Li reaches 2nd straight major final at French Open

By CHRIS LEHOURITES | June 2, 2011 | 12:43 PM EDT

Li Na of China celebrates scoring a point against Maria Sharapova of Russia in the semi final match of the French Open tennis tournament in Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Thursday June 2, 2011. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)

PARIS (AP) — Li Na is back in a Grand Slam final, reaching her second straight major championship match by defeating Maria Sharapova 6-4, 7-5 Thursday in the French Open semifinals.

The Australian Open runner-up, who became the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final this year in Melbourne, was able to chase down nearly everything Sharapova had to offer on Court Philippe Chatrier.

The wind was a factor yet again at Roland Garros, and Sharapova's serve suffered because of it. The seventh-seeded Russian had 10 double-faults in the match, including on match point. Sharapova was attempting to become only the 10th woman to complete a career Grand Slam.

"She has a huge and big serve, so I was like: 'Please, double-fault. That way I can win the match,'" Li said. "I never believe myself I can be in final in French Open. I wish I can do even better on Saturday."

Li finished with 24 winners, twice as many as Sharapova, and saved eight of 11 break points.

In the final, Li will face either defending champion Francesca Schiavone or No. 11 Marion Bartoli. They were to play later Thursday in the other semifinal.

Sharapova was broken early in the first set, and then in her final two service games. In the eighth game, shortly after breaking Li to get back on serve at 4-3, Sharapova had three double-faults.

"I had some chances in the first set on her serve, a couple of games that went deuce and had a couple of break points," Sharapova said. "I felt like I had a short ball and just didn't step in and then just made an unforced error.

"Then you kind of give your opponent confidence ... and then at times I didn't serve well, and was rushing more than maybe I had to, and maybe went for — considering the conditions — maybe I was just trying to go for too big of second serves, especially."

The Russian broke Li to open the second set. But Sharapova's seventh double-fault gave Li the eighth game, making it 4-4.

"It's tough for me. It's tough for her," Sharapova said of the wind. "It's tough for both of us."

After reaching the semifinals on Wednesday, Li said she was surprised to go that far at the only clay-court Grand Slam. She has never won a title on clay, but she reached the semifinals at French Open warm-up tournaments in Madrid and Rome.

In the final, she could end up facing another player who's not very fond of clay.

Bartoli had never before reached the quarterfinals at her home Grand Slam, and her best result in a major was reaching the final at Wimbledon in 2007.

But Schiavone, the first Italian woman to win a Grand Slam singles title, is more suited to the surface and could become the first player over 30 to reach a major final since Mary Pierce at the 2005 U.S. Open.