PARIS — As Maria Sharapova prepared to serve while only a point from defeat in the French Open semifinals, Li Na was thinking what any opponent would at that precise moment.
"I was, like, 'Please, double-fault. That way I can win the match,'" Li explained to the crowd a few moments later.
Sharapova obliged. Her second serve hit the white tape atop the net and bounced back for Sharapova's 10th double-fault of an error-filled afternoon, closing Li's 6-4, 7-5 victory Thursday. The result ended Sharapova's bid to complete a career Grand Slam, and allowed Li to reach a second consecutive major final.
At the Australian Open in January, Li was the runner-up, the first tennis player from China to reach a major championship match. At the French Open on Saturday — when she will play defending champion Francesca Schiavone — Li can become the first Grand Slam champion from her nation of more than 1 billion people.
The sixth-seeded Li said she wants her sport to "get bigger and bigger" back home. Noting that Chinese children probably saw her semifinal on TV, Li said that perhaps "they think that maybe one day, they can do the same — or even better."
Much more confident on hard courts, Li prefers to stay at the baseline, hitting flat shots in near silence. Only as the end neared against Sharapova did Li occasionally pump a fist.
In one game, Sharapova double-faulted three times. In two others, including when ceding a 4-3 lead in the second set and again in the last game of the match, she double-faulted twice.
She would roll her eyes or slap her thigh after various miscues, but couldn't get things straightened out. After flubbing the second serve on match point, Sharapova hung her head.
"At times, I didn't serve well, and was rushing more than maybe I had to," Sharapova said, "and maybe — considering the conditions — maybe I was just trying to go for too big of second serves, especially."
The 24-year-old Russian won Wimbledon in 2004 at age 17, the U.S. Open in 2006, and the Australian Open in 2008. She's still waiting to reach her first French Open final.
"Obviously, it's disappointing. As an athlete, you want to win. There's no doubt," Sharapova said. "But, you know, good retail therapy, and I'll be fine."