Maria Sharapova had better come armed with a bit more than the 12 aces she served to reach the final when facing her nemesis Serena Williams in the French Open showpiece today.
For the second match running, Russian defending champion Sharapova produced a wildly fluctuating display on Thursday as she beat fierce rival Victoria Azarenka 6-1, 2-6, 6-4.
Williams had been forced to wait as Sharapova and Azarenka finished their rain-interrupted two-hour scrap — then came out like a hungry tiger to maul hapless Italian Sara Errani 6-0, 6-1.
On the day the WTA celebrated its 40th anniversary, top seed Williams made a mockery of Errani’s world No. 5 ranking as she underlined her unshakeable grip on the women’s game.
Fifth seed Errani, a clay-court expert who was runner-up to Sha-rapova last year, pocketed only 16 points and was mercifully put out of her misery by the world No. 1 after 46 minutes.
Williams won 40 of her 52 points with winners, incredible statistics, yet she seemed unimpressed.
Sharapova, second in the rankings, has not beaten 31-year-old Williams since 2004, a 12-match losing sequence.
Williams, apart from a brief hiccup against Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarter-final when she dropped her only set of the tournament, has looked unstoppable on the Parisian clay.
Errani never stood a chance.
The 26-year-old looked close to tears at 0-3 in the second set, but avoided the dreaded “double bagel” by winning the fourth game when her opponent fired a backhand wide.
She raised her hands in celebration, but Williams soon resumed the slaughter to win the most one-sided women’s singles semi-final at Roland Garros since seven-time champion Chris Evert beat Camille Benjamin 6-0, 6-0 in 1984.
Sharapova will have to play a lot better than against third-seeded Azarenka in a match that was intriguing and noisy, but lacked sustained quality.
Azarenka, playing in her first French Open semi-final, never usually ducks a scrap and she began to return some of Sharapova’s lusty blows with interest.
From 2-2 and with storm clouds gathering above, the Belarussian won the next four games, clinching the second set on a Sharapova double fault, one of 11 gifts her opponent served.
The roller-coaster ride continued as Sharapova surged 5-2 ahead, only for Azarenka to save four match points with some courageous shots that peppered Sharapova’s baseline.
Two more double faults gifted Azarenka the game and when she held to love to make it 5-4 the tension was mounting.
As cool as you like, Sharapova then stepped up to the line, fired down two powerful first serves on her way to a 40-0 lead and finished off Azarenka with a skidding ace.
Despite the tenacity of the contest, the one-dimensional nature of the match was a poor advert for women’s tennis, with the world No. 2 and No. 3 committing 61 errors between them.