Sharapova digs deep for victory

Banbury Cake: Maria Sharapova will aim for Grand Slam glory on Saturday (AP) Maria Sharapova will aim for Grand Slam glory on Saturday (AP)

Maria Sharapova is proud of the fighting spirit that has carried her to a third successive French Open final.

The Russian, who won the title in 2012 and lost to Serena Williams 12 months ago, recovered from a set down for the third straight match to beat 20-year-old Eugenie Bouchard 4-6 7-5 6-2.

In the final she will face first timer Simona Halep, who has not dropped a set this tournament and defeated Andrea Petkovic 6-2 7-6 (7/4).

Sharapova is famous for her intensity and never-say-die attitude and she certainly needed that to stave off the threat of the fast-improving Bouchard.

The Canadian, who made her first slam semi-final at the Australian Open in January, took the game to Sharapova from the off and was rewarded with the first set.

Bouchard then fought back from 2-5 in the second to 5-5, helped by Sharapova twice double-faulting on set point.

But the Russian found a way eventually and, although she was not playing her best, she got the advantage in the third set and hung on to it with everything she had.

It was her 19th consecutive win in a deciding set on clay dating back to the French Open in 2010.

Sharapova said: "I don't feel that I played my best tennis, but to be in the semi-finals of a grand slam and winning a match where I felt my opponent played extremely well, exceptional tennis; I fought, I scrambled, and I found a way to win. I'm happy and proud about that.

"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.

"If I don't start good, if I lose the first set, I'm going to be there until the end."

Bouchard idolised Sharapova as a youngster but the Canadian is cut from the same cloth and it was all business on court.

Twelve months ago Bouchard played in the main draw of a grand slam for the first time and lost to Sharapova in the second round, but she is a young woman in a hurry.

She said: "I'm always disappointed with a loss. I expect a lot from myself. I felt like I was close today and just came up a bit short.

"But it just motivates me that even if I wasn't playing great, I was still so close. That gives me extra motivation to work hard in practice and get ready for the next one and have that belief that I can do it.

"I definitely feel like I can play with the best girls in the game."

It has been an incredible year for both Halep and Petkovic.

Twelve months ago Halep was ranked outside the top 50 and lost in the first round at Roland Garros while Petkovic was beaten in qualifying and considered quitting the game as she tried to battle her way back from a series of injuries.

Now Halep has the chance to win her eighth title in 12 months and will climb to world number three on Monday.

The 22-year-old Romanian said: "I cannot say what I feel now. I'm a little bit blocked. It's amazing to play the final here in Paris.

"It was a very tough match. Emotional, also. I was very nervous. But I was a little bit stronger I think in the end, in the tie-break, and I could win the match in two sets.

"I feel amazing and it's an incredible feeling to be able to play a final at a grand slam."

Petkovic was disappointed she had not managed to take her chances in the second set but leaves Paris knowing her career is fully back on track.

She said: "I think it's a story that it's not the end but the beginning of something really, really beautiful hopefully. I gained a lot of belief in myself as a player again and the stages where I can get to."

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