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Thursday, June 2, 2011
Francesca Schiavone, Li Na reach final

Associated Press

PARIS -- Li Na is back in a Grand Slam final, reaching her second straight major championship match by beating Maria Sharapova 6-4, 7-5 on Thursday at the French Open.

The Australian Open runner-up, who became the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final this year in Melbourne, was able to chase down nearly everything Sharapova had to offer in their semifinal on Court Philippe Chatrier.

"I'm sure they showed the match ... in China, so ... maybe children, they saw the match, and they think that maybe one day, they can do the same -- or even better," Li said.

In Saturday's final, Li will face defending champion Francesca Schiavone. The fifth-seeded Schiavone, who last year became the first Italian woman to win a Grand Slam singles title, defeated No. 11 Marion Bartoli of France 6-3, 6-3.

The finalists are a combined 60 years, 79 days in age, making it the oldest women's Grand Slam final since Wimbledon in 1998, when Jana Novotna beat Nathalie Tauziat.

"The years can help a lot," the 30-year-old Schiavone said. "Like I said some days ago, (it) is like the wine. Stay(ing) in the bottle more is much, much better."

The wind was a factor yet again at Roland Garros, and Sharapova's serve suffered because of it. The seventh-seeded Russian had 10 double-faults in the match, including on match point.

"She has a huge and big serve, so I was like, 'Please, double-fault. That way I can win the match,'" Li said. "I never believe myself I can be in final in French Open. I wish I can do even better on Saturday."

Li finished with 24 winners, twice as many as Sharapova, and saved eight of 11 break points.

Sharapova, who had been trying to become only the 10th woman to complete a career Grand Slam, was broken early in the first set and then in her final two service games. In the eighth game, shortly after breaking Li to get back on serve at 4-3, Sharapova had three double-faults.

"I had some chances in the first set on her serve, a couple of games that went deuce and had a couple of break points," Sharapova said. "I felt like I had a short ball and just didn't step in and then just made an unforced error.

"Then you kind of give your opponent confidence ... and then at times I didn't serve well and was rushing more than maybe I had to and maybe went for -- considering the conditions -- maybe I was just trying to go for too big of second serves, especially," she said.

The Russian jumped ahead in the second set, breaking Li to open. But Sharapova's seventh double-fault gave Li the eighth game, making it 4-4.

"It's tough for me. It's tough for her," Sharapova said of the wind. "It's tough for both of us."

After reaching the semifinals Wednesday, Li said she was surprised to go that far at the only clay-court Grand Slam. She has never won a title on clay, but she reached the semifinals at French Open warm-up tournaments in Madrid and Rome.

"This time is second time to the final. Of course, you know what you should do," Li said. "I know it's different surface, but you play six matches already. So, yeah, this time I know what I should do in the final."

Against Schiavone in the final, she will face a player who is more suited to the surface and who can become the first woman over 30 to win a Grand Slam title since Martina Navratilova was 33 and won Wimbledon in 1990.

"When I was young, I always dreamed (about) this tournament, so maybe (it) is coming from a long, long time ago," Schiavone said of her recent success at Roland Garros. "When I come here, I feel something special. That's all."

Schiavone won the last four games of her match and finished off Bartoli by breaking her at love.

"It was extremely windy, and I think she used those conditions extremely well," Bartoli said. "She really played smart tennis, and at the end she was a bit too tough."

After match point, Schiavone rubbed her hand into the red clay on center court before kissing it.

Last year, Schiavone dropped to the ground to kiss the clay after winning her first major title.