Paris: Maria Sharapova survived a grueling test to reach the French Open final for the second straight year on Thursday with a 6-1 2-6 6-4 defeat of Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka.
In a disjointed match opposing two of the biggest hitters in women's tennis, the defending champion opened the semi-final in style, then lost her way for a set and finally, on the back of a brief rain delay, resumed control.
Azarenka, bidding to become the first woman since Jennifer Capriati in 2001 to win the Australian and French Opens in the same year, can count herself unlucky to have seen her momentum halted by the rain, but Sharapova was marginally the better player.
The second seed will now play either top seed Serena Williams or Sara Errani of Italy, who she beat in last year's final in Saturday's championship match.
"I really had to play to the end today and I am extremely happy to be back in the final," said Sharapova.
As she did against Jelena Jankovic in the quarter-finals, Sharapova got off to a miserable start, two double faults leading to a dropped serve in the first game.
But, unlike in her match against the Serb, the Russian quickly regrouped and rattled off four games in a row, getting the better of Azarenka in a bruising sequence of baseline exchanges.


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