Impressive Sharapova reaches Rome final

ROME Sat May 19, 2012 11:11am EDT

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ROME (Reuters) - Defending champion Maria Sharapova will take on Li Na of China in the Italian Open final after a confident 6-3 6-4 victory over Germany's Angelique Kerber on Saturday.

The Russian world number two gained revenge on 12th seed Kerber for a defeat earlier this year, overpowering her opponent with heavy groundstrokes.

Li received a walkover into the final after title favourite Serena Williams withdrew on Saturday with a lower back injury.

A winner in Stuttgart last month, Sharapova broke early in both sets and was never headed as she reached her fifth final of the year.

"There's one more to go," Sharapova told a news conference. "I'm extremely happy with the way I've progressed in this tournament.

"I started off a little slow but I've had a number of tough matches and I've continued to improve."

The Russian made 27 winners to her opponent's nine and her serve, which can be inconsistent, was a weapon.

The final will be a repeat of last year's semi-final at the French Open, which Li won on the way to taking her first grand slam title.

"That was a tough one for me and this is a tough match-up for me," she said.

"I've had tough battles against her but I'm not looking back to that loss, though. It's about tomorrow."

Neither player has dropped a set on the way to the final but Li said she would have liked to have had the chance to play Williams.

"Of course I'm happy to reach the final but I don't like winning like that," she said.

Williams said she had pulled out "as a precaution" and expected to be 100 percent fit for the French Open, which begins on May 27.

"If it's not 100 percent it's better not to play and make it worse," the world number six said.

"But I am in good form, I have a few days to get better and I am confident I will be 100 percent fit for the French Open."

When she won the title in Madrid last weekend, Williams described her male counterparts as "weenies" for complaining about the slippery nature of the blue clay, saying the women were "way tougher than men".

But on Saturday, the former world number one admitted she might have to eat her words.

"I guess it turns out I was the weenie," she said via Twitter.

(Editing by Matt Barker)

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