Henin, Ivanovic roll to French Open final
PARIS -- Maria Sharapova's serve was shaky and her strokes were off. Her customary grit was nowhere to be found.
Time and again, she'd shank an easy shot, turn her back to the court and fiddle with her racket strings, searching for an answer. She never found one.
Playing little like a two-time major champion, Sharapova failed to put up much resistance Thursday at the French Open and lost 6-2, 6-1 to Ana Ivanovic, who was as steady as anyone making her Grand Slam semifinal debut could be.
"Once you start off slow -- and I started off slow in the beginning of the first set and the second set -- the train's already in London," the No. 2-seeded Sharapova said. "I mean, it's gone."
The 19-year-old Ivanovic will be the first player to represent Serbia in a major final when she faces two-time defending champion Justine Henin on Saturday. Henin ran her consecutive-set streak at Roland Garros to 33 by beating No. 4 Jelena Jankovic of Serbia 6-2, 6-2.
Henin is aiming for her sixth Grand Slam title and trying to become the first player since Monica Seles in 1990-92 to claim three straight French Open championships.
"I just hope," the Belgian said, "I can keep going."
Ivanovic had made it only as far as the quarterfinals at one Grand Slam tournament before arriving in Paris, and she's won only three career titles on tour.
"Coming in here," she said, "I didn't expect any of this."
After dispatching Sharapova, Ivanovic spoke about her days in Belgrade when she honed her tennis skills during winter by practicing on the floor of a drained indoor swimming pool.
I felt like she was always the one getting the first hit on the ball. That's not really the way I should have played.
"And it was impossible to play cross-court because [the sideline] was this far from the wall," she said, holding her hands about 18 inches apart. "So we had to keep playing down the lines."
The No. 7-seeded Ivanovic felt no such limitations against Sharapova, yanking her this way and that on the red clay with a varied display of baseline defense and shotmaking.
Sharapova didn't conjure a forehand winner until the match's 32nd point and finished with a total of only nine clean winners. Compare that with her unforced error total: 25, a whopping 14 more than Ivanovic.
Earlier in the tournament, Sharapova complained that playing on clay made her feel like "a cow on ice" -- and Ivanovic noticed.
"I knew she was not a great mover on the clay," said Ivanovic, who won six of the eight points that lasted 10 or more strokes, "so I tried to play more deep balls and put her under pressure and move her little bit more."
The stands were less than half full when play began at 2:11 p.m., with plenty of spectators still enjoying a meal before settling into their seats. Not too many people saw Ivanovic take all of 11 minutes to grab the first three games.
"I would have loved to be having lunch then, too," Sharapova said with a chuckle. "I don't blame them. I'd rather be having a chocolate croissant than being down 3-0."
It was reminiscent of her last Grand Slam exit, a 6-1, 6-2 drubbing against Serena Williams in the Australian Open final in January. Not quite the big-match credentials the Russian displayed when winning Wimbledon at 17 in 2004 and the U.S. Open last year.
And as new as Ivanovic was to the setting, it was Sharapova who looked bewildered, double-faulting five times, although she didn't blame her balky right shoulder for her problems.
"I didn't feel like I quite had the rhythm today," Sharapova said.
She repeatedly made mistakes when a short ball or high bounce presented the opportunity for a putaway. By the end, her father and coach, Yuri, was running his fingers through his gray hair or covering his face with his hand.
Sitting nearby in the guest section and rooting for Ivanovic was Novak Djokovic, a 20-year-old Serb who plays in the men's semifinals Friday against two-time defending champion Rafael Nadal. No. 1 Roger Federer, trying to complete a career Grand Slam, meets No. 4 Nikolay Davydenko in the other semifinal.
Ivanovic said she didn't notice Djokovic's show of support.
"I was really focused on my match," she said. "But that's very nice of him. And tomorrow, I'm going to try to see some of his match. He's a great player -- and great friend of mine."
And Jankovic is rooting for Ivanovic.
"I wish her the best of luck," Jankovic said. "Hopefully she can beat the best out there, which is Justine."
Unlike Sharapova, Henin had no problems at the start Thursday, holding at love in the first game and winning seven of the first eight points that lasted at least 10 strokes. Henin compiled a 25-11 edge in winners and 12-2 edge in break points.
In sum, this wasn't nearly as close as Henin's previous five matches with Jankovic, which all went three sets. Henin, however, continued one pattern: She's 6-0 against Jankovic.
"I love to win here. It's my favorite event," said Henin, whose first Grand Slam title came at the 2003 French Open. "It was a dream for me to win it one time, and then I did it three times. And I have another opportunity."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
2007 FRENCH OPEN
May 27-June 10
Women: Justine Henin
Men: Rafael Nadal
• Henin wins third straight title
• DeSimone: Henin's personal journey
• Garber: Third set hard to come by in final
• Top 10 facts about Henin
• Federer-Nadal daily watch
• Making the case for Rafa, Roger
• It's Federer vs. Nadal in French Open final
• Garber: Another record for Roger
• DeSimone: Rafa rolling toward third final
• DeSimone: Ivanovic coach-free for final
• Who will win women's final?