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Simona Halep of Romania reacts with the trophy after winning against Sloane Stephens of the USA during their women’s final match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 09 June 2018. EPA-EFE/JULIEN DE ROSA



Grand Slam glory for Simona Halep as she overcomes major demons and Sloane Stephens for French Open title


By: Frisco kid


There couldn’t have been a better script for world number one Simona Halep to finally break through at a major, to overcome her greatest hurdles on the stage she has come closest on, suffered her greatest heartbreak on, and dreamed of winning on. And then the script was reversed, momentarily.


Summoning the confidence, aggression, mental strength, and resiliency all required to win a major, Halep saw her major dream fade away, and then rescued it from the deepest part of Court Philippe Chatrier to flip the script she saw herself in last year, fighting back from a set and a break down to out-will U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 for the long-coveted French Open title. Simona Halep is finally a Grand Slam champion, and she did it where she dreamed of most, Roland Garros.


“It’s an amazing moment. Definitely without smiling, I couldn’t do this. It’s a special moment. I was dreaming for this moment since actually I started to play tennis. It’s my favorite Grand Slam. I always said that if I’m going to win one, I want it to be here,” said Halep.


“Now I want just to forget everything and just enjoying this moment because it’s really special.”


A complete reversal from last year’s Paris final, Halep found herself thoroughly outplayed and down, down a set and a break to be exact, to the confident, calm, and collected American Sloane Stephens, on the verge of her second major crown. Just a year ago on this very court the world number one found herself in this position, only as the leader, the one up a set and a break.


Yet this time it felt different, it would be different, as Halep found the confidence and aggressive tennis necessary, the mental toughness and resilience required to win a match like this, and she did it overcoming Stephens for her maiden major triumph, something she had dreamed of for so long.


After an opening set dominated by the tenth-seeded American, Halep found herself with nothing to lose, a freeness that unseeded Latvian upstart Jelena Ostapenko enjoyed last year, choosing to step into her shots and dictate play, roaring back with a critical run that ignited the loud and passionate Romanian support on Court Philippe Chatrier.


“I have just to play. And then when I started to win games, I said that last year happened to me, same thing, I was set and a break up and I lost the match. So I said there is a chance to come back and win it,” commented Halep.


“So I believed in that, and my game was more relaxed. I could make more things on court, and that’s why I could win.”


Backing herself, her game, and her talent, Halep would handle the moment and the occasion better than she ever had before, stealing the second set from Stephens 6-4, and firing herself up in the process. She still had a set to go.


With the momentum and belief back behind Halep, as well as the boisterous support of the half Romanian, half Parisian crowd, the top seed continued where she’d left off, not allowing Stephens the chance to combine defense and offense and diffuse her game, taking matters into her own hands with an aggressive, yet consistent game that only Halep can execute. As each passing game rolled by, Halep found herself closer and closer to the win, to the title, yet the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen felt simultaneously so far just as she moved closer.


As she had asserted a dominant, but certainly not unassailable, lead of 5-0, the two-time French Open finalist found herself a game from the moment of her 26 year-old life, just four points from the title and trophy she had dreamed of for so long. Halep held her nerve, put herself in position, but Stephens stayed calm as she always does and carried on to force Halep to serve it out, 5-1.


With the weight of expectation, the pressure from herself, the dream of so many years to finally hoist a major trophy, this one in Paris, so close to her, Halep went on with her game as if it was any other, displaying the improved mental toughness and belief that she has developed, through winning and losing, for moments like these.


Halep was shaking inside as she said, but certainly no one could see. After having fought back so valiantly, stepped up and believed in her game to get here, the world number one put those emotions and nerves to the side, going point to point as she looked to serve the match out, as simple as that. Four points in the game was the goal, the magic number, and Halep got there, getting to three and finally acting on four, serving it up, Stephens netting the return short.


“I couldn’t breathe very well in the last game at 5-0. And when I lost the game, I said, Okay, I have four more until she gets back. So I have just to take ball by ball, point by point, and taking it,” explained the Romanian, going through match point.


“Last year I was a little bit defensive when I was leading the match, and now I just change it in my mind. I said that I have to hit the balls. I have to move and not thinking about the last game. Just every ball, every point.”


Simona Halep was a Grand Slam champion. All the hard work, passion, commitment, disappointment, heartbreak, anxiety, and nerves had been summoned to finally reach this moment and she had. Ten years on from winning the junior title here at Roland Garros and just a year on from letting the exact reverse situation slip from her in this final, Halep had used the mental strength and resiliency within to finally get the job done, breaking through for the French Open title.


“I kissed it [the trophy] many times to be sure that it’s going to stay in my heart forever. It’s heavy, it’s beautiful. And always when I was seeing the pictures with it, I dreamed to have it, to touch it, and now it’s a special moment and I’m really happy that it’s ‘mine’,” said the Romanian.


“I was dreaming to win a Grand Slam. But the most important moment was when I won juniors. I said that if I will win a Grand Slam in professional tennis, I want it to be the same one. So I’m really happy that I didn’t win Melbourne, actually, and happened here,” explained Halep.


“It’s special, and I keep it forever in my heart, for sure. It’s my favorite city, actually, romantic city.”


Halep made not only history for herself, but also for her country, a European nation that has backed her like no other country has supported their own, becoming just the second Romanian woman to hoist a Grand Slam trophy, the first in 40 years since her countrywoman and now agent Virginia Ruzici reigned at Roland Garros.


“It’s a motivation and inspiration, also. 40 years ago she won here. It’s a special moment. The fact that it’s happened here, it’s pretty special. So, yeah, she’s an inspiration,” said the world number one.


It was historic, it was emotional, it was picture-perfect, and it encapsulated the player and person that is Simona Halep and the journey that has gotten her here. Halep flipped the script, in her career, in this match from a year ago, and against Sloane Stephens and she will remember it forever, forever a Grand Slam champion.


Editors notes: Sloane was one of the most gracious losers we have ever seen. A truly great sport in a really big moment.

Take note juniors. That’s the way to do it!

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