Fourth time’s the charm for Halep in Paris

Sunday Sports - - SPORTS - — The As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

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