Defending champion Francesca Schiavone and Li Na won in straight sets to advance to the final of tennis’s French Open in Paris.
Fifth-seeded Schiavone of Italy beat France’s Marion Bartoli 6-3, 6-3, while No. 6 Li defeated Maria Sharapova of Russia 6-4, 7-5 to become the first Chinese player to reach the championship match. They’ll meet for the title in two days.
“The experience to be here in the final is a dream come true,” Schiavone, who beat Australia’s Samantha Stosur in last year’s final, said in a courtside interview at Roland Garros. “It will be really tough, but this is tennis and one has to win.”
The two have played four times previously, with each winning twice. Schiavone took the most recent matchup, in the third round in Paris last year.
“I just need one more step and then my dream is come true,” Li said in a news conference.
Both matches were played in winds of about 50 kilometers (31 miles) per hour, which affected shots and sent clay up into the stands.
Schiavone and Bartoli were able to stay on serve in the first set until the champion broke for a 5-3 lead. She then served out, winning when Bartoli sent a backhand long.
Bartoli broke for a 2-0 lead in the second set, but couldn’t hold serve in the next game. Schiavone broke again for a 4-3 lead and, after holding serve, got her final break at love to clinch the match.
“With the wind, it was a little more in my advantage,” Schiavone, 30, said. “It was not easy. Marion is a great talent, I had to run a lot.”
The 26-year-old Bartoli was trying to become the seventh French woman to reach the final, and first since Mary Pierce in 2005. She made 18 unforced errors and hit only 11 winners.
Li’s victory sends her to a second consecutive Grand Slam final after losing to Kim Clijsters at the Australian Open in January.
“I never believe that I could be in the final of the French Open,” the 29-year-old Li said in a courtside interview. “I wish I can do even better on Saturday.”
The No. 6 seed made 23 unforced errors and got only 66 percent of first serves in. Seventh-seeded Sharapova had 28 unforced errors, 10 double faults and hit only 12 winners.
“It was tough for both of us,” Sharapova, 24, said of the wind.
Li broke Sharapova in the second game and opened a 3-0 lead before the Russian pulled within 4-3 with her first break. Neither player held serve in the next three games and Li took the set when Sharapova put a forehand into the net.
Sharapova broke to start the second set as Li squandered a 40-0 lead. Li broke back to tie 4-4 and closed out the match with another break four games later on Sharapova’s double fault.
Sharapova was attempting to complete the career Grand Slam by taking the title in Paris. She won Wimbledon in 2004, the U.S. Open in 2006 and the Australian Open three years ago.
“It’s great that I have an opportunity to win all four,” she told reporters. “It didn’t happen this year.”