PARIS (Reuters) - Simona Halep was close to tears on Saturday after ending a long wait for herself and an even longer one for Romania by winning the French Open.
The world number one, who had a reputation for collapsing when it mattered after losing three Grand Slam finals including two in Paris, finally put her hands on a major title after showing great determination to tame American Sloane Stephens 3-6 6-4 6-1 in the title match at Roland Garros.
“It’s very emotional. I’ve been waiting for this moment since I was 14,” she told the crowd after lifting the trophy up in the air, then kissing it.
The 26-year-old had to wait for her 32nd appearance at a Grand Slam event to win one at last. She had played two finals in Paris before, losing to Russian Maria Sharapova in 2014 and then to Latvian Jelena Ostapenko in heartbreaking fashion last year.
“I see guys up there with the Romanian flag,” she said. “Thank you to my family and friends, my brother of course, the Romanian people and the French people too for their fantastic support.”
She then spotted Virginia Ruzici. The last Romanian woman to have won the Paris Open, in 1978, now works as an agent for Halep and had been cheering her from the stands.
“It’s great that 40 years after Virginia, I won,” Halep said. “I’m happy to do this and I do hope to play another final here because it’s my favourite tournament.”
Stephens, seeded 10th in the showcase claycourt event, had been dreaming of extending her perfect record in Grand Slam finals, having beaten friend and compatriot Madison Keys to win last year’s U.S. Open.
It was not to be, the powerful American running out of steam after a great start.
“This is not the trophy I wanted but it’s still beautiful,” Stevens said after collecting the silverware as the runner-up.
“To Simona, congratulations on your first Slam. It looks good on you. There’s no-one I’d rather lose to than the number one in the world so congratulations to you and your team,” she added.
Reporting by Patrick Vignal, editing by Clare Fallon