ROME (AFP) –
Defending champion Maria Sharapova will be seeking claycourt revenge on Sunday when she faces French Open champion Li Na of China in the final of the Rome Masters.
Sharapova, who booked a spot in her second consecutive title match at the Foro Italico, lost to Li in their Roland Garros semi-final a year ago in Paris.
Since then, they have not met on the surface, but number two Sharapova took victory in their latest match, a March Miami quarter-final.
The Russian world number two beat Germany’s Angelique Kerber 6-3, 6-4 on Saturday to make the final while Li progressed without hitting a ball after Serena Williams withdrew, claiming back pain but admitting the pullout was just a precaution.
“When I was warming up this morning, I was really looking forward to playing against one of the best players ever,” said Li, who has not won a title since her triumph in Paris a year ago.
Sharapova advanced in 89 minutes against Kerber, and said she is ready to fight for a second straight trophy in Rome.
“It was a tough one and it was a great tournament for her,” she said of the Paris loss to Li in 2011.
“I’ve had tough times against her. I was happy to turn things around in Miami. Sunday is a new match and hope to play like I did in Miami,” added Sharapova, who will play her fifth final from her last seven events and 43rd of her career.
“I’m happy at how I’ve progressed. I’ve had tough matches. I’ve improved and I hope to continue improving.”
Sharapova earned revenge against 12th seed Kerber after losing to the German at the Paris Indoor event in February after beating her only a few weeks earlier in the Australian Open third round.
The Russian, whose Rome trophy was one of two she lifted in 2011, ended her semi-final with 27 winners and 25 unforced errors, breaking four times.
Kerber managed only nine winners but did put her opponent under pressure in each set before finally losing.
Sharapova already owns a clay title in 2012 after winning Stuttgart last month in her debut appearance over number one and main rival Victoria Azarenka.
Williams, meanwhile, admitted that she had been feeling a twinge in her back but should be fine for the French Open which starts on May 27.
“I’m fine, I’ll be 100% for the French,” said 30-year-old Williams.
“I’ve been feeling a little pain this week and I have a huge schedule coming up,” added the American, who was on a 17-match win streak on clay.