Friday, June 3, 2011
And I did not see this one coming...
“I was, like, ‘Please, double-fault. That way I can win the match,’” Li explained to the crowd a few moments later.
Sharapova obliged. Her second serve hit the white tape atop the net and bounced back for Sharapova’s 10th double-fault of an error-filled afternoon, closing Li’s 6-4, 7-5 victory. The result ended Sharapova’s bid to complete a career Grand Slam, and allowed Li to reach a second consecutive major final.
At the Australian Open in January, Li was the runner-up, the first tennis player from China to reach a major championship match. At the French Open on Saturday — when she will play defending champion Francesca Schiavone — Li can become the first Grand Slam champion from her nation of more than 1 billion people.
Schiavone beat 11th-seeded Marion Bartoli of France 6-3, 6-3 in the other semifinal. A year ago at Roland Garros, Schiavone became the first woman from Italy to win a Grand Slam title. But she had failed to make it to the final of any tournament since then, until taking the last four games to beat Bartoli.
“When I come here,” the fifth-seeded Schiavone said, “I feel something special.”
After Bartoli’s last two-handed forehand — she grips her racket with both fists on nearly every shot — dropped into the net to end the day’s second semifinal, Schiavone celebrated by bending down and rubbing her right palm on the clay court, then making a fist and kissing it.
At 30, Schiavone would be the first woman at least that old to win a Grand Slam title since Martina Navratilova was 33 at Wimbledon in 1990. Combine Schiavone’s age with the 29-year-old Li’s, and Saturday’s match will have the oldest pair of finalists at a major tournament in 13 years.
She fell in love with the French Open the first time she came to play in the junior tournament and got a chance to see Steffi Graf and Monica Seles play in the semifinals. Schiavone sat in the stands, like any other fan, and snapped a photo she still looks at to this day.