th three-set win on clay, her third in a row here. “If it takes three hours to win the match in three sets, I will be ready for that,” Sharapova said. “If I have a match that’s easier and a more convincing win, then I will take that, as well. But I will do whatever it takes.”

The tennis of Halep, though, is from somewhere else. She’s just as determined but plays more cerebrally, enough to bring a smile rather than crowd-swell applause. Petkovic, the German 27th seed, would have had a different perspective in the first set, which lasted a mere 28 minutes. She played superbly to take Halep to a tiebreak in the second set but nerves took hold and Halep thrashed a winning forehand to wind it up. “I feel amazing to be in my first final in Paris,” Halep said. “Maria is a great champion. But why not? Maybe I will take revenge [for losing to her in the Madrid final].”

On the day’s evidence, and that of recent months, the final will be close, but I favour Halep. At 24, she is ready to win her first slam title. This is a stage made for slam breakthroughs, as Francesca Schiavone and Li know. Guardian Service

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