Her serve all over the place, Maria Sharapova overcame 13 double-faults Thursday to defeat wild card Sabine Lisicki 6-4, 6-3 and return to the Wimbledon final.
She will play for the title against Petra Kvitova, who reached her first major final by hitting nine aces in a 6-1, 3-6, 6-2 victory over Victoria Azarenka in the opening semifinal.
Sharapova, who won the first of her three Grand Slam crowns at the All England Club in 2004, had two double-faults in her opening service game, the second giving her opponent a break. She had two more while trailing 3-0, but saved a break point and then won 12 of the final 16 games.
"I felt like I was just rushing things, my first serve," Sharapova said. "She's someone that has pretty big swings and likes to take charge and hit the ball. I didn't really want to give her too many looks on second serves. I think maybe I overthought it too much."
The turning point may have come on that first saved break point. With Lisicki playing nearly flawless tennis through the first three games, she turned to the drop shot that was so effective against Marion Bartoli in the quarterfinals. But this one went into the net, putting the score at deuce and giving momentum to Sharapova.
Lisicki became frustrated early in the second set as a light drizzle started on Centre Court. Trailing 0-30 and hoping to get a short reprieve, Lisicki asked chair umpire Louise Engzell to suspend play, but was denied.
Three points later, it was 3-0 to Sharapova and Lisicki's chances of reaching a first Grand Slam final were fading fast.
Sharapova, who has not lost a set at this year's tournament, had 18 unforced errors and only 14 winners. Lisicki did exactly the opposite, with 18 winners and 14 unforced errors.
"I hadn't been past the fourth round in a few years," said Sharapova, who last reached the Wimbledon semifinals in 2006. "So to be at this stage, I'm just thrilled to have the opportunity to go for it."
Besides her Wimbledon victory, Sharapova also won the 2006 U.S. Open and the 2008 Australian Open. But shoulder surgery in October 2008 slowed her career.
In the final, Sharapova's serve will have to improve if she wants to win a fourth major. In Kvitova, she faces a player who had never won a match on grass before last year's tournament, when she reached the semifinals.
"She's a really tricky player because she's a great grass-court player," Sharapova said. "She's a lefty, she uses her serve really well and she's playing really good tennis."
In the first match, Kvitova rode her big serve right into the final, hitting three aces in a row in the final game of the first set.
"All match it was around both serves," Kvitova said, "so I'm very happy my serve was good in the third set."
Kvitova was playing in only her second major semifinal, and she dictated play throughout. The Czech left-hander had 40 winners and 14 unforced errors; Azarenka had only nine winners and seven unforced errors.
In the first set, Kvitova twice broke Azarenka's serve and saved the only break point she faced. She finished the set with six aces.
But Azarenka responded in the second, finally converting a break point in the second game to take a 2-0 lead. She held the rest of the way and evened the match, but couldn't do much about her opponent's serve.
"She started serving, and she really played very well on her service game. Was a little bit of a bad luck, I think," Azarenka said. "She was just going for every single shot today. When my balls were going a little bit out like this, her balls were going into the line."
Kvitova lost only one point in the opening game of the third set, and then broke for a 2-0 lead. At 3-1, Azarenka had two break points, but Kvitova saved them both and won the next two points to make it 4-1.
"We met in the locker room and she's told me well done and good luck for the next match," Kvitova said, referring to Navratilova. "It's very nice when I can meet her and speak with her."
The last lefty to even reach a women's major final was Monica Seles at the 1998 French Open.