Simona Halep has held the No. 1 ranking for some time, but on Saturday in Paris her top status received an irrefutable stamp of approval when she lifted her first Grand Slam trophy at the French Open.
Halep had to work for her first Grand Slam title in her fourth career Slam final, coming back from a set down to defeat American Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.
“I was dreaming for this moment since actually I started to play tennis,” Halep said afterwards. “It’s my favorite Grand Slam. I always said that if I’m going to win one, I want it to be here…Now I want just to forget [losing three previous Slam finals] and just enjoying this moment because it’s really special.”
In last year’s Roland Garros final Halep led by a set and a break before Jelena Ostapenko came back for her first Slam win.
Halep was down 6-3, 2-0 to Stephens who had been on a roll since her escape from Camila Giorgi’s clutches last week. In a snap, the match turned as Halep went from 0-2 down to 4-2 up, then finished off the American winning 12 of the last 15 games en route to her biggest career title.
“Last year I was a little bit defensive when I was leading the match, and now I just change it in my mind,” Halep said. “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. I said, It’s not going to happen again, but it’s okay. I have just to play.”
It is 10 years after Halep won the girls’ title at the French Open and 40 years since a Romanian won in Paris, following Virginia Ruzici in 1978.
Six women could have left Roland Garros with the No. 1 ranking two weeks ago, including Garbine Muguruza who Halep beat in the semifinals.
Stephens with the loss saw her perfect record in tour finals fall to 6-1.
The American came out of the gates hard, but her level dipped in the second as they split sets. The third set was all Halep, who ran out to a 5-0 lead before closing it out.
“She raised her game, raised her level,” Stephens said. “Not much you can really do about that. I competed the best I could, and the better player won the match today. I think she’s had a tough journey. I think winning here is very special for her and I’m glad she finally got her first slam. It’s a beautiful thing, very special. No matter how hard the adversity that you go through, there is always light at the end of the tunnel, and I’m glad she finally got her light.”
Halep is the third different maiden Grand Slam winner in the last events. And with Serena on the mend, we head to Wimbledon with more questions than answers. And after coming up just short in her first three tries, this win made it that much more special.
“My family was all the time supporting me since I started to play tennis, also all the coaches and all the people that I have worked during this 20 years,” Halep said. “Thanks to them, because it’s tough to keep working every day at the highest level.
“All the friends, all the people that are really special for me in this life. Without them probably I couldn’t, you know, come back after losing three finals of Grand Slam. But now I want just to forget everything and just enjoying this moment because it’s really special.”
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