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Beyond the Baseline

Maria Sharapova tops Eugenie Bouchard to reach third straight French Open final

 

Maria Sharapova advanced to her third consecutive French Open final. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images) Maria Sharapova advances to her third straight French Open final. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

 

PARIS -- No. 7 Maria Sharapova defeated No. 18 Eugenie Bouchard 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 on Thursday to reach the French Open final for the third consecutive year.

Sharapova, the 2012 champion and '13 runner-up, rallied from a set down for the third match in a row. She created 20 break-point chances, converting six, and mixed 33 winners with 35 unforced errors. The 27-year-old Russian, who overcame nine double faults in the two-hour, 27-minute match, improved to 53-4 on clay since 2012 and won her 19th straight three-set match on the surface.

"I would love to win those matches in two sets, but I always feel like I put in the work to be ready to play whatever it takes," Sharapova said. "If it takes three hours to win the match in three sets, I will be ready for that.

"If some things are not working out, I don't just want to quit in the middle. Because when you lose the first set or a few games or you're down a break, that's not the end of the match. That's the type of philosophy that I play with."

Bouchard, 20, playing her second consecutive Grand Slam semifinal, had 29 winners and 48 unforced errors. The Canadian was bidding to become the WTA's youngest major finalist in five years. Despite the loss, Bouchard is poised to climb to a career-high No. 12 in next week's rankings.

"It's always disappointing to be a little bit off," Bouchard said. "I felt like I was trying to do what I wanted to do, which was to be aggressive. But often I constructed the point well and then didn't finish it as well as I could."

Sharapova, a four-time Slam champion, will play No. 4 Simona Halep in Saturday's final. Halep beat No. 28 Andrea Petkovic 6-2, 7-6 (4) to make her first major final.

Game-by-game analysis of Sharapova-Bouchard below. (Click here for highlights.)

 

Third Set

 

11:38 a.m. ET | Maria Sharapova defeats Eugenie Bouchard 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 to advance to her third consecutive French Open final. 

Surprising collapse from Bouchard in the final set, but credit Sharapova for taking it to her and forcing her to prove her mettle. The bottom line is that Bouchard blinked and Sharapova didn't. Serving at 15-30, Bouchard throws in her second double fault of the day. Two errors from Sharapova on those match points, though, and it's deuce.

A backhand wide from Bouchard and it's match point No. 3 for Sharapova. Bouchard saves that with a courageous forehand down the line.

Big forehand return off a weak second serve and it's match point No. 4 for Sharapova. Another great save from Bouchard. Sharapova with some relentless hitting there, but Bouchard eventually finds the open court.

Another weak second serve gets punished by the Sharapova forehand. Match point No. 5. And Sharapova wins it off a deep ball that skids off the baseline. Bouchard can only swing and miss.

So Sharapova hands Bouchard her first Slam loss after winning the first set (the Canadian had been 9-0) and extends her streak of three-set victories on clay to 19.

11:30 a.m. ET | Sharapova holds, leads 5-2*.

For the third straight match, Sharapova has come back from the brink to take control. Bouchard is still in this match by a hair. Sharapova has two break points and had a backhand down the line all teed up and barely missed on break point. Bouchard holds and is still just one break down. Could that game turn the momentum around? The Russian really should have broken there. Bouchard is reeling -- shots are falling short, not as much power -- and Sharapova should have shut the door.

Slight opening for Bouchard at 15-30 on Sharapova's serve, but the No. 7 responds with an ace. Two points later she holds, as Bouchard has a high volley to put away and makes an absolute mess of it.

Sharapova is one game away from her third straight French Open final. That continues to be the weirdest sentence to write in tennis.

11:20 a.m. ET | Sharapova breaks and consolidates, leads 4-1*.

At 15-love, Sharapova thinks she's got Bouchard pinned. But the Canadian hits an open-stance, sliding backhand winner down the line that shocks everyone when it clears the net and lands in. Another good forehand and it's 40-0. But Sharapova won't let a single point go and she gets it back to deuce.

 

Maria Sharapova hasn't lost a three-set match on clay since 2010. (Michel Euler/AP) Maria Sharapova hasn't lost a three-set match on clay since 2010. (Michel Euler/AP)

 

Bouchard with a great point, gets Sharapova on the run and yanks her side to side until she gets the winner into the open court. That is the quintessential Bouchard point: Controlling from the middle and inching up the court to never let her opponents recover after shots.

