|Schiavone (right) beat Marion Bartoli (left) to keep her defence of the French Open title alive [GALLO/GETTY]
China's Li Na has blown past Maria Sharapova to set up a French Open final date with Francesca Schiavone, the defending champion.
Sixth seed Li, bidding to become the first Asian to win a grand slam singles title, beat former world number one Sharapova in straight sets (6-4, 7-5) on a windy Thursday in Paris.
Schiavone eased past Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli in their semifinal with a fairly routine straight sets (6-3, 6-3) win on court Philippe Chatrier.
"It's something important for Chinese tennis. They broadcast the match live on Chinese TV," Li, the Australian Open runner-up, told a news conference.
"I think many children have been able to watch the match and they may be thinking that one day they'll be able to do the same, or even better."
Organisers say that Li has attracted between five and seven million new viewers in China. In addition to them, she will be cheered on in person by Liu Peng, the Chinese sports minister, who is to travel to Paris for the final.
Sharapova had built up momentum throughout the tournament with her dominant, power-based game, but she never really recovered from a poor start to the match.
"You obviously try to adjust, especially after you lose the first set. I still feel like I had my share of chances in the first set, and I just didn't take them," said Sharapova, whose cause was not helped by 10 double faults.
Li cantered into a 3-0 lead as she snatched her opponent's serve twice, relying on her powerful forehand to put the normally assertive Sharapova on the back foot.
With swirls of red clay dust whipping up in the breeze on court Philippe Chatrier, Sharapova did manage to close the gap to 4-3 before the last three games of the set went against serve, Li wrapping up the opening set when Sharapova's forehand clipped the netcord and bounced wide.
Sharapova broke at the fourth attempt in the opening game of the second set, but Li hung on, saving another break in the fifth game. The Chinese was gifted her next break when Sharapova double-faulted and another service misfire handed Li victory in one hour 48 minutes.
Schiavone dashes French hopes
Schiavone did not take long to wrap up her match against Bartoli, strolling out to a 5-3 lead in the first set before serving out to take the 1-0 lead.
The 11th-seeded Bartoli fought back, opening a 2-0 lead in the second set, only for Schiavone, whose spinning forehand did most of the damage, to break back for 2-2.
Bartoli, hoping to become the first French player to win the singles here since Mary Pierce in 2000, then just ran out of steam, conceding another break in the seventh game and bowed out when she netted a forehand.
"I had to run a lot. A lot," Schiavone told a courtside interviewer. "Of course, experience will be a factor [in the final]. But Li has been playing amazing this year, starting in Australia. It's going to be tough."
Mixed doubles triumph
Meanwhile, Australian Casey Dellacqua and American Scott Lipsky took the French Open mixed doubles crown on Thursday, seeing off holders Katarina Srebotnik and Nenad Zimonjic in the final.
They prevailed 7-6 4-6 and 10-7 in the super tiebreak to dash the hopes of the top seeds from Slovenia and Serbia.
The Australian-American duo were unseeded but took the opening set tiebreak 8-6 and kept their nerve in the final shootout.