New No. 1 Sharapova Beats Kvitova, Plays Errani in French Final

Italy's Sara Errani
Italy's Sara Errani reacts after a point as she plays against Australia's Samantha Stosur during their Women's Singles semifinal tennis match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium, on June 7, 2012 in Paris. Photographer: Patrick Kovarik/AFP/GettyImages

Maria Sharapova regained the top spot in women’s tennis by beating Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova to move to her first French Open final, where she’ll play Italy’s Sara Errani.

The Russian defeated the fourth-seeded Czech, 6-3, 6-3 on a windy day at the main Court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros in Paris. Her victory means Sharapova will regain the No. 1 ranking from Victoria Azarenka of Belarus in the women’s WTA tour.

“What an amazing feeling,” Sharapova said in a televised interview. “It was my third time in the semifinals and I’ve always dreamt of being in the final stage.”

The 25-year-old was last ranked No. 1 in 2008, before a shoulder injury forced her to have surgery and kept her away from the tour for nine months. She dropped out of the top 100.

“It’s pretty awesome: a few years ago after my shoulder surgery, I didn’t even know where my ranking was,” Sharapova said.

The French Open is the only major to have eluded Sharapova, the world’s highest-paid female athlete. The Russian won Wimbledon at age 17 in 2004, and also took the 2006 U.S. Open and 2008 Australian Open.

Earlier today, U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur was upset by Errani, who moved to her first Grand Slam singles final.

The 21st-seed beat the sixth-seeded Stosur of Australia 7-5, 1-6, 6-3.

Two Finals

Errani had already reached the women’s doubles final with Roberta Vinci and her win today means she’s the first woman since Kim Clijsters in 2003 to make both championship matches in Paris. The Italian had never got past the third round of a major before this season. Since 1976, no player ranked outside the top 20 has won the singles title at Roland Garros.

“I have no words,” Errani said in a televised interview after she took the match with a forehand winner and fell to her back on the clay. “It’s incredible. I can’t believe I am in the final.”

Sharapova took control early on, breaking serve and taking the first set on a forehand wide by Kvitova, her ninth error. In the second set, both players dropped their serve as the clay blew around the stadium. At 3-4 down, Kvitova dropped serve as she netted a forehand. Sharapova won with a second serve ace and held her arms above head.

After losing in the Wimbledon final to Kvitova, Sharapova beat the Czech in the semifinals of this year’s Australian Open. The Russian entered Paris having won clay-court titles in Stuttgart and Rome, while Kvitova has yet to make a final this season.

Top 10

Errani, who will be ranked inside the top ten next week, had lost all five matches against Stosur before today. She’s never played Sharapova.

The opening semifinal was delayed an hour and 20 minutes because of heavy rain. Errani and Stosur started nervously, each dropping serve after the opening game. The Italian dictated play throughout most of the first set, moving Stosur around with her topspin forehand.

At 5-5, the Australian dropped her serve after several backhand errors and netted a volley on the third break point. A backhand error by Stosur handed the Italian two set points, and Errani clenched her fist as she took the set with a forehand winner.

More Aggression

Stosur played more aggressively and improved her accuracy in the second set, stepping inside the court to take the ball early off the Italian’s serve. Stosur leveled the match with her 11th ace.

In the final set, Stosur lost three games in a row as she made a series of backhand errors. Looking at her coach David Taylor between points, she then fought back to level at 3-3. Stosur dropped serve again at 3-4 as she hit a forehand wide. Serving for a place in the final, Errani won with a forehand, her 22nd winner. The Italian made 21 errors in the match, while Stosur had 48 and struck 46 winners.

“It was hard,” Stosur told reporters. “I think she kind of played some good points. Then I got a little bit on the back foot again, which kind of got me in that hole at 3-love in the third in the beginning, and I couldn’t afford to do that. I paid the ultimate price.”

Errani’s surprise entry into the final comes after a number of high-profile upsets in the women’s draw. Thirteen-time Grand Slam singles champion Serena Williams lost in the opening round of a major for the first time. Women’s top seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus and defending champion Li Na of China exited in the fourth round.