PARIS — Might be easier said than done. Still, Maria Sharapova offered a tidy aphorism to sum up the formula that has carried her to a third consecutive French Open final.
"It's not how you finish a first set," Sharapova said, "it's how you finish the last set."
Right now, no one is a better closer than she is on clay. Nearing a second championship at Roland Garros, and fifth Grand Slam trophy overall, Sharapova gritted her way to yet another comeback victory, beating 18th-seeded Eugenie Bouchard of Canada 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 in the women's semifinals Thursday.
"If some things are not working out, I don't just want to quit in the middle. Because when you lose the first set or a few games or you're down a break, that's not the end of the match," Sharapova said. "That's the type of philosophy that I play with."
The 27-year-old Russian famously described herself years ago as feeling like a "cow on ice" on clay, but Sharapova has won her past 19 matches that went to three sets on the surface. Her last three-set loss on clay came in 2010 against Justine Henin, a four-time French Open champ.
Sharapova is 53-4 with the 2012 French Open among the six titles she's won on clay.
In Saturday's final, the No. 7-seeded Sharapova faces No. 4 Simona Halep, a 22-year-old Romanian who never before had been past the quarterfinals at a major. Halep turned in a much more straightforward victory than Sharapova, eliminating No. 28 Andrea Petkovic of Germany 6-2, 7-6 (7-4).
"I have a lot of confidence in myself now," said Halep, who a year ago was ranked only 57th. "I played really well here; a few good matches. But next round will be very tough. I know Maria. She's a great champion."
She is 0-3 against Sharapova. But Halep has claimed seven titles since the start of last season and won all 12 sets she has played these two weeks.
Sharapova took a much difficult route to her ninth Grand Slam final. After dropping the first set against Bouchard, then standing two games from defeat at 5-all in the second, Sharapova won eight of the last 10 games.
"She kind of elevated her game a little bit," said Bouchard, who had been 9-0 in Grand Slam matches when winning the opening set.
"I didn't feel that I was playing my best," Sharapova said. "I fought, I scrambled, and I found a way to win."
Heading into today's men's semifinals, top-seeded Rafael Nadal is trying to become the first man to win five consecutive French Opens. He faces No. 7 Andy Murray, who lost to Nadal in the 2011 semifinals. Second-seeded Novak Djokovic meets No. 18 Ernests Gulbis in the other semifinal.