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By Alison Williams
PARIS, June 5 It wasn't easy and at times it wasn't pretty, but Maria Sharapova turned up the heat over three sets against up-and-coming Canadian Eugenie Bouchard on Thursday to reach her third consecutive French Open final.
For a time, the woman being labelled the "next Sharapova" looked on course for victory over the current model, until the Russian's aggression and experience prevailed 4-6 7-5 6-2.
It was Sharapova's third consecutive victory from a set down - further proof that when the chips are down there are few players who can equal her for fighting spirit.
"Winning a match where I felt my opponent played extremely well, exceptional tennis and I didn't feel that I was playing my best, I fought, I scrambled, and I found a way to win. I'm happy and proud about that," the 2012 champion told reporters.
"In the third I thought I was the aggressive one. I stepped up and I was doing things that I had wanted to do, which was I feel maybe I should have done earlier."
Looking close to mirror images on court, each blonde, each dressed in shades of pink with orange trim and each working the angles with flashing groundstrokes, it was Bouchard who called the tune in the first set.
However, by her own admission, she backed off in the second and third sets and despite Sharapova's service games being peppered with double faults, it was the more experienced player who began to stamp her authority, the shrieks becoming a roar of delight as she snuffed out the 20-year-old.
Sharapova will face Romanian fourth seed Simona Halep in the final, hoping to go one better than her defeat by Serena Williams last year.
A disconsolate Bouchard, seeded 18, knew she had been within touching distance of reaching her first grand slam final off the back of her last four run in Australia.
"I thought I was really close to it at the end of the second set, but I made too many mistakes on important points and important moments," Bouchard, known as Genie, told reporters.
Sharapova, who has battled shoulder injuries during her career, has now won the last 19 three-set matches she has played on clay since losing to Justine Henin in the third round at Roland Garros in 2010.
"In these last matches I have lost the first set, but I have lost them in different ways," she said.
"You know, at the end of the day, it's not how you finish a first set. It's how you finish the last set." (Editing by Ed Osmond and Martyn Herman)