By Mike McIntyre
Photos by Jimmie48 Tennis Photography
It took Simona Halep 32 Grand Slam events and 4 finals to finally emerge as the last woman standing as she defeated Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 in the finals of the French Open. In a hard-hitting match where both opponents threw everything they had at one another, Halep didn't make it easy on herself and had to come back from a set and a break deficit to earn her first major victory.
It was the 10th seeded American who came out with a more emphatic start. Halep seemed understandable nervous and couldn't answer the precision that Stephens was generating in the first set. After Halep went down a break to start the second set, many got the feeling that winning a Grand Slam just might not be in the cards for the Romanian. Instead, it seemed that playing from behind was the more comfortable option for Halep.
While Stephens was serving up 2-1 in the second frame, momentum shifted and saw Halep win two straight games at love. Cue the chants of SI-MO-NA, SI-MO-NA and you could tell what the crowd wanted to see. Halep broke her opponent a second time to go up 4-2 but then followed that up with a lackluster game where she dropped four straight points. The pair stayed on-serve until Stephens was serving at 4-5, 30-40 and sent a backhand into the net to force a deciding set.
It was Halep who seized control in the final set and she never looked back. She reeled-off five straight games before allowing Stephens to get on the board. Halep closed out the match and her first Grand Slam on her next service game and looked at the same time proud and bewildered about what had just transpired. Remarkably Halep achieved the reverse of a year ago, where she faltered against Jelena Ostapenko after being the one in the drivers seat.
Halep then climbed into the stands on Philippe Chatrier and shared a hug with her parents, entourage and of course with her coach Darren Cahill. It was an emotional moment that speaks to the hard road the two have taken together in recent years.
Halep now can continue her time as the World No. 1 with the confidence of knowing she absolutely deserves to be there. She has silenced her critics and proven that she can hang-on to win in the most pressure-filled situations. Mission accomplished.