As Maria Sharapova prepared to serve while a point from defeat in the French Open semifinals, Li Na was thinking what any opponent would at that moment.
"I was, like, 'Please, double-fault. That way I can win the match,' " Li explained 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 — Li can become the first Grand Slam champion from her nation of more than 1 billion people.
The sixth-seeded Li said she wants her sport to "get bigger and bigger" back home.
A year ago at Roland Garros, Schiavone became the first woman from Italy to win one of tennis' four most important titles. 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.
"When I come here," the fifth-seeded Schiavone said, "I feel something special."
In today's men's semifinals, Rafael Nadal will face Andy Murray in one semifinal, while unbeaten Novak Djokovic faces 16-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer.
Even Nadal acknowledges his semifinal is not nearly as intriguing.
"It's the best player of today against the best player in history. … It's going to be a beautiful match," Nadal said. "I would watch it — if I was a spectator."
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.
And if he beats Federer, Djokovic will rise to No. 1 in the ATP rankings for the first time.