Top-ranked player beats Stephens for French Open title
(left) wins her first major title in her fourth try, defeating Sloane Stephens.
PARIS — Simona Halep kept telling everybody who would listen: She was a different player. She was stronger mentally. She wanted so much to finally win a Grand Slam title and was sure that, one day, she would.
After three losses in major finals, maybe Halep was trying to convince herself as much as anyone else she could do it. Either way, she was right.
Halep added Grand
Slam trophy No. 1 to her No. 1 ranking, coming back from a set and a break down to beat Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 Saturday and win the French Open championship in a match made up of lengthy points and momentum swings.
“When I was down a break in the second set,” Halep told the crowd afterward, “I thought, ‘Everything is gone. I’m going to start to relax and enjoy the match.’”
Halep, 26, began the muggy afternoon having been to this stage before but never able to display her best. She lost in two previous appearances in a final at Roland Garros, against Maria Sharapova in 2014 and Jelena Ostapenko in 2017. Halep then fell to 0-3 with a trophy on the line at the Australian Open in January, beaten by Caroline Wozniacki.
“I just tried not to repeat the same as last year,” Halep said. “I did everything I could.”
And when Saturday’s fourth chance arrived, Halep began slowly, unable to solve Stephens, the 10thseeded American who won her first Grand Slam title at last year’s U.S. Open. Both women are adept at defense, figuring out ways — via speed, strength, skill and instinct — to get nearly every ball back over the net. Both also are able to switch to offense in a snap.
Those traits lent themselves to exchanges of 10 strokes, 20 strokes or more, sometimes interrupted by spectators who would gasp or begin to clap, thinking that a point was over when it still was not. For the most part, the shots were smacks, delivered with the intention of ending a point. It often seemed effortless for Stephens, who broke for a 3-1 edge when Halep put a forehand in the net.
When Halep ended a 14-stroke point by pushing a backhand wide, Stephens owned the first set. She wheeled toward her box and shook a fist. Not long after that, Stephens broke to begin the second set, then held for a 2-0 lead. It appeared she was on her way.
Then, everything changed. Stephens started missing. A double fault here. A forehand into the net there. A backhand wide. Another long. Halep took 15 of 18 points and four games in a row. The player who was up a set and 3-0 in the second in last year’s final at the claycourt Grand Slam tournament was now the one able to dismiss a deficit.
While Stephens temporarily halted her slide, getting to 4-all, Halep used two consecutive powerful forehand winners to hold in the next game. She broke to grab the second set when Stephens sailed a backhand wide, all part of a seven-game run that made it 5-0 in third.
“Not the trophy I wanted,” Stephens said, looking at her runnerup plate, “but it’s still beautiful.”
Halep became the first woman from Romania to claim a Grand Slam title since her current manager, Virginia Ruzici, won the French Open 40 years ago.
While Halep made a major breakthrough, Rafael Nadal was preparing for Sunday’s opportuntiy
to win a record-extending 11th championship at Roland Garros.
He’ll face Dominic Thiem, the only man to beat Nadal on clay last year.
Nadal is 85-2 for his French Open career, 110-2 in all best-of-fives on clay.
Nadal is 10-0 in finals in Paris, winning the trophy every year from 2005 to 2008, then again every year from 2010 to 2014 and again in 2017.
This will be the 10th tour-level encounter between Nadal and Thiem.
All have been on clay. Nadal leads 6-3, including 2-0 in Paris, beating Thiem in the first round in 2014 and the semifinals a year ago.
Simona Halep, who won the French Open title Saturday, became the first Romanian woman to claim a Grand Slam tournament title since her manager, Virginia Ruzici, won the French Open 40 years ago.
Rafael Nadal (left) will faceDominic Thiem for theFrench Open men’s singles title Sunday. Nadal is seeking his 11th championship at Roland Garros.