Paris: Simona Halep fought back from a set and a break down to finally claim her first Grand Slam title by beating Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 in a gruelling French Open women’s single final, here Saturday. This was her third final at Roland Garros and it proved lucky as she finally had the chance to hold the Suzanne-Lenglen Cup aloft.
The World No.1 had lost all three of her previous Grand Slam finals, but staged a thrilling comeback to win after 123 minutes. “In the last game I felt like I could not breathe anymore,” said Halep. “But I hung on.”
It was the perfect way for the Romanian to banish the demons of her painful final defeat by Jelena Ostapenko 12 months ago, when she blew a lead of a set and 3-0.
US Open champion Stephens had looked set to lift a second Grand Slam trophy when leading 6-3, 2-0, but the American 10th seed wilted in hot conditions and Halep pounced.
The 26-year-old Romanian played a scintillating deciding set in which she made only five unforced errors, breaking her major duck in style.
Halep celebrated her victory in a way usually seen at Wimbledon, climbing into her box to greet friends and family. “I tried to not do the same thing as last year. It’s a dream and it’s so special to do it here in Paris,” Halep said. “When I was down a break in the second set I just tried to relax and enjoy the match.”
The early exchanges were brutal in the Paris heat, but it was the World No.1 who found herself being forced onto the defensive as Stephens moved 4-1 ahead.
The 25-year-old, who was ranked 957 in the world less than a year ago after her injury woes, was using her bigger forehand to good effect. Stephens then drilled a backhand into the corner to wrap up the set after just 41 minutes.
A first-ever Grand Slam final defeat in straight sets for Halep looked likely as soon as Stephens claimed the first game of the second set on her fourth break point. But Halep broke back immediately at love and the swing of fortunes was evident.
Suddenly Halep had won 12 of 13 points and snatched the momentum, and she made it four games on the spin as Stephens dumped consecutive forehands into the net. Stephens managed a break, but again Halep won two consecutive games on the trot to make it one set all.
The American had fatigued irreparably, and it was her turn to fall 2-0 down at the start of the deciding set. The she made it 4-0 and the writing was clear on the wall. Halep won the match on her first match point as Stephens netted a backhand.
Simona Halep bt Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-4, 6-1