Sharapova struggles into summit clash

Russian to face Halep in title match

Sharapova struggles into summit clash

Maria Sharapova booked her place in the French Open final for the third year in a row when she beat up-and-coming Canadian Eugenie Bouchard 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 on Thursday.

The Russian seventh seed, who lifted the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in 2012 and lost in last year's final, will take on Romanian fourth seed Simona Halep.

Halep reached her first Grand Slam final when she beat Germany's Andrea Petkovic 6-2, 7-6(4) in the semifinals of the French Open on Thursday.

The Romanian fourth seed, who will face 2012 champion and last year's runner-up Maria Sharapova on Saturday, blazed through the opening set as her 28th-seeded opponent struggled with early nerves.

She fell a break down in the second but recovered to force a tiebreak which she always controlled. Halep, who has yet to drop a set, ended the contest on her first match point with yet another forehand winner.

Earlier, struggling with her serve, Sharapova, who is 18-1 on the red dirt this season, dropped the first set before playing deeper to level the contest, outrunning the 18th-seeded Bouchard in the third.

Sharapova has now won the last 19 three-set matches she has played on clay since losing to Justine Henin in the third round at Roland Garros in 2010.

Unbelievable tie

"She played an unbelievable match, her level was extremely high ... I'm just very lucky to be the winner," Sharapova told reporters.

"Winning a match where I felt my opponent played extremely well, exceptional tennis and I didn't feel that I was playing my best, I fought, I scrambled, and I found a way to win. I'm happy and proud about that," the 2012 champion told reporters.

"In the third I thought I was the aggressive one. I stepped up and I was doing things  that I had wanted to do, which was I feel maybe I should have done earlier."

Bouchard, who was inspired to play after watching Sharapova at an early age, took first blood, breaking serve and playing her opponent at her own game by pushing her into the corners before the Russian broke back for 4-4.

The Canadian, in her second major semifinal this year, immediately broke back and took the set when Sharapova sent a backhand wide.

Despite Sharapova's service games being peppered with double faults, last year's runner-up turned up the heat and squeezed out the second set on her fifth set point to send her third straight match in Paris into a decider. 

In the third, she upped the aggression another notch, leaving Bouchard at times staring after the ball with a slight shrug despite the grit she showed to go toe-to-toe with the woman she had once put on a pedestal. 

"I thought I was really close to it at the end of the second set, but I made too many mistakes on important points and importamnt moments," Bouchard, known as Genie, told reporters.

Nadal, Murray win

There is not much that spooks Rafa Nadal at the French Open but David Ferrer managed to do just that - for 49 bewitching minutes - before watching in despair as his fellow Spaniard turned into a man possessed to set up a semifinal with Andy Murray.

Facing a rival who had beaten him the last time they had met, Nadal could barely believe his eyes on Wednesday when he dropped his first set of the tournament.

If that gave Ferrer hope that he could join Robin Soderling as the only men to have beaten the eight-time champion at Roland Garros, Nadal quickly squashed those dreams into the red dust as he went on a 10-game rampage en route to inflicting a 4-6, 6-4, 6-0, 6-1 defeat on his countryman.

While Nadal improved his mindboggling French Open win-loss record to 64-1, Murray was relieved to silence the pantomime boos that greeted his arrival on Philippe Chatrier Court.

As dusk fell over Paris, his 6-4, 6-1, 4-6, 1-6, 6-0 win over Gael Monfils not only earned him a place in his second semifinal in Paris, but also prolonged France's 31-year wait for a men's champion. It was not long before Murray's thoughts turned to the challenge that lies ahead.

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