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French Open 2011: Previewing Thursday’s women’s semifinals

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Busted Racquet previews Thursday's semifinals at Roland Garros. For all our French Open coverage, click here.

If you had said at the beginning of the tournament that the women's semifinals wouldn't feature any of the top four seeds, you'd have thought the final four would be an unappealing mess that was, dare I say, typical of the French Open. Instead, each of the four women remaining have compelling stories that makes for a thrilling semifinal round and a Saturday final that promises to intrigue, no matter the matchup.

Li Na (6) vs. Maria Sharapova (7), 8 a.m. ET -- Which of these two Sharapova facts surprises you more: that she's the youngest player remaining in the women's tournament by two years or is playing in her first Slam semifinal since 2008? From Wimbledon 2004 up until the 2008 Australian Open, Sharapova made 10 of 15 major semifinals. Since then? Nada.

Li Na, on the other hand, has been in half the Slam semis played this decade. She lost in the 2009 Australian Open semis and won in her 2010 follow-up before dropping the final to Kim Clijsters. If she continues that upward trend, she'll be the one celebrating on Centre Court this weekend.

Both women are peaking at the right time, having played their best matches of the tournament in their respective quarterfinals. They're each due, but my guess is that Masha gets hers at Wimbledon. It's Li Na's time now. Prediction: Li Na in two.

Francesca Schiavone (5) vs. Marion Bartoli (11), after first match -- The defending champion vs. the hometown favorite. Italy vs. France. The scrapper vs. the genius.

Bartoli grew up dreaming of winning a French Open title but has never performed well at Roland Garros. In 10 previous appearances she made it out of the second round just twice and never got past the round of 16. She's seeking to become the first French-born woman to win in Paris in the Open era.

Schiavone has won her last 12 matches at Roland Garros yet almost feels like an afterthought in these semifinals. She won't be around 4 p.m. on Thursday. Prediction: Schiavone in three.


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