Li beats Sharapova to reach French final
China's Li Na overcame Maria Sharapova 6-4, 7-5 on Thursday to reach the French Open final and boost her bid to become the first Asian to win a grand slam singles title.
In the first set, Li raced into a 3-0 lead and broke three times as Sharapova, who took two games off the Chinese player's serve, struggled for rhythm in the wind and on the clay.
An awful double fault from Li early in the second let the Russian back in but the three-times grand slam champion wasted the advantage when she committed the same error for 4-4.
Image: Li Na reacts after defeating Maria Sharapova
'I never believed I could be in the French Open final'
Li, who lost in January's Australian Open final, sealed victory and a meeting with holder Francesca Schiavone or Marion Bartoli when her opponent double faulted again to the delight of millions of Chinese watching at home and a smattering on court.
"She had a huge big serve so I thought please double fault so I can win the match," Li said courtside.
"I never believed myself that I could be in the French Open final, I wish I can do even better in Saturday's final. It was a tough match."
Image: Li Na hits a return
Sharapova failed to mix up her game
Seventh seed Sharapova tried to attack Li's stronger forehand from the baseline and failed to mix up her game, playing into the dogged sixth seed's hands.
The Chinese sports minister is set to fly over to Paris for the final, organisers said, joining a number of fans who donned the traditional panama hats on Thursday and other Chinese supporters who wore the red and yellow colours of their flag.
Sharapova was aiming for her first French Open title to complete a career grand slam.
Image: Maria Sharapova
Schiavone downs Bartoli
Italy's defending champion Francesca Schiavone gave a typically battling display to reach the French Open final with a 6-3, 6-3 win over local hope Marion Bartoli on Thursday.
Schiavone was a shock winner at Roland Garros last year but the fifth seed has looked a real contender from the start this time as bigger names were knocked out early.
A break for 5-3 in the first set came at just the right time for the Italian after some cagey exchanges, occasionally peppered with a neat drop shot or volley in the wind.
Image: Francesca Schiavone reacts after defeating Marion Bartoli
'The crowd helped me a lot'
The second set was topsy-turvy, with the French 11th seed and 2007 Wimbledon runner-up going 2-0 up, but Schiavone fought back and eventually won when Bartoli netted.
"The crowd helped me a lot," Schiavone said courtside after a small contingent of Italians had kept up a continuous noise despite being vastly outnumbered by French supporters on Court Philippe Chatrier.
"It was not easy because she is a great talent here. I had to run a lot."
Schiavone will meet 29-year-old Li Na in Saturday's final after the Chinese, bidding to be the first Asian to win a grand slam singles title in her second consecutive final, beat Maria Sharapova in straight sets.
Image: Marion Bartoli returns the ball
Intriguing final on cards
"I think she played an amazing year starting in the Australian Open final and she is a great person. It will be tough but this is tennis, someone has to lose," said the 30-year-old Milanese.
Both finalists have peaked late in tennis but the women's game at least has an intriguing final after fears from fans that two anonymous players could have ended up in the showpiece after the early exit of the top three seeds.
Image: Francesca Schiavone picks up some clay after defeating Marion Bartoli