Li Na and Francesca Schiavone advance to the French Open final with straight set victories

BENOIT TESSIER/ REUTERS – China’s Li Na of China returns the ball to Maria Sharapova of Russia during their semifinal match at the French Open on Thursday. Li beat Sharapova, 6-4, 7-5 to advance to the finals against defending champ Francesca Schiavone

PARIS — As Maria Sharapova prepared to serve while only a point from defeat in the French Open semifinals on Thursday, Li Na was thinking what any opponent would at that precise moment.

“I was, like, ‘Please, double-fault. That way I can win the match,’” Li explained to the crowd a few moments later.

Sharapova obliged. Her second serve hit the white tape atop the net and bounced back for Sharapova’s 10th double-fault of an error-filled afternoon, closing Li’s 6-4, 7-5 victory. The result ended Sharapova’s bid to complete a career Grand Slam, and allowed Li to reach a second consecutive major final.

At the Australian Open in January, Li was the runner-up, the first tennis player from China to reach a major championship match. At the French Open on Saturday — when she will play defending champion Francesca Schiavone — Li can become the first Grand Slam champion from her nation of more than 1 billion people.

Schiavone beat 11th-seeded Marion Bartoli of France 6-3, 6-3 in the other semifinal. A year ago at Roland Garros, Schiavone became the first woman from Italy to win a Grand Slam title. But she had failed to make it to the final of any tournament since then, until taking the last four games to beat Bartoli.

“When I come here,” the fifth-seeded Schiavone said, “I feel something special.”

After Bartoli’s last two-handed forehand — she grips her racket with both fists on nearly every shot — dropped into the net to end the day’s second semifinal, Schiavone celebrated by bending down and rubbing her right palm on the clay court, then making a fist and kissing it.

At 30, Schiavone would be the first woman at least that old to win a Grand Slam title since Martina Navratilova was 33 at Wimbledon in 1990. Combine Schiavone’s age with the 29-year-old Li’s, and Saturday’s match will have the oldest pair of finalists at a major tournament in 13 years.

She fell in love with the French Open the first time she came to play in the junior tournament and got a chance to see Steffi Graf and Monica Seles play in the semifinals. Schiavone sat in the stands, like any other fan, and snapped a photo she still looks at to this day.

In the mixed doubles final, Scott Lipsky, of Huntington Beach, Calif., and Casey Dellacqua of Australia beat the defending champions — and top-seeded — Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia and Katarina Srebotnik of Slovenia 7-6 (8-6), 4-6, 10-7.

“You watch these matches on TV, and you wish that someday you can be there,” Lipsky said. “To be on the stage playing in a Grand Slam final and to come out with a win and to say now for the rest of my life that I’m a Grand Slam champion, it’s amazing.”

He and Dellacqua, who were unseeded, trailed 6-4 in the super-tiebreaker but won six of the last seven points and won when Zimonjic’s backhand passing shot sailed long.

In the men’s doubles semifinals, top-seeded American twins Mike and Bob Bryan lost to Juan Sebastian Cabal of Colombia and Eduardo Schwank of Argentina 7-6 (7-4), 6-3.

The Bryans were bidding for a second French title and an 11th Grand Slam overall. “We got a little careless,” Bob Bryan said.

In the final, Cabal and Schwank will face second-seeded Daniel Nestor of Canada and Max Mirnyi of Belarus, who edged Zimonjic and Michael Llodra of France 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-5). — Associated Press

 AP News

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