By The Associated Press
WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Maria Sharapova whacked some serves long and blasted others straight into the net, and all too often she did it one after another.
It didn’t matter much, though, because the fifth-seeded Russian overcame 13 double-faults in a woeful serving display to reach her first Wimbledon final since 2004, beating German wild card Sabine Lisicki 6-4, 6-3 Thursday.
“From the beginning I didn’t quite serve well,” said Sharapova, who won the first of her three Grand Slam titles at the All England Club seven years ago. “I felt like I was just rushing things, my first serve. … I didn’t really want to give her too many looks on second serves. I think maybe I overthought it too much.”
Sharapova has yet to drop a set at this year’s tournament, and she’ll be the favorite on Saturday when she faces Petra Kvitova in the championship match. The eighth-seeded Kvitova advanced by beating Victoria Azarenka 6-1, 3-6, 6-2, hitting nine aces en route to her first major final.
In the men’s semifinals Friday, Novak Djokovic will be first up on Centre Court against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Defending champion Rafael Nadal is then scheduled to face Andy Murray.
At 24, Sharapova was the oldest semifinalist at this year’s tournament — and her seven-year gap between Wimbledon finals is the longest in the Open era. That extra experience could be what pulled her through even though her serve let her down early.
After Lisicki held to open the match, Sharapova was broken at love. The first point of the game was a double-fault, and so was the last.
Down 3-0, Sharapova again double-faulted twice, with the second miscue giving Lisicki another break point.
Sharapova saved that, and the match.
“The first three games she played very well, and I did quite the opposite,” Sharapova said. “She served a lot better, and I was giving her way too many free points on my serve.
“And then, I told myself to take it one point at a time and really focus. I felt like I just kind of got in my zone, just remained focused, and kind of got back to 3-all.”
From there, Sharapova won 12 of the final 16 games.
“Today wasn’t my best match of the championships so I was real happy to get through in two sets,” said Sharapova, who also won the 2006 U.S. Open and the 2008 Australian Open. “But, yeah, it’s pretty amazing to be back on that stage.”
It is amazing, but mostly because of the shoulder surgery Sharapova went though in October 2008. Since then, the Russian had been in exactly one Grand Slam semifinal, and that came a few weeks ago at the French Open.
“I’m not really the type of person that ever gives up,” Sharapova said. “Even though it was tough, I believed in myself.”
In the final, Sharapova’s serve will have to improve if she wants to win a fourth major against Kvitova, who had never won a match on grass before last year’s tournament, when she reached the semifinals.
Against Azarenka, Kvitova dominated her service games, hitting three aces in a row in the final game of the first set and getting broken only once.
“All match it was around both serves,” Kvitova said, “so I’m very happy my serve was good in the third set.”
Kvitova was playing in only her second major semifinal, and she dictated the play throughout. The Czech left-hander had 40 winners and 14 unforced errors, while Azarenka had only nine winners and seven unforced errors.
Kvitova is the first left-handed woman to reach the Wimbledon final since Martina Navratilova in 1994. Navratilova, who won the title nine times and was in the crowd Thursday, and Ann Jones (in 1969) are the only left-handers to win the championship dish at the All England Club.
“There’s been so few women lefties that were good,” said Navratilova, who was born in Czechoslovakia and won her last Wimbledon title in 1990. “For Petra, I think the key’s always been to minimize those streaks of bad play. She’s very streaky.”