Simona Halep has become the first Romanian female player to win a grand slam title since 1978 after battling from behind to defeat Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, in a roller-coaster final at the French Open.
A year ago the 26-year-old was on the verge of winning the Paris major by leading Jelena Ostapenko by a set and a break before losing. Against Stephens it was a similar storyline, but in reverse. Halep was the one who was a set and a break down against her gutsy opponent before clawing her way back for the historic win. Hitting 18 winners to 26 unforced errors and converting five out of her six break point chances.
“Sloane is a great player and it is always tough to play against her.” Halep said after the match. “She was very strong on the court and when I was down a break in the second set I said ‘ok, everything has gone, I have to start relaxing.’”
From the onset chants of ‘Simona, Simona’ erupted around court Philippe Chatrier. It was evident that the majority of the crowd support was behind the top seed, but it was the more composed Stephens that started the sharpest out of the two. The defensive skills of both players resulted in some gut-busting ralles. Halep’s roars and aggressive play was matched by Stephen’s ability to move her around with a series of angle shots.
Stephens’ first breakthrough occurred in the fourth game of the match. A deep forehand return triggered a Halep error to gift her a break point opportunity. The 3-1 lead when then sealed when a 9-shot exchange concluded when a Halep forehand slammed into the net. Stephens continued to battle behind her serve, fending off every attack her opponent mounted. Prompted Halep to make a series of eagle-eye glares towards her coach Darren Cahill. She finally got her reward on the stroke of the 41-minute mark when another blockbuster rally ended with another Halep error. Handing the reigning US Open champion a 6-3 lead.
The relentless display from the 25-year-old continued into the second set. Withstanding Halep’s power and intensity, Stephens extended her lead to a set and a break when a lob prompted her to return the ball out.