Maria Sharapova’s title defence at the French Open nearly came off the rails on Wednesday before the second seed cobbled together a fightback to cool down red-hot Serb Jelena Jankovic 0-6, 6-4, 6-3 and reach the semifinals.

The Russian who won her first Roland Garros title a year ago, will take on former number one Victoria Azarenka after the third seed defeated Maria Kirilenko of Russia 7-6 (7-3), 6-2.

Sharapova was stunned by Jankovic as the woman who ended 2008 on world number one ran off a love set in 29 minutes on the Chatrier court. With her title on the line and a 7-1 record in the series, Sharapova knew she had to act fast.

“She played so great from the beginning, she was the aggressive one in the first set,” said Sharapova.

“If I wanted to win, I knew I had to change things around. I’m so happy I was able to do that and get back into the semis.

“After losing the first set, I quickly erased that chapter and tried to more forward. I tried to create opportunities for myself in the second set; you have to do that no matter how bad you are playing.

“I never felt that I wasn’t in the match. Breaking her in the first game of the second set was extremely important.”

Sharapova finished in just under two hours on her first match point from a Jankovic forehand wide. She and Azarenka will play in Paris for the first time.

“I’ve always had a lot of ups and downs here, but I was fortunate to hold up the trophy last year and I want to try and do that again.”

Azarenka had to concentrate as Kirilenko took on-court treatment on her back in the opening set in. The Belarus winner will be competing in her first semifinal at Roland Garros.

“It was a very tough match, Maria is a tremendous competitor,” said Azarenka. “It was very close at the start. It was my third attempt but I finally got to a semifinal here.”

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