Halep ends the heartbreak

Wanganui Chronicle - - Sport -

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 to claim her long-awaited first grand slam ti­tle.

US Open cham­pion Stephens out­fought Halep to take the open­ing set and was a break up in the sec­ond but the world No 1 wound her way back into con­tention be­fore run­ning away with the de­cid­ing set.

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.

She climbed into the stands to em­brace Aus­tralian coach Dar­ren Cahill, who was there last year when Halep blew a com­mand­ing lead against Je­lena Ostapenko in the fi­nal and when she lost to Caro­line Woz­ni­acki in this year’s Aus­tralian Open fi­nal.

“In the last game I couldn’t breathe, I just didn’t want to re­peat what hap­pened the other years,” Halep said on court.

Both play­ers boasted rock­solid de­fence and su­perb court cov­er­age but it was Stephens who grabbed the ini­tial ad­van­tage, even­tu­ally ty­ing up the first set after some seem­ingly end­less ral­lies.

It looked bleak for Halep when she trailed 2-0 in the sec­ond set but the ef­fects of Stephens’ ef­forts sud­denly caught up with her as the Amer­i­can be­gan to wilt and Halep grabbed the mo­men­tum with nine con­sec­u­tive points on the way to a 4-2 lead.

When Stephens dragged it back to 4-4, it seemed Halep’s re­vival might be over. But a crunch­ing Halep back­hand at 30-30 in the ninth game proved too much for

Stephens as Halep cru­cially held. And in the next game Stephens put a weary back­hand wide to lose the set.

Halep turned the screws in the de­cider to grab a break and then an­other to lead 4-0.

An­other explosion of noise greeted a sen­sa­tional point in which Halep chased a drop shot down and was then equal to Stephens’ at­tempted lob with a back­hand smash.

Serv­ing at 5-1, an ace stead­ied Halep’s nerves be­fore she claimed her first grand slam at the 32nd at­tempt.

“Con­grat­u­la­tions to Si­mona. There is no one else I’d rather lose to than the No 1 in the world,” a gra­cious Stephens, who will rise to four in the rank­ings, said.

The only man to get the bet­ter of Rafael Nadal on clay this year was Do­minic Thiem.

And the only man to beat Nadal on clay last year was Thiem.

So if any­one could have headed into this morn­ing’s French Open fi­nal with even the slight­est rea­son to think there was a chance of pre­vent­ing Nadal from win­ning a record-ex­tend­ing 11th cham­pi­onship at Roland Gar­ros, it was his op­po­nent. Yes, that’s right: Thiem.

“For sure,” said Thiem’s coach, Gunter Bres­nik, “this gives you a lit­tle hope.”

Not any sort of cer­tainty, of course. Not even nec­es­sar­ily a tonne of be­lief. But, sure, a lit­tle hope.

Prior to this morn­ing’s match, Nadal was 85-2 for his French Open ca­reer, 110-2 in all best-of-fives on clay.

The 32-year-old Spaniard was 10-0 in fi­nals in Paris, win­ning the tro­phy ev­ery year from 2005-08, then again ev­ery year from 2010-14, then again in 2017.

“He’s the best com­peti­tor in (any) sport, in my opin­ion, of all time. It doesn’t mat­ter what sport. The way he com­petes is un­be­liev­able. He’s phys­i­cally strong, and you know he’s not go­ing to give up — at any score. He’s not go­ing to give you a free point if he’s up 5-love or down love-5,” Bres­nik said.

“This is why the guy was dom­i­nat­ing clay-court ten­nis over the last 14 years like no­body else be­fore. And no­body ever will.”

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