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Sharapova reaches final, reclaims No. 1

PARIS — Wind blew in her face, kicking up flecks of clay, and Maria Sharapova stood at the baseline, knowing she needed one more point to reach her first French Open final and return to No. 1 in the rankings.

She rotated her right shoulder, the one surgically repaired 3½ years ago, and served a fault.

Her next try found the mark: a second-serve ace at 104 mph. It was a fitting way to close out a 6-3, 6-3 victory over No. 4-seeded Petra Kvitova in the semifinals at Roland Garros on Thursday, a fitting way to announce Sharapova is once again at the top of her sport.

"It's a long road back; it's a long process. It's a lot of days of frustration and uncertainty, not knowing if you'll ever get there, not knowing how much you want it, not knowing whether (there) would be a moment like that for you again," Sharapova said.

"So there's definitely a lot of tough things you have to go through to get to this point. But when you get here, and you look back at the things that you did, and the work that you put in, and the toughest days that you can remember, it's all really worth it."

The second-seeded Russian faces 21st-seeded Sara Errani on Saturday for the Open title. It's the only major Sharapova hasn't won; she can become the 10th woman to complete a career Grand Slam.

Playing in her first Grand Slam semifinal, Errani beat reigning U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur, a Tampa resident, 7-5, 1-6, 6-3.

"Players like Sharapova, Serena Williams — they're accustomed to making it this far," said Errani's coach, Pablo Lozano. "For us, every day brings a new surprise."

Entering the tournament, Errani was 0-28 against women ranked in the top 10. But she beat No. 10 Angelique Kerber in the quarterfinals then No. 6 Stosur on Thursday — and those upsets were preceded by victories over two past French Open champions, 2008's Ana Ivanovic and 2009's Svetlanta Kuznetsova.

Did she ever doubt she could beat the best?

"It's not a question of believing or not believing," Errani said. "I don't think about that. I just think about playing. I just think about going on court and giving my all. And whatever happens, happens. I've never thought, 'I can't beat someone in the top 10.' "

Records on line for Djokovic, Nadal

A year ago in the French Open semifinals, Roger Federer put a stop to Novak Djokovic's 43-match winning streak.

That also was the last time Djokovic lost at any Grand Slam tournament.

When the two meet on the same stage today, 16-time major champion Federer once again stands in Djokovic's way, with even more at stake. This time, Djokovic will be seeking a 27th consecutive major match victory, which would leave him one shy of becoming the first man in 43 years to win four Grand Slam titles in a row.

"I will try to be out there believing I can win," said the No. 1-ranked Djokovic. "There is no (real) favorite."

The other semifinal features someone else pursuing history: No. 2 Rafael Nadal, who faces No. 6 David Ferrer, is hoping to earn a record seventh French Open trophy, which would break a tie with Bjorn Borg.

Nadal is 50-1 at Roland Garros, the only loss coming in the fourth round in 2009 against Robin Soderling.

"How discouraging is it to play Nadal on this surface? … When Borg played, in my day, he was like the human backboard," said seven-time Grand Slam champion John McEnroe. "He was faster than everyone, fitter than everyone, and you couldn't get a ball by the guy. I saw guys get exhausted in the first set. … It's like the same thing when you play Nadal."

>>FRENCH OPEN

Today: Men's semifinals

• No. 2 Rafael Nadal vs. No. 6 David Ferrer

• No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 3 Roger Federer

TV: 7 a.m., Tennis; 11 a.m., Ch. 8

Sharapova reaches final, reclaims No. 1 06/07/12 [Last modified: Thursday, June 7, 2012 11:53pm]

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