Maria Sharapova advanced to her third consecutive French Open final on Thursday, though her path hasn't been easy. She had to bully her way through a third-straight three-set match, defeating Canada's Eugenie Bouchard (and one of the sport's most promising young talents) 4-6, 7-5, 6-2. Sharapova, yet again, dropped the first set to her opponent, only to clamber back in a contested second set and take a dominant third.
The formula has been working for the 27-year-old, though she may rather spare herself the tension. Unfortunately for Sharapova, she'll draw No. 4 Simona Halep in the final. Halep rallied back in the second set to beat Andrea Petkovic, 6-2, 7-6 (11).
Colin Davy sang Halep's praises when he previewed the women's draw heading into the French Open, and predicted that the Romanian had an excellent chance to make a semifinal and beyond. Regardless, her dominance in this year's French Open has been a revelation. Bill Connelly called her work on clay "Nadalian" as she advanced to the title bout against Sharapova without dropping a set.
At 5'6, Halep doesn't possess the imposing frame of the field's biggest stars, but she makes up for it in speed and creativity, which she displayed against Petkovic. In a well-played match, she limited herself to 20 unforced errors to Petkovic's 36. She served well, placing 73 percent of her first serves in play and winning 46-of-66 first- and second-serve attempts.
Even taking into account a longer match, Sharapova's 35 unforced errors were relatively a lot, and she was fortunate to be countered by 49 from Bouchard. Sharapova's serve functioned well. Though she placed just 59 percent of her first serve attempts, she scored 75 percent of the time when she did, including four aces.
Halep's quickness and defense should suit her well against Sharapova, but there's good reason why the latter is a four-time champion in majors. Funny that after such a chaotic women's draw, we end up with the matchup that the numbers more or less predicted: Halep was Advance Baseline's No. 3 clay-court player, while Sharapova was No. 2. The result should be a fascinating final come Saturday.