Sharapova gets it back to deuce and earns a break point with a down-the-line winner. Bouchard saves with some precision hitting of her own. This is good tennis now between both women.

Sharapova converts her second break point of the game, playing some defense to the forehand side and tracking down a ball that Bouchard nets with a forehand. Horrible miss from Bouchard. She had the drive volley into the open court and duffed it.

That game is why Sharapova has her reputation as a street fighter. Down 40-love, she breaks. And then she consolidates, firing an ace at 30-all and again playing some never-give-up defense to force an error from Bouchard. Major league celebration from the candymaker.

11:07 a.m. ET | Sharapova holds, leads 2-1*.

For the third straight set, Sharapova will serve first. She gets a good love hold off four Bouchard errors.

Bouchard with a stickier service game but she holds at 30 when Sharapova sends a backhand long. One thing Bouchard has going for her in this final set is her legs. She's a very underrated defender, and even if she's spraying a bit when she takes big swings, she can also earn some errors from Sharapova with pure defense.

From 30-love, Sharapova hits her sixth double fault and then fires a bad forehand error long. She plays a good point to get to 40-30 and then ... an ace to hold. That was clutch.

 

 

 

Second Set

 

10:56 a.m. ET | Maria Sharapova wins the second set 7-5. 

Big service game for Bouchard after earning that break. She falls behind 15-30 but reels off the next three points to hold. Pressure back to Sharapova.

One thing that's been clear today is that Bouchard is having far more success getting her ball through the court. Sharapova's shots, particularly on her forehand, are holding up.

Sharapova gets the hold at 15. Bouchard will serve to force the tiebreak.

Quick stat check: Sharapova has pulled ahead on the overall winner count. She trailed Bouchard after the first set, but she's now at 22 winners to 20 for Bouchard. Sharapova has been cleaner, too, hitting 22 unforced to Bouchard's 32. And that includes all those horrible double faults.

Break points for Sharapova at 15-40. She pushes a forehand long on the first one, but Bouchard nets a forehand on the second. Huge scream and fist pump from Sharapova and we are going three sets.

Can the Russian win her 19th straight clay-court three-setter? Bouchard has to clean things up. She hit a whopping 20 unforced to just seven winners in that second set and Sharapova looked in control from the get-go.

 

Eugenie Bouchard is the only woman to reach two Slam semifinals in 2014. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images) Eugenie Bouchard is the only woman to reach two Slam semifinals in 2014. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

 

10:37 a.m. ET | Bouchard breaks, trails 5-4*.

Bouchard holds. The most interesting thing in that game was the French crowd booing and whistling for no apparent reason. Just to remind us all that they're there, I guess. Sharapova will serve to force a third set.

 

 

I've been away from American TV for over a month now so I appreciated the Orphan Black reference.

Sharapova earns set point in a tight service game and she ... double-faults. Deuce.

Fantastic point from Sharapova, though, to earn another game point. Good clean, deep hitting from her until she finally gets a good forehand ball to hit her 18th winner of the match.

So obviously she double-faults again on set point to fall back to deuce.

The French crowd erupts as Bouchard hits a great return and follows it up with a forehand drive volley winner to earn break point. Sharapova saves it with a good first serve down tee and screams her five zillionth "COME ON!!!"

Sharapova earns set point No. 3 with a clean backhand winner down the line. She takes a little bit off her first serve this time -- for fear of the double fault, clearly -- and Bouchard pounces on it, hitting a good backhand return that Sharapova puts in the net. At deuce again, Bouchard gets Sharapova on the run and then clips the baseline with a winner. Sharapova glares at the line judge, but she knows it's in.

Down break point, Sharapova hits ... a clean second serve ace! Where the heck did that come from?

But finally, on her third break point of the game, Bouchard converts to keep this set going. Can Sharapova earn the break to seal the set? Lord knows she doesn't want to have to serve in a pressure game.

10:30 a.m. ET | Sharapova holds, leads 5-2*.

Bouchard holds. Sharapova responds with a hold of her own. The surprising thing is how easy it was. Better serving from the Russian in that game.

Bouchard's coach, Nick Saviano, is standing during the changeover. He pounds his chest and nods his head when Bouchard looks over.

10:25 a.m. ET | Sharapova holds, leads 4-1*.

From 30-0, Sharapova is in hot water again on serve. Two ill-timed double faults and she has to save two break points before finally holding on. She screams "Come on!" at herself and shakes her fist. That was huge.

