PARIS, France - Her opponent kept coming back, but she just wouldn't let it go - Maria Sharapova battled into the final of the French Open on Thursday afternoon, regrouping after losing the second set and keeping calm after missing out on her first four match points to slide past Victoria Azarenka.
After getting broken at love in the first game of the match Sharapova played almost flawlessly the rest of the first set, breaking right back and eventually running away with the set in 28 minutes, 6-1.
The two stayed even early in the second set but Azarenka broke away from 2-all, winning five straight games to take the second set, 6-2, and go up 1-0 in the third - it was clearly swinging her way.
But there's a reason Sharapova is where she is in tennis history - four Grand Slams, former No.1, current No.2 - and she wasn't about to let the match slip. She got her clay court mojo back just in time, winning five of the next six games to build a 5-2 third set lead - she missed her first four match points while serving for the match at 5-2 and watched as Azarenka closed the gap to 5-4, but in the end she took a deep breath, stepped up to the baseline and served up one last perfect service game.
The No.2-seeded Sharapova blasted a big ace to finish off the No.3-seeded Azarenka, 61 26 64.
"I played a good first set, then in the second set it was 2-all and I made some easy mistakes, shots I should've made," Sharapova said. "I should've put pressure on her in that game. Against an opponent like her you can't give her those chances back, because she will take it. She's a confidence player.
"But I had to stay aggressive. I've never really thought about going out on the court and just trying to be consistent - the way I win matches is by being aggressive, by moving my power, by looking to move forward and play that aggressive game. I don't know if it's something that's gotten better over the years, but obviously the more consistent you get at doing what you do best, the better you are out there.
"Despite having the match points and not taking advantage of them, I was happy how I served it out."
Sharapova is through to her eighth Grand Slam final now, going 4-3 in the first seven. But there's something very special about this one - it's the best she has done in a Grand Slam title defense.
"I had a tremendous year last year," Sharapova said. "Obviously to come back as defending champion, it's extremely special to get back on that stage where it comes down to the last two players of the tournament. It's certainly a nice feeling. I hope I can bring my best tennis for the last one.
"And I'm really happy with the way I came out after yesterday. The way I played the first set - I wish I could have carried that through in two - but I did the job, and I'm happy from where I was in the beginning of the tournament to where I am today. I just hope I can improve for the next one."
A very popular figure in Paris, Sharapova wrote 'thank you' on the camera after her win - she was asked afterwards who it was for. "The fans," Sharapova said. "I mean, I had really great support today. I was just writing to the camera because they show it up on the screen to all the fans."