With favorites Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka being dismissed from the French Open before the quarterfinals, the 2012 French Open became Maria Sharapova's tournament to lose. Now that only four women remain, this is still true. Searching for the Career Grand Slam, Sharapova has only lost once on clay this year, but she will face a huge test on Thursday in her bid to reach her first French Open Final. Standing across the net from her will be Petra Kvitova, the woman who took out Sharapova in the 2011 Wimbledon Final. Their last meeting at a Major was at the Australian Open, where Sharapova survived the young Czech in the semifinals. She went on to lose the Final to Azarenka. Both women play similar games. As power players, both Sharapova and Kvitova are used to dominating each point from the baseline. While Kvitova has the more consistent serve, look for Maria to really load up on her forehand return, especially on Petra's lefty second serve. One aspect of a player's game that is vitally important on clay is movement, and the advantage in this match has to go to Sharapova. Throughout the 2012 clay court season, her movement has been outstanding, leading to the fact that she has only lost once and has already claimed two titles.
In a match like this one, which will be full of ups-and-downs, mental fortitude will play a major role. Both women are Grand Slam Champions, but Sharapova has much more big-match experience. Her win over Kvitova in Melbourne should help with her confidence if things start to go awry early in the match. On the flip side, Petra has to be feeling pretty confident herself, knowing she has beaten Sharapova in a Grand Slam Final. When taking all things in consideration, this match is about as even as it gets. Having said this, I like Sharapova to advance in three ugly sets. The quality of tennis could be particularly bad, considering the ability of both players to hit unforced errors in bunches. Nevertheless, it is the French Open Semifinals, and all you need to do is find a way to win. Maria will be the player to do this on Thursday.
In the other semifinal, which will actually be played first on Court Philippe Chatrier, features reigining US Open Champion and former French Open Finalist Samantha Stosur against 25 year-old Italian Sara Errani, playing in her first ever Grand Slam Semifinal. Errani, who has always been a bit of a clay court specialist, has been on fire this week, scoring impressive wins over Ana Ivanovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova, and Angelique Kerber, in order, en route to the Semifinals. While this match looks like a bit of a mismatch on paper, do not overlook Errani. As for Stosur, she has simply been brilliant at Roland Garros so far. Her last match, a straight-set victory over Dominika Cibulkova, showcased the Aussie's game at its highest level. The spin and velocity she was hitting from both sides, especially her forehand, was unbelievable, and her kick serve gave the shorter Cibulkova fits. Errani is only one inch taller than Cibulkova. If Stosur plays like this early in the match on Thursday, it could be a long day for Errani. It will be vital for Errani to get through the first couple of games, which will calm down her nerves. If Sara can get to 2-2 or 3-3 in the opening set, the Italian has a legitimate shot of advancing to the Final.
In the end, Stosur will advance in three thrilling sets, advancing to her second French Open Final. Both Women's Semifinals can be seen on ESPN2 starting at 8:00 AM EST. Stosur-Errani will play first, followed by Sharapova-Kvitova. Enjoy!