PARIS - As Maria Sharapova prepared to serve while only a point from defeat in the French Open semifinals, Li Na was thinking what any opponent would at that precise moment.
"I was, like: 'Please, double-fault. That way I can win the match,' " Li said to the crowd a few moments later.
Sharapova obliged. Her second serve hit the white tape atop the net and bounced back for Sharapova's 10th double-fault of an error-filled afternoon, closing Li's 6-4, 7-5 victory Thursday. The result ended Sharapova's bid to complete a career Grand Slam and allowed Li to reach a second consecutive major final.
At the Australian Open in January, Li was the runner-up, the first tennis player from China to reach a major championship match. At the French Open on Saturday - when she will play defending champion Francesca Schiavone - the sixth-seeded Li can become the first Grand Slam champion from her nation.
A year ago at Roland Garros, Schiavone became the first woman from Italy to win a slam. But she had failed to make it to the final of any tournament since then, until taking the last four games to beat 11th-seeded Marion Bartoli of France, 6-3, 6-3, Thursday.
At 30, Schiavone would be the first woman at least that old to win a Grand Slam title since Martina Navratilova was 33 at Wimbledon in 1990. Combine Schiavone's age with the 29-year-old Li's, and Saturday's match will have the oldest pair of finalists at a major tournament in 13 years.
Even Rafael Nadal acknowledges his semifinal against Andy Murray is not nearly as intriguing as the one between unbeaten Novak Djokovic and 16-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer.
Top-seeded Nadal is bidding to tie Bjorn Borg's record of six French Open championships. No. 4 Murray is dealing with an injured right ankle as he hopes to win his first Grand Slam title - and give Britain its first male champion at a major tennis tournament since 1936. No. 3 Federer has gone more than 16 months without reaching a Grand Slam final.
The 24-year-old Djokovic is 41-0 in 2011, and a win over Federer would allow Djokovic to tie John McEnroe's record for best start to a season in the Open era, 42-0 in 1984.
Djokovic is seeking to reach his first final in Paris; if he were to win the title, he'd be the first man since Jim Courier in 1992 to win the Australian Open and French Open in the same year.