Maria Sharapova survived a nightmare start to hold on to her French Open crown with a 0-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over tough Jelena Jankovic in a compelling quarter-final tie on Wednesday.
Sharapova was all over the place for a set and 30 minutes, but with the Roland Garros exit door beckoning, she steadied her nerves enough to start applying the firepower she needed to derail a brave challenge from the Serb.
The defending champion and second seed will play third seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, who defeated Maria Kirilenko of Russia, for a place in Saturday’s final.
“She played such a great match from the beginning and was very aggressive,” Sharapova said of her opponent.
“I knew after the first set that I had to change things around. I just had to erase the chapter and move forward. I still felt I was in the match and I broke her in the first game (of the second).
In what was a matchup of two former world number ones, Jankovic, who has clawed her way back into the world top 20 this year, got off to the prefect start with three straight breaks of serve to take the first set 6-0 in just 29 minutes.
It was just the fourth time in her Grand Slam career that Sharapova had lost a set 6-0, but she could have no complaints, having committed 20 unforced errors to just two from Jankovic.
The Russian started to find some consistency with her groundstrokes at the start of the second set and she also got help from her opponent, who served up her first double fault of the match on break point.
The task on hand for Sharapova then was how to hold her own serve, having dropped three straight, and she managed that in the next game to lead 2-0.
The match had suddenly turned on its head with Sharapova dominating rallies with her heavier firepower and she eased out into a 5-1 lead.
Jankovic broke back once, but could not do so a second time as Sharapova levelled the match to force a deciding set.
After two lop-sided sets, it turned out to be a knife-edge affair with Sharapova making the key breakthrough at 3-3 when she broke serve with a sequence of big hits.
She then won the next two games to take her unbeaten run at Roland Garros to 12.
World number three Victoria Azarenka reached her first French Open semi-final on Wednesday when she defeated friend and former doubles partner, Maria Kirilenko of Russia, 7-6 (7/3), 6-2.
Kirilenko, 26, bidding to reach a first career Grand Slam semi-final, simply lacked the armoury to upset Azarenka with whom she had reached the final of the women’s doubles at the Australian Open in 2012.
“Maria is such a great competitor and it was a really tough start,” said Azarenka.
“But I am really happy to get through to my first semi-final in Paris at the third time of asking.”