For a while Simona Halep’s third French Open final looked like ending in familiar heartache but the Romanian eventually wore down Sloane Stephens for a 3-6 6-4 6-1 victory and claim her long-awaited first Grand Slam title on Saturday.
U.S. Open champion Stephens out-fought Halep to take the opening set and was a break up in the second but the world number one wound her way back into contention before running away with the deciding set.
When Halep served for the match at 5-1 with chants of “See-Mohh-Nahhh” reverberating around Court Philippe Chatrier, only a sudden attack of nerves could have denied her.
But when Stephens netted a forehand return on Halep’s first match point, the Romanian could finally replace the bitter memories of her first three Grand Slam finals with one she will cherish for the rest of her life.
After consoling Stephens, she climbed into the stands to embrace Romania’s former Olympic gymnastics champion Nadia Comaneci and 1978 Roland Garros winner Virginia Ruzici, the last Romanian to win a Grand Slam title.
There was also a big hug for coach Darren Cahill who was in the losers’ box last year when Halep blew a commanding lead against Jelena Ostapenko in the final.
“Thanks guys it was amazing and I felt your support,” Halep, who lost this year’s Australian Open final to Caroline Wozniakci, said on court. “In the last game I couldn’t breathe, I just didn’t want to repeat what happened the other years.”
Halep’s win was one of the most popular for many years at Roland Garros and at times during the match the support for the 26-year-old was deafening.
That was not the case in the first though as Stephens, the first American not called Williams to reach the French Open final since Jennifer Capriati won in 2001, played flawlessly.