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Paris • WTA Ladies Tennis Number One • Simona Halep Wins Roland Garros • 2018 French Open

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

 

 

By Richard Pagliario

 

The shiny Coupe Suzanne Lenglen gleamed in front of Simona Halep, while Grand Slam ghosts dogged her in the dirt.

 

Down a set and a break to Sloane Stephens in today’s Roland Garros final, Halep confronted the chaos with calm resolve.

 

Showing déjà vu the door, Halep seized her dream with a rousing Roland Garros comeback.

 

A resilient Halep roared through eight of the last nine games grinding Stephens into submission, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 to capture her first Grand Slam title.

 

A first, at last.

 

Nearly a year to the day after Halep squandered a one set, one break lead bowing to Jelena Ostapenko in a gut-wrenching final loss, she stared down demons of self-doubt with a stirring revival.

 

Contesting her fourth major final, Halep broke through seizing her shining moment on the same crushed red brick stage where she signaled her status as a future star.

 

“I could not breath anymore,” Halep said of the final game. “I just tried not to repeat the last year. I did everything I could. Honestly I cannot believe it. I was dreaming of this moment ever since I started playing tennis.

 

“I’m happy it happened at Roland Garros in Paris, my special city.”

 

Ten years after Halep won the Roland Garros girls’ title, she rules as Roland Garros women’s champion.

 

The 26-year-old Halep joins Francoise Durr, Mima Jausovec, Hana Mandlikova, Jennifer Capriati and her tennis hero, Justine Henin, as the sixth woman to win junior and senior titles in Paris. She is the first Romanian woman to rule Roland Garros since Virginia Ruzici, who now manages Halep, collected the 1978 French Open.

 

Halep earned it the hard way after enduring three agonizing Grand Slam final losses, including dropping the final three games of a grueling 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-4, Australian Open final to Caroline Wozniacki in January.

 

Major misery helped Halep cross the Grand Slam finish line today. She exuded fitness and fierceness breaking twice in the final set.

 

“I think fitness was really important,” Halep told NBC’s Mary Carillo afterward. “I worked a lot of [fitness] after Melbourne. That tournament was important for me to see I could push my limits to the maximum.

 

Simona Halep of Romania plays 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/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON

“I was calm and I was focused and I didn’t give up in any moment. It’s more than I believed. My body was shaking after the last point. The last game was really tough because I couldn’t breath normal. I just stayed there. I wanted it a lot and the pressure is gone now. For sure, I will enjoy my career and I will not stress it anymore.”

 

Contesting her second career clay-court final, Stephens was eight points from her second Grand Slam, but could not match Halep’s energy, intensity or accuracy in the decider.

 

“I’m really happy for her,” Stephens told NBC’s Mary Carillo afterward. “Obviously, not the trophy I wanted. A trophy is a trophy and one more than everyone else got.”

 

Ultimately, Stephens ran out of steam winning just seven points on her first serve in the final set.

 

“I was looking great,” Stephens said. “She upped her game. She started playing a little bit different and I didn’t calculate. I wouldn’t say I got tired. I should have changed my game when I noticed she was changing hers.”

 

Though Halep had won five of their prior seven meetings, Stephens’ forehand was the biggest shot at the start.

 

Pressuring the top seed’s forehand, Stephens drew a netted reply breaking for 3-1.

 

The 2008 French Open junior champion began finding her footing in the eighth game. Halep hammered a diagonal forehand closing her strongest hold at 30 for 3-5.

 

Serving for the set, Stephens dug in and tried to defend. Halep carved out a sharp-angled backhand crosscourt to stretch Stephens, then nudged a fine backhand drop shot winner for her first break point of the day.

 

The two-hander is Halep’s signature shot, but she flat-lined it into the middle of the net then botched a return off a body serve giving Stephens set point.

 

Working the angles, Stephens sent a high backhand crosscourt that handcuffed Halep into a scattered reply. The US Open champion was one set from her second Slam.

 

Sloane Stephens of the USA plays Simona Halep of Romania during their women’s final match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 09 June 2018. EPA-EFE/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON

Defending the corners of the court vigorously, Stephens played crucial points with calmer control than the three-time major finalist sending her entire support box, including coach Kamau Murray and mom Sybil Smith, leaping from their seats in unison.

 

The 10th-seeded Stephens served 70 percent, permitted just five points on her first serve and denied the only break point she faced in the final game.

 

Halep botched a short forehand that would have given her triple break point in the second game. Stephens seized the lifeline and reeled off four points in a row holding for 2-0.

 

The world No. 1 desperately needed to make a stand.

 

Muttering to herself between points, Halep delivered.

 

Rousing herself and Romanian fans, Halep reeled off 10 consecutive points backing up a love break with a shutout hold transforming an 0-2 deficit into a 3-2 lead.

 

Riding that energized surge, Halep scored her second straight break for 4-2 as Stephens slapped a forehand into net.

 

Slapping her palm off her left thigh, Stephens urged herself back up on the baseline. Stephens sped through seven straight points evening after eight games.

 

As the set careened toward a close both women tried to protect the baseline. Halep hit timely deep drives breaking at 30 on an errant Stephens backhand after 86 minutes.

 

Chants of “See Mona! See Mona!” reverberated around Court Philippe Chatrier. For the fourth time in the last five years, the women’s final was going the distance.

 

After a bathroom break, Halep bounced back from love-30 down holding to open the decider.

 

Throughout the first set, Stephens beat Halep to the ball on pivotal points.

 

By the start of the final set, Halep’s legs looked stronger, she was hitting deeper and centering the ball a bit more to deny the American access to angles. Stephens slapped a shot into net as Halep broke for 2-0.

 

With the title on the line, Halep straddled the baseline, dug in and refused to miss.

 

The revitalized Romanian drew another netted error holding for 3-0 as Stephens stared at her box and exhaled audibly like a woman feeling energy seep out of her.

 

An electric break point saw a skidding Halep slide near net nudging back a drop shot, change direction darting to her left before soaring for a high backhand volley.

 

That stirring sequence sealed Halep’s second break for 4-0, stirred Romanian fans into name-chanting frenzy and left a winded Stephens draping her arm over the wall like a boxer seeking shelter of a standing eight-count after a battering.

 

Serving for the champions Halep spiked a bounce smash and closed a career break through when Stephens slapped a forehand return into net.

 

The match was two hours, three moments, the moment was 12 years in the making and as Halep walked off the court after a flurry of interviews she wore a wide smile of satisfaction.

 

A first, at last.

 

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