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Maria Sharapova advances to French Open final, returns to No. 1

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Maria Sharapova completed her long road back to No. 1 on Thursday, defeating Petra Kvitova 6-3, 6-3 to advance to the French Open final and bring herself closer to capping a career Grand Slam.

The win will move Sharapova to the top spot of the rankings when they're released Monday.

She handily defeated the world No. 4 thanks to a consistent serve and powerful, accurate groundstrokes. Her success on clay this season -- she's 18-1 on the surface in 2012 -- makes her "cow on ice" days seem like a distant memory.

[Related: Learn about French Open finalist Sara Errani]

Since losing to Kvitova in last year's Wimbledon final, Sharapova has consistently contended in big tournaments, winning two premier events and making the finals in two others. She lost the Australian Open final to Victoria Azarenka in February, moving the Belarusian to No. 1, a spot she held until Sharapova dethroned her on Thursday.

The return to No. 1 comes almost exactly four years after her last stint atop the WTA rankings. During that time, Sharapova battled a shoulder injury that sidelined her for a 10 months beginning in 2008. When she returned, she was a shell of the player that stunned the tennis world at age 17 by defeating Serena Williams at Wimbledon. She failed to make it past the fourth round in seven consecutive Grand Slams and fell to No. 126 in the world.

[Related: Rafael Nadal, Tiger Woods looking to join list of single-event dominance]

Sharapova will face No. 21 seed Sara Errani in Saturday's French Open final.

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