Serena beats Sharapova in French final

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“She played a beautiful final,” Williams said in French. “She’s a great champion. I hope to be with her again next year.”

“Merci beaucoup,” Sharapova responded with a laugh.

In an all-Spanish final Sunday, Rafael Nadal will try to become the first man to win eight titles at the same Grand Slam event when he plays first-time major finalist David Ferrer.

The women’s final, the first between No. 1 and No. 2 at a Grand Slam tournament since 2004, wasn’t as close as their rankings. It has been 12 years since the most recent three-set women’s title match at Roland Garros.

Playing in hazy, warm weather, the finalists took ferocious swings from the start. With fans perhaps fearful that Williams would win quickly, they began shouting encouragement toward Sharapova after she lost the first two points.

She overcame four break points to hold in the opening game and led 2-0 before Williams began to assert herself. It took Williams 17 minutes to win a game, but then she swept four in a row.

After Sharapova took the next two for 4-all, Williams surged at the end of the set, taking the lead for good by winning eight of the final 10 points.

Sharapova had to dig in again to hold at the start of the second set, fending off five break points, and it was all downhill for her from there. Williams easily held serve all the way to the finish.

She improved to 16-4 in Grand Slam finals. She leads all active women with her 16 major titles and is sixth on the all-time list. Margaret Court holds the record with 24.

Williams improved to 43-2 this year, including 23-0 on clay. Now comes the switch to grass, and she’ll be a heavy favorite to win Wimbledon for the sixth time.

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