Paris. It will be power and star-appeal against guile and honest endeavour on Saturday when Maria Sharapova takes on Sara Errani for the French Open title in Paris.
Second-seeded Russian Sharapova won through to the Championship match with a 6-3, 6-3 win over fourth seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, while 21st seed Errani of Italy ousted Australian sixth seed Samantha Stosur 7-5, 1-6, 6-3.
The stakes could hardly be higher for Sharapova, who is already assured of regaining the world number one spot she last held in 2008 before a shoulder injury nearly wrecked her career.
The 2004 Wimbledon, 2006 US Open and 2008 Australian Open champion, will become just the 10th woman to complete a career Grand Slam if she takes Saturday’s final, her first at Roland Garros.
Errani, who was not rated among the favorites for the title coming into Paris despite winning three claycourt build-up tournaments, will be playing in her first Grand Slam final.
A win would make the 21st seed just the second Italian woman to win the French Open title after Francesca Schiavone two years ago.
Sharapova will start as a strong favorite and if she can reproduce the kind of form she showed against Wimbledon champion Kvitova, Errani could struggle to counter her power.
Sharapova at an imposing 1.88m will tower over her opponent who is 24cm smaller.
The Russian is the biggest-earner in women’s sport and a global superstar. Errani, prior to this Roland Garros, was a relative unknown, who seemed destined to a life in the middle ranks of the WTA tour.
But both have in common that in the last few weeks they have been the dominant figures in the claycourt season setting their paths for the showdown that they will face at Roland Garros on Saturday.
Sharapova won two of the biggest buildup tournaments to Paris, at Stuttgart and Rome. Errani won three lesser titles in Acapulco, Barcelona and Budapest as she suddenly, at 25, emerged as a world class player, at least on clay, her favourite surface.
The Russian, who is 10 days older than Errani, scoffs at suggestions that she is odds-on to win the final.
“I think she has won the most clay court matches this year. She’s been so great on this surface. It’s her favourite surface to play on,” she said.
“The way she’s been competing in the last two weeks, I mean, I’ve seen a lot of her matches. The way she competes and moves and gets herself back in position, makes you hit a lot of balls.
“She’s certainly a very dangerous player”
There is little to go by in the archives as the two have never met on the court.
Errani, who recently switched to a longer handle on her racquet in a bid to put more sting into her shots, will take inspiration from Schiavone who uspet the odds to beat the more powerfully-built Stosur for the French title in 2010.
But she agrees that, at the end of the day, what counts is that she needs to continue to believe in herself and play her own game on Saturday.
“I didn’t expect to be here (in the final). I don’t feel like top 10 but now I will be, so it’s a strange sensation,” she said.
“Maybe my problem always was that I couldn’t believe too much to win with the strong players.
“But now I beat three in a row I’m in the final in a Grand Slam. So I have to maybe try to think a bit different.”