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She needed five match points to seal the victory. Serving for the victory for the second time, she held at love and finished with an ace.
"Those last few points are the toughest," Sharapova said. I’m so happy that I regrouped and came out at 5-4 and served it out really well."
Following a 35-minute rain delay before the third set, Sharapova hit four double-faults in a single game, the last of them on break point, to make it 2-all. She struggled again with her serve at 5-2, losing a tense, sloppy 12-minute game when she squandered four match points and double-faulted on the final two points.
She was steadier at the end, however, and after accepting a cursory congratulatory handshake from Azarenka, Sharapova screamed through a grin.
"To come back as the defending champion, it’s extremely special to get back on that stage where it comes down to the last two players of the tournament," Sharapova said.
She improved her record at Roland Garros to 43-9, best among active women. That includes victories in her past 13 French Open matches.
Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion, was playing in her first Roland Garros semifinal. She still believes she can win a clay-court Grand Slam title.
"Oh, sure," she said. "Not this year."
In the men’s semifinals Friday, seven-time champion Rafael Nadal plays No. 1 Novak Djokovic for the 35th time, and Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga faces Spaniard David Ferrer.
Williams took control against Errani by winning 26 of 34 points in the opening set. The match was 37 minutes old before Errani won a game, and the crowd responded with a roar as the Italian raised her arms in mock jubilation.
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