By Ros Satar
(June 6, 2013) PARIS – Victoria Azarenka’s burgeoning love affair with the clay came to a halt today, at the hands of Maria Sharapova 6-1, 2-6, 6-4.
In a three-setter interrupted by a brief wringing-out of a cloud, Sharapova did not have the best of starts.
It looked like she had left her first serve in the locker room, but had brought its best friend the double-fault out instead.
In truth, Azarenka did not have to do much except turn up for that first game, as Sharapova was broken to love.
But the situation did not last for long – it was clear that Sharapova had her eye in, quickly taking advantage of Azarenka’s errors, taking the first set in a little short of half an hour.
Azarenka managed to make a better fist of things, made all the easier when Sharapova gifted her the set with two consecutive double faults.
But the players also had to contend with a fidget-en-masse in the last game of the set as spots of rain fell, and the gentry in the expensive seats promptly allez-ed to afternoon tea at 15-0.
The crowd reactions also caused amusement – there was no doubt that the warmer applause was for the defending champion, but they were quick to whistle and boo (admittedly in the rain) as she challenged a point, and as the umpire had them on and off the chairs before finally taking them off.
The third set saw the errors that had been plaguing Azarenka in the first set return, although Sharapova made life hard for herself letting four match points go at 5-2.
There was no doubt at the second time of asking, thumping down an ace to finish it off.
Azarenka denied that Sharapova had cut off her rhythm or rushed her.
“There’s not much rhythm when we play each other. We just try to, you know, take opportunity, whoever takes it first.”
Having joked in her last conference about her and clay moving in together, she was positive about her progress here this year.
“My game on clay got much better, and it’s just a matter of [the] whole process.
“Process started for me. It unfortunately ended today in this tournament.
“But, you know, coming back next year there is so much to look forward to for me, and, you know, trying to figure it out and find it every year will be something that is going to motivate me to come back here.”
Sharapova was no doubt relieved to get the job after failing to take advantage of four match points.
“Despite having those two match points and not taking advantage of them, I was happy with the way it came out at 5‑4 and served it out.”
She will meet Serena Williams who demolished last year’s finalist Sara Errani for the loss of just one game, 6-0, 6-1 in 46 minutes.
As Errani picked up the vocal effort, the only sounds from Williams were the odd squeak as sent a ball flying long or wide.
And as the Italian finally got a game on the board, she raised her hands in triumph, as a gladiatrix might after facing down a lion.
But meal-time was quick to follow, with Williams finishing (as Sharapova had) with an ace.
When asked if playing her was soul-destroying at the moment, Williams allowed herself a smile.
“I would never say that. Ever.
“But I just go out there and do the best that I can and that’s it. “
That being said there was no question of her giving up on any game, out of any sympathy.
“She’s a great girl. I love her fighting spirit. I really like her as a person.
“But when you go out there, you just have to play and forget about who you’re playing.”
Looking ahead to Saturday’s final, Sharapova had to face the inevitable question about her record against Williams, last beating her in 2004.
“Well, I’d be lying if it doesn’t bother me, obviously. (Smiling.)
“But obviously she’s won so many matches already in a row on hard and clay, so I don’t think it really matters.
“You try to go out there and do something different, because whatever you have done just hasn’t performed well.
“I hope that I can.”
And Williams’ view of that record?
“It’s a different time, a different era, just a different match.
“But we have played a lot. Just gotta do the best that I can.”