Rome: Maria Sharapova comfortably beat rising German player Angelique Kerber 6-3, 6-4 on Saturday to reach the Italian Open final.
Sharapova will defend her title against the French Open champion Li Na on Sunday. The Chinese player advanced after Serena Williams withdrew shortly before their semi-final with a lower back injury.
Warming up for the French Open, Sharapova controlled the match with aggressive baseline play, leading 27-9 in winners while committing one fewer unforced error than her 12th-seeded opponent.
"It feels good coming back to the place where you have accomplished so much and to be in the position to regain that position," Sharapova said. "I'm happy how I've progressed."
Sharapova has won three of her last five titles on clay, beating top-ranked Victoria Azarenka in the Stuttgart final last month to add to her titles in Rome last year and Strasbourg the year before. The French Open remains the only Grand Slam the Russian has yet to win.
"The most important thing is physically feeling stronger on the court and handling longer rallies and I recover better," Sharapova said. "I have improved a lot in that department."
At 24, and just a year younger than Sharapova, Kerber won her first career title at the Paris Indoors this year and then took another title in Copenhagen. The German player will break into the top 10 for the first time in her career when WTA rankings are released on Monday.
Sunday's final is the fifth for Sharapova this year. She won Stuttgart and finished runner-up at the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami.
It will be Li Na's second final of the 2012 after losing the Sydney championship to Victoria Azarenka.
The Chinese player beat Sharapova in last year's semi-finals at the French Open. Sharapova won their last meeting in Miami in March.
Williams said the back problem also affected her game earlier this week. She said she will be ready for the French Open, which starts in a week.
"It was feeling a little stiff and I don't think this is the right moment to force [it]," she said. "I just want to relax and get ready for the next few months. This is a good week to get better and I'm confident that I'll be 100 percent."
The decision ended Williams' winning streak at 17 matches. She had won consecutive titles in Charleston, South Carolina and Madrid. She also has two matches in Fed Cup.
Williams will move up one spot to No. 5 in the rankings on Monday.