PARIS, June 9 (Reuters) - Simona Halep battled back from a set down to beat Sloane Stephens 3-6 6-4 6-1 and claim her long-awaited maiden Grand Slam title at the French Open on Saturday.
The world number one’s third French Open final looked like ending in familiar heartache when Stephens cruised through the first set and was a break up in the second.
However, Romanian Halep clawed her way back into the contest to force a decider which she proceeded to win with ease. Victory meant Halep claimed her first Grand Slam at the 32nd attempt.
She celebrated her success by climbing into the stands to embrace Romania’s former Olympic gymnastics champion Nadia Comaneci and 1978 Roland Garros winner Virginia Ruzici.
Halep later thanked Ruzici, the last Romanian to win a Grand Slam title, for inspiring her to the title.
“Yeah, it’s a motivation and inspiration, also... 40 years ago she won here. It’s a special moment. The fact that it’s happened here, it’s pretty special,” Halep said.
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Simona Halep said that winning her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros was the culmination of a dream that began when she first started playing the game.
“I was dreaming of this moment since I was starting to play tennis. I’m really happy it’s happened in Roland Garros in Paris... my special city,” Halep said.
“In the last game I felt like I can’t breathe anymore. I did everything I could. It’s amazing what is happening now.”
Halep takes the third set in style to complete 3-6 6-4 6-1 victory. The world number one was running away with the set when a tired Sloane Stephens dug deep to get on the board.
However, Halep had far too much firepower on serve in the next game and celebrated a memorable triumph with her entourage in the stands.
Halep raced to a 5-0 lead over Stephens and is within touching distance of her first Grand Slam title. The Romanian has lost two finals before at Roland Garros (2014, 2017) but appears to have cracked the code this time.
Halep started the match slowly but has found her rhythm to race to a 3-0 lead in the third set. The top seed has stretched the rallies and used the court well to wear down her American opponent in the last few games.
Halep wins the second set 6-4 against Stephens to drag the title clash into a decider. Halep is seeking her first major in her 32nd Grand Slam. Only seven players have taken that many or more to win a first slam title.
Halep reels off four games in a row to take a 4-2 lead in the second set. However, Stephens powers her way back into the contest, levelling the second set at 4-4.
Any hope Halep had that Stephens’s level might drop are quickly put to rest as the American breaks in the first game of the second set when Halep sent a smash wide. Stephens then holds before Halep gets on the board to trail 1-2.
Stephens fought off a late comeback attempt by Halep, saving a breakpoint to win the opening set 6-3. Stephens, the first American not named Williams to contest the French Open final since Jennifer Capriati in 2001, is looking for the second major of her career. She won the U.S. Open last year.
U.S. Open champion Stephens turned up the heat on Halep as she converted a breakpoint and held serve to take a 4-1 lead over the top seed in the first set.
Play began on Court Philippe Chatrier with American Stephens serving to world number one Halep in the French Open women’s singles final.
The duo have played each other seven times previously with Halep winning on five occasions, including their only previous meeting at Roland Garros in 2014.
Compiled by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Pritha Sarkar and Clare Fallon