Sharapova Overcomes Emotions to Beat Halep in French Open Final

Maria Sharapova was overcome with emotion when she beat Simona Halep after three long sets played in soaring temperatures to win her second French Open title.

In a match featuring long baseline duels and missed opportunities, the seventh-ranked Sharapova beat the fourth-ranked Romanian, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4 on the main Court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros in Paris.

“It’s the most emotional victory for me,” Sharapova told reporters after she’d hugged the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen that she received from former champion Chris Evert a few hours earlier. “The toughest one physically that I’ve come across in a final, especially a Grand Slam. There is not too many finals that you get past three hours.”

The match lasted just over three and was played while temperatures rose to as high as 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit).

“It was a good, very good match today, a good final,” Halep said in a news conference. “I didn’t expect three sets, three hours, but it happened, and I’m really happy that I could stay very long time on court.”

Eight-time champion Rafael Nadal of Spain faces Novak Djokovic of Serbia in today’s men’s final. Nadal is trying to become the first man in tennis history to win Roland Garros five times in a row.

Errors

Sharapova made 52 unforced errors, including 12 double faults. Halep made 31 mistakes, including 4 double faults. Sharapova produced 46 winners, 26 more than her opponent. She frequently changed direction during long baseline duels, often wrong-footing Halep with ground strokes down the line.

It’s the fifth major singles title for Sharapova, who missed the last five months of 2013 with a right shoulder injury. In 2012, Sharapova won Roland Garros to become only the sixth woman since tennis turned professional in 1968 to complete the career Grand Slam of having won all four majors at least once. She’s the first Russian player to win the same major twice.

The seventh-seeded player had been the favorite for the title after the top three women’s seeds all lost in the early rounds, including defending champion Serena Williams. Sharapova, who hasn’t beaten the top-seeded American since 2004 including a straight-sets defeat in last year’s finals, had been on track to play Williams in the quarterfinals.

Missed Opportunities

Former junior champion Halep, 22, was the first Romanian woman to reach a Grand Slam final since her manager, Virginia Ruzici, in 1980. Ruzici won the Roland Garros title in 1978.

After Sharapova took the first set, Halep ended up winning a topsy-turvy 72-minute second set during which both players failed to take their chances. Sharapova had been leading 2-0, and then 5-3 in the tie-break when she made four consecutive unforced errors to hand Halep the set. Halep was twice unable to serve out the set, at 5-4 and at 6-5.

“Just when I thought I was very close to winning it, I had lost four points in a row,” Sharapova said. “Then the match becomes equal. Then you find yourself in a position where you feel like you’re starting over, which is quite difficult. I just took a moment to reflect and try to think of the things that I was doing to hurt her and the things that were giving me an advantage in the game.”

In the final set -- the first three-set women’s final since 2001 -- Halep held for a 2-1 lead, ending a run of seven straight breaks for both players. Sharapova, who struggled at times with her ball toss as the wind swirled, had been given a warning by the umpire for taking too much time at the start of the third set.

Support

The crowd shouted ‘Simona, Simona’ as Halep twice had break point for a 3-1 lead. Sharapova saved both, and screamed and clenched both fists as she held with a cross-court forehand that drew an error. Another yelp followed as Sharapova broke for a 3-2 lead.

Serving for a 5-3 lead, Sharapova’s serve let her down once again as she got broken on her 12th double fault. Serving for the match at 5-4 after breaking Halep with a backhand winner, Sharapova didn’t waver as she won the match on her first match point with a forehand that was unreturnable for Halep.

Ten Years Later

The 27-year-old Sharapova became a global star and the world’s highest-paid female athlete after she won Wimbledon in 2004 at the age of 17. The six-foot-two Siberian-born player, who moved to the U.S. at the age of seven, also won the 2006 U.S. Open and the 2008 Australian Open. In the summer of 2008, a potentially career-ending shoulder injury forced her off the tour for nine months.

Sharapova, who learned to play on fast U.S. hard courts, has in recent years transformed herself into one of the world’s top clay-court players by adding a sliding backhand and improved movement with the help of her Swedish coach at the time, Thomas Hogstedt. Seven of her last eight career titles have come on clay, including her 30th in Stuttgart last month.

After a brief spell with five-time U.S. Open champion Jimmy Connors last year, Sharapova started working with Sven Groeneveld at the start of 2014. In her victory speech, Sharapova thanked the Dutchman -- who also guided Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic to the 2008 French Open title -- for his positivity.

“It’s incredible to be sitting here 10 years after my first Grand Slam win, and to think that I now have five,” Sharapova said. “At that stage you’re 17 years old, and of course you think it was a great tournament, obviously. Can I do that again? Can I win more majors? You always have those question marks. So to sit here 10 years later and have five under my belt and to keep going, it’s quite emotional. I’m still a bit speechless about the victory.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Danielle Rossingh in Paris at drossingh@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net

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