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Simona Halep beats Sloane Stephens to win French Open and first major

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Posted at 1:23 PM, Jun 09, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-09 13:23:19-04

Seeing her opponents come back against her in grand slam finals, this time Simona Halep turned the tables.

PARIS, FRANCE – JUNE 09: Simona Halep of Romania holds the trophy as she celebrates victory following the ladies singles final against Sloane Stephens of The United States during day fourteen of the 2018 French Open at Roland Garros on June 9, 2018 in Paris, France. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

The Romanian rallied from a set and break deficit to beat Sloane Stephens 3-6 6-4 6-1 to win the French Open on Saturday and her first grand slam title after three near misses.

Twelve months ago at Roland Garros, the world No. 1 relinquished a set and 3-0 lead against Jelena Ostapenko in the final and this January, Caroline Wozniacki overturned a break hole at 3-4 in the final set at the Australian Open.

In her other grand slam final, in Paris in 2014, the 26-year-old lost a three-set battle to Maria Sharapova.

That heartbreak, though, has been replaced by joy.

“It was amazing and thank you for your support,” she told the crowd — most of whom appeared to be backing her — on court Philippe-Chatrier. “In the last game I didn’t feel like I could breathe any more and didn’t want to repeat last year, so I cannot believe it.

“I was dreaming of this moment since I started playing tennis and I’m happy it happened at Roland Garros.

“I wish in the future to play more finals here, because it’s a really beautiful tournament and it is my favorite one.”

She pummeled a serve on match point and raised her arms in joy before going into the stands to embrace hugs with her entourage.

Despite the defeat, Stephens said she was glad Halep “finally got her light.”

“I think she’s had a tough journey,” said Stephens. ‘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,” added Stephens, who recovered from foot surgery last year to win the US Open.

When Stephens led by a set and 2-0, though, it appeared as if she would improve to an unblemished 7-0 in finals. Seeded 10th, the 25-year-old had become the first American other than the Williams sisters to make the French Open final since 2001.

“She just raised her level and started playing better. Sometimes it happens when you play against an opponent,” Stephens said.

Halep entered the final as the favorite given her clay-court prowess, higher ranking and holding a 5-2 head-to-head record against her rival.

But in the contest of two of the best movers in tennis, Halep had to work hard for her first hold, prevailing in a 25-shot rally for 1-1. It was an indication of things to come — in the first set.

Better start for Stephens

A composed looking Stephens was indeed the first to break through, gaining a 3-1 advantage.

Stephens regularly threatened the Halep serve, though finally faced a break point at 5-3. To Halep’s dismay, she sent a backhand into the net.

A rattled Halep was broken to start the second and Stephens built on the advantage by digging out of a 0-30 hole. On the last point of the second game, Stephens scampered and put up a superb lob that prompted a Halep error.

Stephens had all the momentum yet when it looked it she might take complete control, Halep rallied.

She reeled off nine straight points to lead 3-2 on serve, then broke for 4-2.

The momentum — and crowd, who often chanted “Simona, Simona” — was with her.

Halep, however, surrendered the advantage and it went to 4-4.

Momentum change

Stephens was broken to end the set, making a pair of unforced errors down the line on the second and last point of the game as she attempted to alter her patterns facing a now more aggressive opponent.

Both players went off for a toilet break but it did little to change things, although Halep did have to get out of a 0-30 hole in the first game.

As Halep scurried to chase a shot that turned into a drop shot for Stephens and won the point for 4-0, her coach Darren Cahill leaped out of his chair and pumped his fist.

The job was almost done and it became official when Halep crushed a serve on match point that drew an error.

Dominic Thiem attempts to win a first French Open title, too, when he faces Rafael Nadal in Sunday’s men’s final.

Nadal tries for No. 11.