MARIA Sharapova celebrated a landmark day yesterday as she reached her first French Open final and ensured she would become world number one for the first time in four years.
It has been a long road back for the Russian since shoulder surgery in 2008 put her out of the game for almost 12 months, but she has been in superb form this year and beat Petra Kvitova 6-3 6-3 in her semi-final at Roland Garros.
Tomorrow, the 25-year-old will aim to complete her set of grand slam titles following wins at Wimbledon in 2004, the US Open in 2006 and the Australian Open in 2008.
And Sharapova will certainly be a big favourite against surprise finalist Sara Errani, who had earlier beaten US Open champion Sam Stosur 7-5 1-6 6-3.
Sharapova said: "It's just amazing to be back in this position of being world number one again (overtaking Victoria Azarenka).
"I was in a position a few years ago where I didn't quite know if I would ever be here again on this stage playing professionally. And not just at that, but at a level to get to number one in the world and a first Roland Garros final for me. So it's a very special day."
Yesterday's match was a repeat of last year's Wimbledon final, which Kvitova won, but Sharapova was undoubtedly the better player.
Her serve has been the major reason she has not managed to win a grand slam title for four and a half years, but it was rock solid here.
Sharapova said: "It was tough to play a great match because of the conditions. I think most importantly it was about playing a solid match."
Kvitova, who also lost to Sharapova in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, was able to reflect on a positive tournament despite falling just short again.
The Czech said: "I wasn't playing bad, but she was better on the court. She deserved it and she's number one now."
Errani's success means there will be an Italian in the women's final for the third year in a row after Francesca Schiavone's two runs, including victory over Stosur in 2010.
But the 25-year-old is an even more unlikely finalist -- she had won only one match at Roland Garros prior to this year and had never beaten a top-10 player. She broke that duck in the quarter-finals against Angelique Kerber and followed it up yesterday in a match delayed by rain.
It looked like Stosur had turned things round when she won the first five games of the second set and clawed her way back from 3-0 down in the decider, but Errani did not waver and served out the win to love.
The Italian let the emotion show as she sobbed at the end of the match, and said afterwards: "I was very nervous but at the same time I was really focused on the game.
"Maybe she had more pressure. I just wanted to think about what I had to do and try to forget everything, forget where I was."