Tennis

Sharapova works hard to return to final

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Richard Evans

Richard Evans has covered tennis since the 1960s, reporting on more than 150 Grand Slams. He is author of 15 books, including the official history of the Davis Cup and the unofficial history of the modern game in "Open Tennis." Follow him on Twitter.

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LONDON

2011 US Open

2011 US Open

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All through her recovery; through missed deadlines and pain and doubt, Maria Sharapova never gave up.

Finally, on the Centre Court where it all began seven long years ago for this amazing performer who mixes glamour with guts, she made it back to a Wimbledon final with a 6-4, 6-3 win over the German wild card Sabine Lisicki. On Saturday Sharapova will play last year's defeated semifinalist Petra Kvitova from the Czech Republic, who beat Victoria Azarenka 6-1, 3-6, 6-2.

The shoulder that had been the source of her injuries nearly wrecked things for her again Thursday, because it was a rush of double faults at the start of the match that enabled Lisicki to race to a 3-0 lead in the first set. The German, whose own serve is one of the great weapons in the game, came within a point of breaking a second time for 4-0, but she tried an ambitious drop shot and missed. It threw a lifeline to a rattled Sharapova and she grabbed it.

"The first three games she played very well and I did the opposite," said Sharapova. "I felt I was rushing things. She's someone who has pretty big swings and likes to take charge and hit the ball. So I didn't really want to give her too many looks on second serves. I think maybe I over-thought it too much."

Once she had settled down and got her toss sorted out, Sharapova began to dominate with those deep, heavy forehands that sent Lisicki scampering in pursuit to the far corners of the court. Suddenly, it was Lisicki who was thrown onto the defensive and she was never able to regain her hold on the match despite the fact that Sharapova ended with a total of 13 double faults — a stat she will need to improve on in the final.

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The road back has been a long one for the Russian who paid tribute to her former coach Michael Joyce for being with her through the surgery and rehabilitation in Phoenix. "Even though it was tough, I believed in myself," she recounted. "Michael Joyce was with me every time I went to Phoenix. He had come through a lot of surgeries in his days. He kind of knew the process. So that was really important to have him and I'm really grateful for that."

She kept setting goals for herself to make a comeback. "And I never really met any of them, to be honest. There were many — when I wanted to come back; how I wanted to feel, where my pain level was. So that was frustrating."

But she never gave up and now? "Personally, I'm thrilled to be in the final. It's a great feeling. Yeah, it's pretty amazing to be back on that stage."

Sharapova, who has also won US and Australian Open titles, knows she will have the advantage of experience over the 21-year-old Kvitova, who will be appearing in her first Grand Slam final. But, equally, she will not be underestimating the powerful left-hander who hits the ball with as much venom as she does.

Maria Sharapova

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The Czech proved too strong for Azarenka in the day's first semifinal and, just as she had done against Tsvetana Pironkova in the previous round, shook off a sudden dip in form during the second set to come back strong in the third. Her power off the ground never allowed the Arizona-based Belarussian to get into a rhythm and she managed only nine winners in the entire match.

The second set was more a question of Kvitova missing with her big forehand than anything special from her opponent, and once she took charge again it was clear that she possessed too much variety for the No. 4 seed.

One example of Kvitova's range of talent came in the middle of the third set when she ended a rally by taking a hard-hit forehand from Azarenka and slicing a magnificent drop shot off her own backhand for a clean winner. It was a statement of intent and it will be fascinating to see how Sharapova copes with it in the final.

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