By Pritha Sarkar
She once posed for a photograph with an eight-year-old Eugenie Bouchard but that friendly touch was not on show on Thursday as Maria Sharapova wiped the smile off the Canadian’s face to set up a French Open final with Simona Halep.
While a 2002 photo of a statuesque Sharapova wrapping her arm around a pixie-like Bouchard has gone viral over the past 48 hours, the Russian hogged the limelight at Roland Garros as she grunted and shrieked her way to her third successive Paris final with a 4-6 7-5 6-2 win.
“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,” said seventh seed Sharapova after a third straight win from a set down.
She produced nine double faults, 35 unforced errors and was broken four times in a messy performance but the shot that mattered most was the blazing forehand she sent flying past Bouchard’s racket on her fifth match point.
That left the Russian bellowing into the skies while Bouchard, dubbed the ‘next Sharapova’ was left to reflect on what might have been.
“When you play a great champion, you definitely feel their presence. Often I constructed the point well and then didn’t finish it as well as I could,” said the 20-year-old.
“I had a couple of chances here and there and just didn’t take my opportunities when I had a few of them. That’s part of the learning experience for me.”
Halep, 22, proved that she is a fast learner as she became the first Romanian in 34 years to reach a grand slam final by dousing the fire of Andrea Petkovic with a 6-2 7-6(4) win.
Many of the near-capacity 15,000 spectators who went out for a breather following the conclusion of Sharapova’s 2-1/2 hour marathon barely had a chance to file back into the stadium before fourth seed Halep romped through the opening set.
But Petkovic, who almost quit tennis a year ago after her ranking plummeted to 177 following a series of back, ankle and knee injuries, showed her indomitable spirit to hang in there in the second set before Halep finally sealed her fate.
She dropped her racket on her moment of triumph before raising both fists skywards as it dawned on her that she could join her manager Virginia Ruzici, champion in 1978, in the French Open winners’ circle.
“I feel amazing now. It’s incredible I will play final in Paris. I did everything on court to win this match,” Halep said in a courtside interview after reaching the final without dropping a set.