Maria Sharapova, the new world No. 1, will attempt to win her first French Open title on Saturday when she faces No. 24 Sara Errani of Italy.
After defeating Petra Kvitova in the semi-finals, Sharapova regained the top spot in the WTA rankings, which she first occupied seven years ago. Kvitova was never able to find a rhythm against the Russian and struggled to return Sharapova's serve, which was well over 100 miles per hour.
Sharapova needed just 77 minutes to get the victory and advance to her first final at Roland Garros, 6-3, 6-3. If the 25-year-old defeats Errani, she will become only the 10th woman to complete the the career Grand Slam.
It shouldn't be a walk in the park for Sharapova. Errani had won only one match at the French Open in her career, but has had a breakout year in 2012. She reached the quarter-finals at the Australian Open but won three tour titles -- all on clay.
Errani has been a dangerous player in this tournament, knocking out favorites such as Samantha Stosur, Angelique Kerber, and Svetlana Kuznetsova with her impeccable consistency. The Italian has a game that has been compared to compatriot Francesca Schiavone, which is based on speed, quick hands and varied shot selection.
Such an arsenal has helped Errani win the doubles title with partner Roberta Vinci on Friday.
Her defensive skills have frustrated opponents, as well, and made it difficult to hit winners on the 5'5 star, whose game also includes an array of slices, drop shots, and volleys.
In the upcoming final, Errani will look to cover the court effectively while facing aggressive shot making from Sharapova.
In order to remain on offense, Errani will likely have to move the Russian around the court with angles and drop shots, keeping Sharapova off balance. Though the Russian has drastically improved her movement on the clay surface, it is still a weakness that Errani will need to exploit.
The key for Sharapova will be her ability to keep Errani on defense, and maintain a high first-serve percentage. Sharapova's serve has been inconsistent since returning from shoulder surgery in 2008. However, in her semi-final match, Sharapova managed to maintain an impressive 79 percent first-serve percentage.
This enabled Sharapova to control the points and keep Kvitova moving around the court and play first-strike tennis. Sharapova may need to replicate her impressive serving to hold off Errani.
Sharapova may also have to attack Errani's serve, which has been Errani's weakest shot throughout the tournament. Sharapova's return-of-serve is considered her most powerful shot, and has provided her with easy points in previous matches.
The two 25-year-olds, who both attended Nick Bollettieri's tennis academy in Bradenton, Fla., are both seeking their first title at Roland Garros. It will be a matchup of two different game styles between players with two different professional careers.
Sharapova has experienced the pressure of playing in multiple Grand Slam finals, and likely has an edge when it comes to mental toughness. It will be up Errani to utilize her best skills to upset the top player in the world.
PREDICTION: Sharapova in straight sets
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