PARIS — Wind blew in her face, kicking up flecks of clay, and Maria Sharapova stood at the baseline, knowing she needed one more point to reach her first French Open final and return to No. 1 in the rankings.
She rotated her right shoulder, the one surgically repaired 31/2 years ago, and served a fault.
Her next try found the mark: a second-serve ace at 104 mph that landed in a corner. It was a fitting way to close out a 6-3, 6-3 victory over No. 4-seeded Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic in the semifinals at Roland Garros on Thursday, a fitting way to announce that Sharapova is once again at the height of her powers and at the top of her sport.
"It's a long road back; it's a long process. It's a lot of days of frustration and uncertainty, not knowing if you'll ever get there, not knowing how much you want it, not knowing whether (there) would be a moment like that for you again," Sharapova said at her news conference, the WTA's glass vase signifying her No. 1 status sitting inches away.
"So there's definitely a lot of tough things you have to go through to get to this point. But when you get here, and you look back at the things that you did, and the work that you put in, and the toughest days that you can remember, it's all really worth it."
On Saturday, the second-seeded Russian will face 21st-seeded Sara Errani of Italy for the French Open title. It's the only major tournament Sharapova hasn't won; she can become the 10th woman to complete a career Grand Slam.
"I was in a position a few years ago where I didn't quite know if I would ever be here again on this stage, playing professionally. And not just at that, but at a level to get to No. 1 in the world and a first Roland Garros final for me," Sharapova said. "So a very special day, no doubt."
Errani felt the same way.
Playing in her first Grand Slam semifinal, she beat reigning U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur of Australia 7-5, 1-6, 6-3.
"Players like Sharapova, Serena Williams — they're accustomed to making it this far," said Errani's coach, Pablo Lozano, who held his 10-month-old son while cheering in the stands. "For us, every day brings a new surprise."Comment on this story
Indeed, it's been quite a two weeks for Errani, who will play in the women's doubles final on Friday with Roberta Vinci against Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova.
Entering this tournament, Errani was 0-28 against women ranked in the top 10.
French Open glance
Women's Semifinals: No. 21 Sara Errani beat No. 6 Sam Stosur 7-5, 1-6, 6-3; No. 2 Maria Sharapova beat No. 4 Petra Kvitova 6-3, 6-3.
Stat of the Day: 3 — Consecutive years with an Italian woman in the French Open singles final.
Friday's Men's Semifinals: No. 2 Rafael Nadal vs. No. 6 David Ferrer; No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 3 Roger Federer.