WASHINGTON, June 11, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
It’s been a tremendous 24 hours for World No. 1 Simona Halep since she won her first Grand Slam title by defeating Sloane Stephens in the finals of the French Open at Roland Garros on Saturday. Halep played a fantastic match in coming from behind to win, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. After her fourth try at winning a Grand Slam and her third time at the French Open, the odyssey is – finally – over. Halep is a Grand Slam Champion.
A year after returning to Court Philippe Chatrier, scene of Halep’s deepest career disappointment, where she lost the 2017 French Open final to unseeded Jelena Ostapenko after leading by a set and 3-0, Halep finally reached the finish line beaming a big smile. Finally, she would finally get to lift a Grand Slam trophy and celebrate triumph instead of tasting defeat, again.
“It was a final in which both players played at or near their best; Stephens came out hot, never one to be overwhelmed by any moment or any storyline,” wrote Sports Illustrated executive editor and tennis columnist Jon Wertheim, looking back on Saturday’s final. “Credit Halep for changing her tactics a bit. She utilized her superior fitness and started grinding Stephens down with consistency, a strategy that paid dividends, and Stephens didn’t adjust accordingly.”
After losing the first set and trailing 2-0 in the second, it appeared that another opportunity for Halep to win a Grand Slam title had gone astray. Then, Halep started playing better. She won 15 of 18 points during a stretch in the second set and by the end, she won 12 of the last 15 games. Along the way, Halep had an a-ha moment as things started going her way, which she described afterward. “It’s not going to happen again, but it’s okay. I just have to play,” said Halep. “So I said there is a chance to come back and win it. So I believed in that, and my game was more relaxed.”
When one looks back at Halep’s journey to reach the final – and win it all – the end was fitting for the Romanian. In her final three matches, alone, she beat former Australian Open and U.S. Open champion Angelique Kerber in the quarterfinals, former French Open and reigning Wimbledon champion Garbiñe Muguruza in the semifinals, and current U.S. Open champion Stephens in the championship match. “All finished,” she said.
“Words can’t describe how happy the last 24 hours have been for me,” Halep tweeted Sunday morning. “I’ve read so many messages and social media posts that’ve brought tears to my eyes that I can’t thank you enough. Sorry for a few bumps along the way, but we finally got there!”
As Halep sat and looked at the Coupe de Suzanne Lenglen trophy during her post-match press conference Saturday, she said, “It’s heavy. It’s beautiful. And always when I was seeing the pictures with it, I dreamed to have it, to touch it.”
Meanwhile, Stephens remained upbeat in defeat, which was her first loss in a final after winning her first six. She gave props to Halep. “I think she’s had a tough journey,” Stephens tweeted Saturday night. “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.”
With Roland Garros ended and Wimbledon coming into view, Halep has validated her No. 1 ranking and shown she can handle the pressure of winning a major final, and Stephens leaves Paris for London as the No. 4 player in the world. It’s a great opportunity for both of them to build upon.