French Open: Francesca Schiavone beats Bartoli to set up Li Na final

By Piers NewberyBBC Sport at Roland Garros
Schiavone makes it back-to-back French finals

Defending champion Francesca Schiavone will face Australian Open finalist Li Na in the French Open final after the pair coped with blustery conditions to win their semi-finals.

Maria Sharapova had looked well placed to land a first Roland Garros title and complete the career Grand Slam after a succession of title contenders had fallen by the wayside, but the Russian could not handle the gusting wind and the more consistent Li won 6-4 7-5.

If the second semi was a higher quality encounter, the result was a disappointment for home fans as Schiavone defeated Frenchwoman Bartoli 6-3 6-3.

It means the 30-year-old Italian, a surprise winner when she clinched her first Grand Slam title here 12 months ago, gets the chance to retain her crown on Saturday against Li, who is aiming to become China's first Grand Slam singles champion after losing to Kim Clijsters in January's Melbourne final.

Li overcomes Sharapova in straight sets

Sharapova suffered desperately with the conditions and the perennial problem of her movement on clay as Li moved her around as much as possible, disrupting the Russian's usually relentless baseline rhythm.

Serving proved especially difficult for both women and each fared better on the return, but it was the Sharapova error-count that gave the initiative to Li. The Chinese player broke for 2-0 and it took a strong game from Sharapova to get the break back in game seven, only for the former world number one to blow it with three double faults in the following game.

Both players were struggling for consistency in the wind now and breaks were swapped once more before Sharapova made it four in a row, and gave up the set, when a forehand clipped the net and flew wide.

Five double faults and 16 unforced errors put paid to Sharapova's hopes in the first set but it was Li who started the second poorly, making her first double fault of the day to drop serve in the opening game, and the Russian looked to be finding some consistency as the set progressed.

It did not last, and a poor game at 4-3 ended with double fault number eight, before Sharapova, serving to stay in the match at 5-6, opened with her ninth double and, inevitably, made it 10 on match point.

"It's tough for me, it's tough for her, it's tough for both of us," Sharapova said of the wind afterwards. "At times I didn't serve well and was rushing more than maybe I had to, and maybe went for - considering the conditions - too big second serves, especially."

Li commented: "I don't think it was easy, because it's always tough against Maria. She's always fighting for every point, so even when I have match point I don't know if I can win the match or not because she never gives up.

"I never believed myself that I could be in the French Open final, I wish I can do even better in Saturday's final."

The 29-year-old will get the chance to make up for her defeat by Clijsters in Australia, and admitted: "Of course Melbourne was more exciting because it's the first time into the [Grand Slam] final.

"Because I have been one time in the final already, this time it's not so exciting, and also you still have one more step to go."

The second semi-final was a tighter contest between two players happier on clay and more able to cope with the conditions.

In stark contrast to what had gone before, serve dominated at the outset and it was the eighth game before either player fashioned a break point, Schiavone taking it with a brilliant forehand and closing out the set soon after.

Bartoli was struggling when forced out wide but some heavy backhands helped her break in the second and gave the crowd hope, only for Schiavone to step it up again and level at 2-2.

The Italian's greater variety and the angles off her single-handed backhand gave her the edge throughout, and when she raced to collect a Bartoli volley and fired a forehand winner down the line to break for 4-3 there was no way back for the Frenchwoman.

Bartoli suffered her own double-fault disaster at 0-30 when serving to stay in the match, and a backhand into the net prompted a victorious Schiavone to leap into the air as her small but vociferous group of supporters celebrated in the stands.

"When I was young I always dreamed about this tournament," said Schiavone.

"When I come here, I feel something special. I have to say thanks to my 50 or 100 fans that came today. For me, it's always a pleasure to play in front of all of this crowd and all these fans."