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Henin, Ivanovic roll to French Open final

6/7/2007 - Tennis

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.

Maria Sharapova

"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."