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Opposites attract as Sharapova and Errani meet

Twenty four centimeters in height, $17 million in prize money and a universe of celebrity status separate Maria Sharapova from Sara Errani, but these two worlds will collide in the French Open final after both swept aside their opponents on Thursday.

The tall and elegant Sharapova purred like a Rolls Royce as she trampled Petra Kvitova 6-3 6-3 to exact a modicum of payback after the Czech had beaten her in the Wimbledon final last year.

Waiting for her there is the petite Sara Errani, who despite her slender frame, masterminded semi-final success over the heavy-hitting Sam Stosur with a gameplan forged of guile and guts.

Whether or not a cerebral approach, which resulted in a 7-5 1-6 6-3 victory, will be enough to upset the last remaining superstar in the women's game remains to be seen.

With the Williams sisters on the wane, Justine Henin retired and Kim Clijsters set to follow after the U.S. Open, Sharapova is the big box-office attraction on the tour.

Her victory over Kvitova underlined her status by returning her to the pinnacle of the rankings, whilst in the process heightening the sense that Sharapova and Errani come from opposite ends of the tennis spectrum.

Sharapova received an ornate glass vase for recovering the number one spot she last held in 2008; Errani will be hoping to prove she has not reached her glass ceiling by reaching the final.

While they are both 25 years old, Sharapova is looking to complete her set of grand slam trophies with the French Open, the only one missing from her gilded collection.

It is a very different story for Errani, who is currently ranked 24 in the world, has won only five tour titles to Sharapova's 26.

"At the end of the day it's another match, and we have to go out there and compete and perform well," was Sharapova's nonchalant take on the occasion.

While a tearful Errani dragged herself up off the red dust and explained: "I have no words, it is incredible."

SWIRLING WINDS

Their semi-final matches were equally contrasting as Sharapova blasted a leaden-footed Kvitova off court with the Czech capitulating in an error-soaked performance.

Swirling winds made it difficult for both players but it was the Russian's game that held up while Kvitova's forehand and serve went to pieces.

She was broken twice in the first set and after an exchange of breaks in the second, Sharapova struck the decisive blow in the eighth game to effectively finish it off.

Stosur had been the strong favorite to meet Sharapova in the final, but the sixth-seed was out-foxed by the nimble-footed Errani.

The U.S. Open champion had caused such trouble to her quarter-final opponent Dominika Cibulkova with her high-kicking serve and heavy topspin forehands, that few gave Errani much hope of pulling off a shock.

The Australian had not dropped a set in her previous matches in the tournament and had a 5-0 record against Errani coming into the match.

But she fell into the 21st seed's intelligently contrived plan to force her out of her comfort zone and nullify her principle weapons.

She stepped inside the baseline to attack the Stosur serve early and looked to keep her on the back foot with heavy, penetrating hits.

"She is a smart player," was how an exasperated Stosur sought to explain away her on-court impotence.

She had her chances, especially after shifting the momentum of the match in her favor by romping to the second set, but when the pressure cooker atmosphere on Court Philippe Chatrier reached boiling point she tightened up.

You would not have thought from Stosur's diffident display that she was playing her third semi-final at Roland Garros and Errani her first.

The Italian, however, revealed a glimmer of her ice cool temperament when she explained that during the afternoon downpour that delayed the start of play, she slept on the sofa of the locker room.

But having a cool head will probably not be enough to beat Sharapova who has the hard currency of six grand slam finals behind her.

According to the Russian: "Experience is priceless. It teaches you so many things.

"Winning, losing, situations, circumstances that you go through."

(Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Pritha Sarkar)