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Sharapova beats Azarenka in three en route to Roland Garros final

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maria_sharapova_7In the first of the two women's semi-finals, defending champion Maria Sharapova took on first time French Open semi-finalist Victoria Azarenka. The Azarenka-Sharapova rivalry is one of the more competitive and hard fought ones in women’s tennis over the past couple of years. 2012 was the breakout year in this rivalry and the two ladies have met 6 times since. Azarenka got the better of her Russian opponent 4 of those times to improve the career head to head to 7-5 in her favour.

Coming in to this year’s edition of the French Open, the odds were more or less evenly split with the slight edge going to Sharapova as a result of her improved clay court game and 2012 win at the French Open.

True to form, the world no.2 and world no.3 produced a great tennis match and went at it for two hours and 10 minutes, not including a 35 minute rain delay in the third set, before the 2nd seed emerged victorious showing her competitive spirit  by recovering from Azarenka’s onslaught of 6 straight games over the second and third sets to win 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 to make a return to the French Open final.

The match began well for Belarus’ lone Grand Slam champion and she broke the Russian to love in the very first game of the match aided by two double faults from her opponent.  That was just a momentary lapse in concentration, however, as the rest of the opening set was pure perfection from Sharapova.

She  won 22 of the next 26 points and after 28 minutes on court the 26 year old Sharapova was celebrating her one set to love lead.

For the first 4 games in the 2nd set, the duo stayed level at 2 games apiece. That’s when Azarenka began to find her game. Known as one of the best returners on tour, she began to hit her ground strokes cleanly and just short of the baseline and this unsettled the Russian, who began to make errors and conceded the advantage to the world no.3 by being broken thrice. Aided by 8 winners and her improved serving that saw her lose only 7 points on serve, the two time Australian Open champion closed out the second set 6-2 to force the match to a decider.

After the two sets it began to rain and play was stopped. More than half an hour later, play resumed but both players had lost their game, form and momentum. 35 unforced errors came in the final set, 22 from Sharapova’s racket and 13 from Azarenka’s. The defending champion made matters worse by hitting 7 double faults and was broken two times but was saved because she was able to break her opponent’s serve three times.

The Russian was somehow able to pull ahead for a 5-2 lead despite all these errors but was unable to capitalise on any of her 4 match points. Azarenka broke serve and came close to levelling the match but the insurance break in Sharapova’s pocket proved to be the difference as the world no.2 calmly served out the match on her fifth opportunity to move into the final.