Serena Williams to face Maria Sharapova in French Open final

Top-ranked Serena Williams needed just 46minutes to dump fifth-seeded Sara Errani, 6-0, 6-1, in the semis.
Top-ranked Serena Williams needed just 46minutes to dump fifth-seeded Sara Errani, 6-0, 6-1, in the semis.

PARIS — Done with a dominating performance in the French Open semifinals, Serena Williams climbed the stairs leading from the locker room to the players’ lounge, looking to give her mother a hug.

Smiling widely all the while, Williams greeted visitors, posed for photos, and signed autographs on her way.

It’s been more than a decade since she was so happy — and played so well — this deep in the tournament at Roland Garros.


Coming as close to perfect as seems possible, Williams absolutely overwhelmed last year’s runner-up, fifth-seeded Sara Errani, 6-0, 6-1, in a mere 46 minutes Thursday to reach the final for the first time since winning her lone French Open championship in 2002.

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‘‘It doesn’t seem like that long ago,’’ Williams said, ‘‘even though it was.’’

To collect her 16th Grand Slam title on Saturday, Williams will need to beat defending champion Maria Sharapova, who put aside 11 double-faults and got past third-seeded Victoria Azarenka, 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, in a much more competitive semifinal.

The final features the top two women in the rankings and seedings, No. 1 Williams and No. 2 Sharapova. They are 1-2 among active players in French Open match wins, Williams with 45, Sharapova with 43. And they are two of three active women with more than two major championships; Sharapova completed a career Grand Slam in Paris last year with No. 4.

Plus, Williams has won a career-best 30 consecutive matches, the longest single-season streak on tour since 2000. Sharapova has won 13 consecutive matches in Paris.


Despite all of that, this one doesn’t shape up as much of an even matchup, because Williams is 13-2 against Sharapova, winning the last 12.

‘‘Well, I’d be lying if it doesn’t bother me, obviously,’’ said Sharapova, who last defeated Williams in 2004, at Wimbledon and the WTA Championships. ‘‘Whatever I did in the past hasn’t worked, so I'll have to try to do something different.’’

Williams never gave Errani a chance to switch things up.

The 31-year-old American won the first nine games. When Errani finally got on the board, 37 minutes in, she raised both arms overhead as the crowd roared.

Williams accumulated a 40-2 discrepancy in winners — yes, 40-2! — showing off a full array of talents. She won 28 of 33 points she served, helped by five aces, including one at 123 miles per hour. She smacked 10 return winners. She mixed in overhead smashes, powerful groundstrokes, even a drop shot.


‘‘She was playing,’’ Williams’ mother, Oracene Price, summed up, ‘‘like Serena of old.’’

‘‘I really believed I had a chance and I was trying to fight,’’ said Errani, now 0-6 against Williams. ‘‘Maybe on the outside, people will think that’s not true. But I know that I tried, right until the end.’’

In Tuesday’s quarterfinals, Williams was pushed to three sets by 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova after having lost a total of 10 games through four rounds.

Sharapova certainly dealt with plenty of tension against Azarenka, the winner of the past two Australian Opens.

Good as she was in the first set, Sharapova was shaky in the second, and it took her a while to straighten things out after a 35-minute rain delay that preceded the third. Up an early break, Sharapova double-faulted four times in a single game to make it 2-all. Serving for the match the first time, at 5-2, she let four match points slip away, then double-faulted on the last two points.

Finally, at 5-4, she steeled herself, serving out the victory at love, punctuated by her 12th ace.

‘‘I did the job,’’ Sharapova said. ‘‘I just hope that I can improve for the next one.’’

Probably needs to, the way Williams is hitting the ball.

While Williams has won five titles at Wimbledon and the Australian Open, and four at the US Open, the slow red clay of the French Open has given her trouble through the years. It slows up her big serves and big groundstrokes enough to aid opponents. The footwork is also more difficult than on other surfaces.

After beating her sister Venus in the 2002 final, then making it to the semifinals a year later, Williams went through a drought in Paris. Four times, she lost in the quarterfinals. Once, in the third round. A year ago, she lost in the first round to a woman ranked outside the top 100, Williams’s only exit at that stage in 51 career major tournaments.

Following that setback, Williams stuck around Paris — she owns an apartment in the city, and she’s been wowing the locals by conducting on-court interviews in their language.

In the last 12 months, Williams is 73-3, including titles at Wimbledon, the US Open, and the London Olympics, playing as well as she did back when she pulled off her self-styled ‘‘Serena Slam’’ in 2002-03 by earning trophies at all four major tournaments in a row.

‘‘I'm still here,’’ Williams told the crowd in French, ‘‘11 years later.’’