ROME (Reuters) - Title holder Jelena Jankovic will meet French qualifier Alize Cornet in the final of the Italian Open after the withdrawal of Russian second seed Maria Sharapova with a calf strain.
The 18-year-old Cornet staged a splendid comeback to upset Russian sixth seed Anna Chakvetadze 3-6 6-4 6-3 and earn herself a meeting with Serb fourth seed Jankovic.
The first set of the semi-final was tight until the seventh game, when Cornet was punished with a break of serve after blasting some easy forehands into net.
The 18-year-old lost the five games that followed and looked out of the match at 3-0 down in the second set.
But Chakvetadze repeated the tendency she showed earlier in the tournament to relax in the middle of her matches and Cornet took advantage to roar back and level.
The Frenchwoman, who knocked out last year’s finalist Svetlana Kuznetsova on Thursday, carried the momentum in the deciding set to reach her first big final.
Cornet said fear of a humiliating defeat inspired her comeback.
“I was just afraid to lose like 6-3 6-1 in 50 minutes, and I told myself you have to keep fighting and try to come back,” she told a news conference.
“After that, 10 minutes later it was 3-3, the fighter inside me was back and it started again.”
She expressed optimism about springing another surprise on Sunday:
“Jankovic is a very good player, especially on clay. She runs everywhere. It’s almost impossible to play a winner against her. I just hope to play a good match tomorrow. I beat my second top 10 (player) today, why not my third one tomorrow?”
Sharapova, who will become world number one next week after Belgian Justine Henin retired from tennis on Wednesday, said she should be fully fit for the French Open which starts on May 25.
“I‘m going to Paris in a couple of hours. I‘m going to get some treatment over there and try to be ready as soon as possible. I hope in two days I’ll be able to be on court and be normal,” she told reporters.
Jankovic, who beat American seventh seed Venus Williams in the quarter-finals on Friday, said she was disappointed not to have played the match.
“I wanted to play. I was ready for another challenge, another tough match. Unfortunately she has an injury. It happens because we have really tough, intense matches. Our bodies cannot take it sometimes. I‘m happy to be in the final and have a big opportunity to win to defend my title.”
The women’s tournament has been troubled by injuries, like the men’s Rome Masters was last week.
Cornet got a walkover into the last four on Friday when Serena Williams pulled out of their quarter-final with a back injury.
editing by Clare Lovell and Justin Palmer