 

 

Yeah, there hasn't been much rhythm to this match and the quality has really dropped in this second set. Not surprising from Bouchard, who has been known to lose focus after winning the first set. Still, this is only a break lead for Sharapova. And with that serve ...

10:18 a.m. ET | Sharapova breaks, leads *3-1.

There's that battle from Sharapova. She's down 0-40 in the game and somehow manages to break back with some good, deep hitting. Bouchard finally gifts the break with a double fault on Sharapova's third break point of the game.

10:10 a.m. ET | Sharapova breaks and Bouchard breaks back, trails 2-1*.

As she did in the first set, Sharapova serves first in the second. And she holds.

 

 

Maybe. Bouchard doesn't strike me as someone who is at all intimidated by Sharapova's presence, though. That said, Sharapova is indeed getting a bit more vocal and she breaks to 2-0. These are some tough rallies. Credit Sharapova and her defense -- she doesn't always win the point -- for staying in those points and reminding Bouchard that she's going to have to work very hard to pull this off.

 

 

She needs to find some of that too, Drew. Shocker of a service game from Sharapova. Looks to be cruising at 30-love and throws in two bad double faults sandwiched around an error. On break point it's Bouchard who wins a cat-and-mouse point: Sharapova thought she did enough with a cross-court volley, but Bouchard tracks it down and Sharapova can only lunge to put the ball into the net. She can't believe she lost that point, which is to say, she can't believe Bouchard got to that ball.

Back on serve.

 

Eugenie Bouchard has never lost at a Slam after winning the first set. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Eugenie Bouchard has never lost at a Slam after winning the first set. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

 

 

First Set

 

9:56 a.m. ET | Eugenie Bouchard wins the first set 6-4. 

Bouchard tries to serve out the set but at 30-all she flies a forehand long and wide to give Sharapova a break point. Sharapova hits a good crosscourt backhand return but Bouchard is there to stab a backhand down the line. Sharapova muttering like she can't believe the kid could pull that off. On game point Bouchard sends a good kicker out wide and Sharapova puts an awkward, weak return wide.

First set to the Canadian in 45 minutes. That's the third straight match Sharapova's lost the first set. She won the other two, of course.

Quick stats from the first set:

Bouchard: Serves at 68 percent wins 42 percent second-serve points, hits 13 winners and 13 unforced errors, goes 2 for 4 on break points.

Sharapova: Serves at 57 percent wins 25 percent on second serve (3 of 12!), hits eight winners and 11 unforced errors, goes 1 for 4 on break points.

9:53 a.m. ET | Sharapova breaks and Bouchard breaks back, leads *5-4. 

Two errors from Bouchard give Sharapova two break points to get back into the set. She needs just one, lining up a big forehand down the line that Bouchard can't get he strings on. We're back on serve.

Short conversation between points up here on press row as to whether Bouchard's hitchy swings break down under pressure. I'm not quite sure, given her penchant for comebacks and the big stage. She seems to execute well.

Sharapova falls into a 0-40 hole thanks to a pretty horrible double fault. Two points later Bouchard breaks. She'll serve for the first set. Just a reminder, she's 9-0 at the Slams when she wins the first set. But how's this for a stat: Sharapova hasn't lost a three-set match on clay since 2010, when she lost to Justine Henin here. She's won 18 straight three-setters on the dirt.

 

Maria Sharapova has been put on the run early. (Michel Euler/AP) Maria Sharapova has been put on the run early. (Michel Euler/AP)

 

9:41 a.m. ET | Sharapova holds, trails 4-3*. 

Sharapova sees her first break point, in the fifth game at 30-40, but Bouchard calmly saves it with a good first serve that gets Sharapova out of the court and keeps her on the run until the Canadian puts away a short backhand drive volley. Sharapova earns her second break point with a great forehand winner down the line -- she's finding it difficult to hit through Bouchard -- but Bouchard saves it again.

Bouchard earns game point to get the hold but flies a short forehand at the net long. At deuce, Sharapova has a backhand down the line teed up but sprays it well wide. One point later, Bouchard holds.

Quick check at the player boxes: Sharapova's has three people. There's not a free seat in Bouchard's.

 

 

More trouble for Sharapova on her serve: At 30-all, Bouchard hits a nice angled backhand to open up the court and then cleans it up to earn her second break point of the set. Sharapova saves it with a good serve. You can hear her box of three urging her on. The good serving continues, as Bouchard misses two returns and Sharapova holds. Barely.

