Fourth time’s the charm for Halep in Paris
PARIS — Maybe all of those losses in Grand Slam finals helped Simona Halep actually win one.
She’d gone 0-3 in matches with a major trophy on the line before facing Sloane Stephens for the French Open title Saturday, so there was plenty to remember: what it felt like to give a lead away, to make a key mistake, to walk away with regrets.
“All the experience from those three finals that I lost ... was a positive thing,” Halep said, “and gave me a little bit more power to believe.”
Halep added Grand Slam trophy No. 1 to her No. 1 ranking, coming back from a set and a break down to beat Stephens 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 and win the championship at Roland Garros in a match made up of long points and key momentum swings.
“That’s the most important thing — that I stay there focused,” said Halep, the first Romanian to collect a major title since her manager, Virginia Ruzici, at the 1978 French Open. “I believed. And I never gave up.”
The 26-year-old Halep was describing this particular match. She could have been speaking about her career.
Halep lost two previous finals at Roland Garros — against Maria Sharapova in 2014, then Jelena Ostapenko in 2017 despite leading by a set and 3-0 in the second. Her third runnerup finish came against Caroline Wozniacki at the Australian Open in January.
“Been kicked in the stomach a couple of times when she’s had chances,” said Halep’s coach, Darren Cahill. “They say the destination is more beautiful if there’s a bit of a bumpy road and you eventually get there. And that’s what happened to her today.”
On a muggy afternoon, Halep began slowly, unable to solve Stephens, the 10th-seeded American who won her first Grand Slam title at last year’s U.S. Open. Both women are adept at defence, figuring out ways — via speed, strength, skill and instinct — to get nearly every ball back over the net. They’re also both able to switch to offence in a snap.
When Halep ended a 14-stroke point by pushing a backhand wide, Stephens owned the first set. She wheeled toward her box, which included her boyfriend and Toronto FC striker Jozy Altidore, and shook a fist. Not much after that, Stephens broke to begin the second set, then held for a 2-0 lead. It appeared she was on her way to improving to 7-0 in tournament finals.
And then, suddenly, everything changed. Stephens started missing. A doublefault here. A forehand into the net there. A backhand wide. Another long. Halep took 15 of 18 points and four games in a row.
FRENCH PAIR WINS DOUBLES
Once again, Nicolas Mahut fell on his back on the red clay of Roland Garros.
This time it was to celebrate a joyful moment, and not because his doubles partner Pierre-Hugues Herbert knocked him down the way he did two days ago at the French Open.
Having recovered well from the incident, Mahut captured the French Open title with Herbert on Saturday by defeating Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic 6-2, 7-6 (4) in the final.
During Thursday’s semifinals, Mahut was accidentally hit in the left temple by a ball from Herbert. Mahut left the court for a little while to recover, and managed to advance to the final with his fellow Frenchman.
Simona Halep clenches her fist after defeating Sloane Stephens to claim the French Open women’s singles title — her first Grand Slam crown — yesterday in Paris.