PARIS — As Maria Sharapova prepared to serve while only a point from defeat in the French Open semifinals, 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 Thursday. 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 runnerup, the first player from China to reach a major final. At the French Open on Saturday — when she will play defending champion Francesca Schiavone — the sixth-seeded Li can become the first Grand Slam champion from her nation of more than 1 billion people.
A year ago at Roland Garros, Schiavone became the first woman from Italy to win a major. But she had failed to make it to the final of any tournament since then, until taking the last four games to beat 11th-seeded Marion Bartoli 6-3, 6-3 Thursday.
"When I come here," the fifth-seeded Schiavone said, "I feel something special."
Wesley Chapel residents Mike and Bob Bryan lost to Juan Sebastian Cabal and Eduardo Schwank 7-6 (7-4), 6-3 in a doubles semifinal.
Today's men's semis: Even Rafael Nadal acknowledged his semifinal against Andy Murray is not nearly as intriguing as the one between unbeaten Novak Djokovic and 16-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer.
"It's the best player of today against the best player in history. … It's going to be a beautiful match," Nadal said. "I would watch it — if I was a spectator."
It's only the 12th time in the Open era, which dates to 1968, that the top four seeds have reached the semifinals at any Grand Slam event.
Djokovic is 41-0 in 2011, and a win over Federer ties John McEnroe's record for best start to a season in the Open era, 42-0. Add in two victories in December, and Djokovic's winning streak stands at 43 overall, three shy of Guillermo Vilas' mark of 46 in a row. And if he beats Federer, Djokovic will be assured of rising to No. 1 in the rankings for the first time.
"There's less at stake for me than for him," Federer said. "He's got a lot of things going."
Obituary: Hall of Famer Pauline Betz Addie, the top women's player in the United States in the 1940s, died Tuesday in Potomac, Md. She was 91.