MADRID (AFP) – Maria Sharapova secured her place in the final of the Madrid Open for the second consecutive year with a comfortable 6-1, 6-4 win over Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska on Saturday.
The four-time Grand Slam champion will face Romanian Simona Halep in Sunday’s final as she ground out a hard-fought 6-7 (4/7), 6-3, 6-2 victory over fifth seed Petra Kvitova.
“I don’t think we’ve played for a really long time. She’s had such a great year and obviously she is the player to beat in the final,” said Sharapova.
“I’m looking forward to that matchup. No matter who I’m facing the toughest match is always the last one. You’ve just got to give everything you have out there.
“It’s great to be back in the final and give myself another opportunity.”
Sharapova has slowly begun to hit form in recent weeks on her return to clay conditions after a difficult start to the year and she stormed through the opening set for the loss of just 11 points.
“I really challenged myself to improve on clay courts because that was never my favourite surface in the beginning of my career,” added Sharapova.
“I’ve done a really good job of transitioning from the hard to the clay and really improving physically and recovering well from match to match.
“I’ve played a lot of matches in the last few weeks, but that’s what I want. I missed four or five months of the season last year and I wanted to come in to this year and play as many matches as I can.
“That’s been my goal and that’s what I’m here for, so if I’m a little bit tired, that’s normal. If you’re feeling fresh then something is wrong because you’re probably not in the finals of the tournaments.”
Sharapova was dominant again at the start of the second as she raced into a 3-0 lead, but Radwanska battled back to take four straight games and lead 4-3 with a break.
Unfortunately for the third seed, though, she gifted the break straight back and Sharapova also took the next two games to round off victory in little over an hour.
Earlier, Halep booked her place in her first ever final of a mandatory event after outlasting Kvitova after over two-and-a-half hours on court.
“It was a very tough match today. I couldn’t believe that I came from behind again. She played really well and she was fighting the whole match,” said Halep.
“I’m very excited that I can play in my biggest final tomorrow. I hope that I can control my emotions and just play.
“I just have to enjoy it. I’m really happy that I can play the final here in Madrid.”
However, the 22-year-old is aware of the size of the task that awaits her in Sharapova having lost in their only two meetings to date.
“Tomorrow I expect a very tough match. Maria is a champion and she knows how to manage the finals.”
After just one break apiece it was Kvitova who edged a first set tie-break and the Czech looked on her way to her first final of the season when she led 3-1 early in the second.