5 things to look for Thursday at the French Open
PARIS (AP) Five things to look for in the women's semifinals Thursday at the French Open:
CLAY QUEEN: Back in 2007, when Maria Sharapova finally made it to the French Open semifinals for the first time after having been that far at the three other Grand Slam tournaments, she famously described how she sometimes felt like ''a cow on ice'' when each season reached the clay-court swing. Look at her now. When she meets 18th-seeded Eugenie Bouchard of Canada on Thursday, Sharapova will be playing in the semifinals at Roland Garros for the fourth year in a row. That includes 2012, when she won the championship to complete a career Grand Slam, and 2013, when she was the runner-up to Serena Williams. ''To have that consistency at this tournament,'' Sharapova said, ''a tournament that was so difficult for me before ... that helps a lot, physically and mentally, for me.'' She is 51-4 on clay over the last three seasons.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Bouchard, a 20-year-old from Montreal, says she recalls being a fan of Sharapova's as a kid - and even posing for a photo together more than a decade ago when Bouchard was a spectator at a tournament in Florida. But asked about their relationship nowadays, Bouchard began by saying, ''Well, first, I mean, you know, we're not friends, so there is that.'' She continued: ''For sure I respect her. But now, you know, we're in the semis of a Grand Slam, so I'm going to respect her but not put her too high on a pedestal and really just battle.''
A LITTLE HISTORY: Sharapova is 2-0 against Bouchard, both in straight sets, but those matches were last year (including in the French Open's second round). Bouchard has grown quickly as a player. Both Sharapova and Bouchard got out of big deficits in the quarterfinals, so they know no lead is safe against the other. Sharapova, 27, certainly has the edge in experience - this will be her 18th career Grand Slam semifinal, and Bouchard's second. But it's also Bouchard's second in a row; she's made it that far in two of her five career majors. Bouchard's backhand could do some damage; Sharapova's serving will be key. In the quarterfinals, Sharapova double-faulted on the first point, part of a terrible start that put her in a 4-0 hole; she wound up with eight double-faults.
HALEP VS. PETKOVIC: Both of the other remaining women, No. 4 Simona Halep of Romania and No. 28 Andrea Petkovic of Germany, are in the semifinals of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time. ''It's a little pressure because it's semifinal,'' Halep said Wednesday after beating 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, ''but I feel good.'' Halep plays a game that's all about positioning and consistency; don't expect her to pound huge serves or groundstrokes. But don't expect her to fail to get to a lot of Petkovic's shots, either.
PETKOVIC'S PERSONALITY: Petkovic is well-read and thoughtful - she's already name-dropped folks such as Freud, Camus, Sartre and Nietzsche this week. She plays a smart tennis game, too, and has now worked her way back up near the top of the sport after losing time and ranking points because of a right knee injury in December 2012. She dropped as low as 177th last season, but now is approaching her level of 2011, when she cracked the top 10 and made it to three major quarterfinals.
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich