After a listless first set, Maria Sharapova got inspired by a pep talk from her coach and rolled to a 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Vera Zvonareva on Saturday, seizing a spot in the final of the Western & Southern Open.
She'll play 13th-seeded Jelena Jankovic of Serbia, who beat Andrea Petkovic 7-6 (4), 6-1 in the later semifinal.
The fourth-seeded Sharapova was completely off her game in the first set, barely able to score points against the world's second-ranked player. Coach Thomas Hogstedt gave Sharapova an animated courtside talk, and she took over the 2-hour, 2-minute all-Russian match.
"I didn't do a lot of talking," Sharapova said. "He talked most of the time. I called him over because I felt I just needed a little energy. Something was missing in the first set."
Sharapova will be trying for her second tournament title this season - she also won in Rome. Last year, she reached the finals in Cincinnati and lost to Kim Clijsters.
"I love playing on this court," she said. "There's something about it."
The form exhibited by Sharapova, and Jankovic, meant they must be considered as contenders for the upcoming U.S. Open, where the women's draw will be reduced by injuries and shaky form among many top players.
Clijsters withdrew with strained abdominal muscles - she also dropped out of the U.S. Open, where she's won the last two titles. Venus Williams had to skip this tournament because of a virus. Sister Serena Williams dropped out on Wednesday because of a sore toe. And third-seeded Victoria Azarenka dropped out with a hand injury.
With Clijsters out, Caroline Wozniacki became the top-ranked player and she lost her first match.
Sharapova's game was out of kilter at the start. She repeatedly missed routine shots, got broken twice and fell behind 5-2 while winning only 11 points in those first seven games.
She tried to get some momentum, repeatedly pumping her fist when she made a few shots and broke Zvonareva's serve to keep the set going. Not for long - Zvonareva broke back to finish it off.
After the pep talk, Sharapova was much more aggressive, breaking Zvonareva in the opening game of the second set. Soon, Zvonareva was on the defensive and making the mistakes - she double-faulted to lose her serve and the second set.
"In the second and third sets, I had my concentration level drop for moments a little bit," Zvonareva said. "I gave her a few chances. You give Maria chances like that, she'll take them."
Another double-fault allowed Sharapova to break through for a 3-1 lead in the final set. Then, Sharapova returned the favor, double-faulting twice in a row while Zvonareva cut the deficit to 4-3.
Sharapova recovered quickly, coming to the net for a smash and giving herself three break points in the next game. Her strong forehand down the line put her up 5-3. She got a new racket and served it out, ending the match with a solid forehand.
Jankovic will be trying for her first tournament title since Indians Wells last year. It's only her second final of the season - she was a runner-up at Monterrey.
Petkovic came out with her right knee heavily wrapped after injuring it in the quarterfinals. The German kept up until the first-set tiebreaker, when she hit a few shots poorly, with one backhand flying into the stands.
Jankovic broke her to open the second set, then again to go up 3-0 and was untroubled from there.