Kristina Mladenovic produced a stunning comeback to end Maria Sharapova’s run at the Porsche Grand Prix and take her place in Sunday’s final.
The 23-year-old French world number 19 looked to be heading for defeat after losing the first set 6-3 and then finding herself broken again by Sharapova at the start of the second set to trail 0-2.
However, Mladenovic then recovered to break Sharapova, who had not lost a set so far at the tournament, and level the match at 7-5.
Although Sharapova rallied to get the deciding set back on serve, it was Mladenovic who found her range of passing shots when it mattered, closing out her first match-point chance to complete a 3-6 7-5 6-4 victory in two hours and 39 minutes.
Sharapova, a wild card entry, was playing her first tournament following a 15-month doping ban after a positive test for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open, with the original two-year ban reduced.
The Russian was soon on the offensive in Saturday’s semi-final, forcing three break-point chances against Mladenovic’s first service game which the Frenchwoman was able to hold.
Eventually, though, the pressure from the Russian told as she took a 3-1 lead before closing out the set with a love-service game in 36 minutes.
The former world number one continued her momentum into the start of the second set, immediately taking a 1-0 lead to break Mladenovic’s serve.
Just when it seemed Sharapova was on course for another routine victory, Mladenovic produced a response to break the Russian for the first time and level at 2-2.
The match then suddenly became a much-closer contest as both players held serve, Mladenovic saving another break chance in game seven.
Sharapova made it 5-5 before a mammoth game saw the Russian fail to take three break points and Mladenovic eventually recovered composure on her serve, which by now had seen some nine double faults.
A double fault from the Russian then handed Mladenovic a set point which she claimed as Sharapova hit her return into the net.
Sharapova’s serve remained under scrutiny in the decider, with the 30-year-old eventually succumbing after saving three break points from love-40 as Mladenovic took the upper hand at 4-2.
The Frenchwoman, though, had to dig deep to prevent Sharapova immediately breaking back.
Mladenovic was left to serve for the match, but Sharapova showed her fighting spirit had not diminished in the enforced time off court by producing a recovery of her own as a drop shot into net from the Frenchwoman saw her break to put a tense encounter back on serve at 4-5.
From trailing 30-love, it was Mladenovic who made the most of her net chances to move on to match point, which was delivered when Sharapova failed to return a passing shot down the left court.
The ranking points Sharapova has collected from her return to action mean she is already close to rejoining the top 250 on Monday, but victory in the semi-finals would have guaranteed a spot in the top 200.
As a result, that would have been enough to earn her entry into the qualifying tournament at the French Open without the need for a wild card.
The French Tennis Federation will announce whether the two-time Roland Garros champion has been awarded a wild card into the main draw on May 16.