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August 17, 2017

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2012 champ Maria Sharapova awaits Simona Halep in French Open final

PARIS -- Might be easier said than done. Still, Maria Sharapova offered a tidy aphorism to sum up the formula that's carried her to a third consecutive French Open final.

"It's not how you finish a first set," Sharapova said, "it's how you finish the last set."

Right now, no one is a better closer than she is on clay. Nearing a second championship at Roland Garros, and fifth Grand Slam trophy overall, Sharapova gritted her way to yet another comeback victory, beating 18th-seeded Eugenie Bouchard of Canada 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 in the semifinals Thursday.

"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," Sharapova said. "That's the type of philosophy that I play with."

She famously described herself years ago as feeling like a "cow on ice" on clay, but Sharapova now has won her past 19 matches that went to three sets on the demanding surface.

In Saturday's final, the No. 7-seeded Sharapova will face No. 4 Simona Halep, a 22-year-old Romanian who never before had been past the quarterfinals at a major. Halep turned in a much more straightforward victory than Sharapova, eliminating No. 28 Andrea Petkovic of Germany 6-2, 7-6 (4).

"I have a lot of confidence in myself now," said Halep, who a year ago was ranked only 57th and lost in the first round in Paris for the third time since 2010. "I played really well here; a few good matches. But next round will be very tough. I know Maria. She's a great champion."

She is 0-3 against Sharapova. But Halep has claimed seven titles since the start of last season — "Impressive 12 months," she called it — and used her smooth movement and smart angles to win all 12 sets she's played these two weeks.

Sharapova took a more difficult route to her ninth Grand Slam final.

In the fourth round against 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur, Sharapova trailed 6-3, 4-3, then won the last nine games.

In the quarterfinals against 20-year-old Garbine Muguruza, the woman who stunned Serena Williams last week, Sharapova trailed 6-1, 5-4, then won nine of the last 10 games.

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