Sharapova’s off day good enough for final return

LONDON, (Reuters) – Maria Sharapova, the glamour  girl of women’s tennis, showed she is not averse to winning ugly  as she overcame some jitters to set up a Wimbledon final against  Petra Kvitova yesterday.   

The 24-year-old Russian served 13 double faults on her way  to a 6-4 6-3 defeat of Germany’s Sabine Lisicki to reach the  final for the first time since she burst into the spotlight by  winning the 2004 title as a carefree 17-year-old.
  
Eighth seed Kvitova silenced the wailing Victoria Azarenka  6-1 3-6 6-2 to reach her first grand slam final.   

Maria Sharapova

Neither match will live long in the memory though after a  day that did little to alter the perception that the women’s  game is struggling without the rivalries that have fuelled  interest in the men’s game.  

Not that Sharapova was too concerned.   

“It’s a great feeling. It’s been many years, but it’s a  really great feeling,” said Sharapova, who has filled the vacuum  left by the fourth-round exits of champion Serena Williams,  five-times winner Venus Williams and top seed Caroline  Wozniacki.   

“Today wasn’t my best match of the championships so I was  real happy to get through in two sets. So yeah, it’s pretty  amazing to be back on that stage.”   

Czech Kvitova and Belarussian fourth seed Azarenka thrashed  around for an hour and 44 minutes on the hallowed turf but their  “heavy metal” variety of tennis hardly captivated a Centre Court  liberally sprinkled with empty green seats.  
 
The famous arena was still not full either when Sharapova,  the only genuine A-lister to survive until the semis, strode out  under cloudy skies to take on wildcard Lisicki.   

For three games the fifth seed could hardly get the ball in  court, struggling on serve, lashing forehands into the net and  shooting panicky glances to fiance Sasha Vujacic as he tried his  best to offer encouragement from the players’ box.
  
She improved steadily but her progress to the final was  helped by an opponent whose belief drained away as quickly as  Sharapova ramped up the volume on the “grunt-o-meter”.  

Petra Kvitova

When the ninth service break ended the contest, the  long-limbed Russian blew kisses to all four stands and added an  extra one for her boyfriend before aiming another at the sky in  gratitude for the looming rain clouds staying away.   

After storming through the draw without losing a set to  reach her first grand slam final since her career was threatened  by shoulder surgery in 2008, Sharapova will be odds-on favourite  to collect her fourth major title.   

“But the next match starts from scratch. Everything that  kind of went before, that doesn’t really matter,” said the  Florida-based Russian, who gets to enjoy a few of the perks of  being a member of the All England Club.   

Azarenka’s defeat will at least help keep the volume down tomorrow as left-handed Kvitova is relatively quiet when she  smites the ball over the net.   

The Belarussian, whose sound effects again brought giggles  from the crowd, was briefly drowned out by an alarm blaring  across Centre Court at one point of the match but it was  Kvitova’s accuracy that was the real danger.  
 
The first set whizzed by in 27 minutes with hardly a rally  to speak of but Azarenka got a foothold with an early break in  the second and went on to level the contest.   

With similar playing styles, both smashing the felt off the  ball from the baseline, there was a muted atmosphere in the  stands as Kvitova pulled away again in the decider.   

Kvitova completed victory on her second match point when  Azarenka served a double fault.   
“I think it was a nervous match for sure,” Kvitova, the  first left-hander to reach the women’s final since Czech-born  American Martina Navratilova in 1994, told reporters.   

“It was tough mentally but it’s something unbelievable to be  in the final at Wimbledon.”

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