Sharapova's grit proves too much for Bouchard
Russian has fifth grand slam in sight after reaching her third straight Roland Garros final where she will meet Simona Halep
Maria Sharapova reached the final of the French Open for the third straight year at Roland Garros on Thursday, digging deep to see off the youthful challenge of Canada's Eugenie Bouchard.
The 27-year-old seventh seed once again did it the hard way, battling back from a set down to edge the 20-year-old from Montreal 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 in a match full of beefy baseline shot-making.
It was the 19th time in a row that the never-say-die Sharapova had won a three-set match on clay, dating back to a loss against Justine Henin at Roland Garros in 2010.
On Saturday, she will take on the winner of the other semi-final - fourth seed Simona Halep of Romania who beat Germany's Andrea Petkovic, 6-2, 7-6 (7-4).
The Romanian blazed through the opening set as her 28th-seeded opponent struggled with early nerves.
She fell a break down in the second, but recovered to force a tiebreak which she always controlled.
Halep, who has yet to drop a set, ended the contest on her first match point with yet another forehand winner.
For the fast-rising Bouchard, it was the second time she had reached a grand slam semi-final, following January's Australian Open. And again she failed to go a step further, having lost to the eventual champion Li Na in Melbourne.
"She played an unbelievable match. Her level was extremely high today and I am just fortunate to be the winner," Sharapova said on court after the match.
"I would prefer to win in two sets, but she started so well. It was tough losing the first set, but that's not when the match is over."
Both players had been guilty of slow starts earlier in the tournament, but the quality from each was high from the start as the sunshine returned after the midweek rain to light up the centre court.
Bouchard broke first to lead 3-1, but amid some hefty baseline shot-making, the Russian was soon back on level terms at 4-4.
Bouchard, the WTA Newcomer of the Year in 2013, then produced an inspired game to stun her girlhood idol, breaking serve and then holding to take the first set 6-4 in 44 minutes.
But Sharapova is seldom as dangerous as when she is behind, especially on clay, as shown in her two previous matches when she dropped the opening set to Samantha Stosur and then Garbine Muguruza.
Seeking a fifth grand slam title, and having completed a career grand slam sweep in Paris two years ago, Sharapova jumped out into a 4-1 and then 5-2 lead in the second set.
But as so often in the past, the Russian's wobbly serve let her down and she let slip four set points - two of them due to double faults - as Bouchard battled back to level at 5-5.
Sharapova was in big trouble, but once again she found a way of digging her own way out of it, first holding serve and then levelling the match by bagging her sixth set point in the following game.
Sharapova's drive and determination then allowed her to dominate the deciding set with Bouchard struggling to stay in it.
The world No 7 was now in overdrive.
After grabbing a vital break in the third game to lead 4-1, she raced away with the tie as Bouchard wilted, albeit she still needed five match points to get the job done.