9:30 a.m. ET | Sharapova holds, trails *3-2. 

Bouchard builds a 40-love lead but a screaming (literally and figuratively) forehand from Sharapova and a double fault close the gap to 40-30. Then Bouchard calmly fires a winner and she consolidates. She's the aggressor early and Sharapova is finding the net way too often.

Why is Bouchard so good and how has she been able to transition her game so quickly from juniors to seniors? Because she's stepping into the court and taking the ball incredibly early. She's inside the court to return Sharapova's second serve and still moving forward when she hits. It takes so much time away from her opponents, and as she chips away at her foe's recovery time, she's able to open up the court for winners. Her stroke production has always been a little too mechanical and "snatchy" for my taste, but her tactics are dead on and her execution is incredibly impressive. It's not easy to do what she does, let alone under pressure against the top names.

Sharapova grinds out a hold to stop the run of three straight games lost.

By now the video of Bouchard hitting a ball into the food court on Wednesday at the end of her practice has made the rounds. Here's one of my favorite Twitter accounts, @TennisDraws, and its interpretation of events.

 

 

9:22 a.m. ET | Bouchard breaks, leads *2-1. 

Sharapova holds a 15. A few errors off the Bouchard racket, sending the ball long. A tighter service game for Bouchard to start but she holds at 30. So far both women going for depth and Sharapova has a better measure of the court. She's already hitting the ball much cleaner than she did against Sam Stosur and Garbine Muguruza.

First great point of the match comes in the third game: Bouchard drives a forehand right at Sharapova, who redirects with a backhand winner down the line.

But with two Sharapova unforced errors into the net, one on the backhand and one on the forehand, it's Bouchard who earns two break points. She needs only one. Standing on top of the baseline, she dictates with her forehand and then finds a line. Sharapova can only watch it land in.

First blood to the youngster.

9:07 a.m. ET | Warm-up

Good Morning, America. My name is Courtney Nguyen and I'll be with you from first ball to last ball for the first French Open women's semifinal. The weather is perfect, with the sun out and baking down on the terre battue on Court Philippe Chatrier. I'm sitting in the shaded press seats on the chair umpire's side of the court.

 

 

I'd go over on that estimate from my esteemed colleague. Sharapova and Bouchard take the court to about 50-50 applause, though it sounded like there were a handful more cheers for the 2012 champion. I suspect this crowd will back the youngster, though, once this gets going. The French love a good underdog and they'll love the Canadian's fight.

This match is difficult to handicap. Sharapova is obviously the favorite, but she has not impressed over the last two matches, which she survived by sheer force of will. Knowing Bouchard, she's relishing the opportunity to take down the woman everyone compares her to and become the first Canadian to make a Slam final. As I've written before, she's a gamer and she's proved that again over this fortnight. I give Sharapova the 60-40 edge, but the first set will be key. Sharapova has dropped it in her last two matches and Bouchard is 9-0 at Slams when she takes the first.

Sharapova won the toss and chose to serve. Slight breeze on court as we begin.

Ready? Play.

 

Pre-match

 

No. 7 Maria Sharapova and No. 19 Eugenie Bouchard will meet in the semifinals of the French Open on Thursday. The match, which ESPN2 will televise, is scheduled for no earlier than 9 a.m. ET.

Sharapova, the 2012 winner and '13 finalist, is making her 18th Grand Slam semifinal appearance (8-9). The 27-year-old Russian worked hard to get here, rallying from a set down to beat Sam Stosur in the fourth round and Garbine Muguruza in the quarterfinals. Since the start of 2012, Sharapova is 52-4 on clay. That run includes a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Bouchard in the second round of the 2013 French Open, one of two routine victories for Sharapova in their only previous meetings.

Previewing the women's French Open semifinals

Bouchard, however, is a different player now. When she lost to Sharapova here last year, Bouchard was ranked No. 77 and playing her first Grand Slam main draw. Since then, she's climbed to No. 16 and is projected to rise to No. 8 if she reaches the final and No. 6 if she wins the title. The 20-year-old Canadian also was an Australian Open semifinalist in January, making her the only WTA player to be in the final four of the year's first two majors.

The winner will face either No. 4 Simona Halep or No. 28 Andrea Petkovic in Saturday's final.

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