Sharapova reaches second straight French Open final

Reigning champion Maria Sharapova outdueled Australian Open titlist Victoria Azarenka on Thursday to secure a berth in her second straight French Open final.

The second-seeded Russian superstar held off her third-seeded fellow former world No. 1 Azarenka 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 in the first women's semifinal on the famed red clay at Stade Roland Garros.

Sharapova reached her eighth career Grand Slam final and is seeking a fifth major championship. She's trying to become the first women's repeat French Open champ since Justine Henin in 2007.

Her opponent on Saturday will be current world No. 1 great Serena Williams of the United States or last year's French Open runner-up, fifth-seeded Italian Sara Errani.

In a match that featured the first rain delay since last Thursday, Sharapova blew away Azarenka in a lopsided first set, as the Belarusian opened the bout with a break of serve before the Russian embarked on a six-game winning streak to claim the stanza.

The second set was then all Azarenka before rain forced the players off the court for a short while.

When the women returned for the deciding third, Sharapova charged out to a 5-2 lead and was able to hold on from there.

Sharapova broke for a 3-2 edge in the third and consolidated the break with a hold in a very loud battle between two of the game's most notorious grunters.

The 6-foor-2 Sharapova broke again for the 5-2 advantage before Azarenka fought back with a break and a hold to pull within 4-5. Sharapova blew four match points in the eighth game of the stanza, but converted on a fifth in the 10th game by finally closing out Azarenka with a resounding ace.

The match was completed in 2 hours, 10 minutes, as Sharapova swatted 12 aces while also piling up 11 double faults, including four in one game on Day 12 of the fortnight. The Russian tallied 27 more winners (42-15) than Azarenka in advancing, but also misfired for 17 more unforced errors (39-22).

Sharapova is now 43-9 in her career at the French Open, which is best among active women.

The career Grand Slam winner improved to 8-8 in her major semifinals, while the reigning two-time Aussie Open champ and 2012 U.S. Open runner-up Azarenka fell to 3-3 in her Grand Slam semis, including her first-ever one at the French on Thursday.

The 26-year-old Sharapova is now 6-7 lifetime against the 23-year-old Azarenka, including 1-2 in Grand Slam meetings and a perfect 3-0 on clay.

Sharapova will appear in her 51st career WTA-level final, seeking a 30th title. She's 2-2 in her 2013 finals, with the wins coming at Indian Wells and on a clay court in Stuttgart.