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Dublin: 21 °C Thursday 16 July, 2020

World number one Halep battles back to claim elusive first Grand Slam

Having failed to win her previous three major finals, Halep was not to be denied in Paris.

Halep celebrates victory at Roland Garros.
Halep celebrates victory at Roland Garros.
Image: Matthew Stockman

SIMONA HALEP FOUGHT back to beat Sloane Stephens and claim an elusive first Grand Slam title with a courageous French Open final performance on Saturday.

Three times the world number one had failed to win a major decider and she looked set for further agony before coming from a set and a break down to win 3-6 6-4 6-1 at Roland Garros.

Runner-up in Paris for the second time last year before suffering an Australian Open final loss to Caroline Wozniacki in January, the persistent Halep was not to be denied this time.

The top seed raised her game after struggling with her forehand in the opening set, becoming the first Romanian woman to win a grand slam 40 years after Virginia Ruzici’s triumph at the same event.

US Open champion Stephens will be in the top five for the first time next week, but there was to be no second grand slam title after she lost for the first time in a Tour-level final, having won the previous six.

Halep has now gone the distance in every major final and she was finally rewarded on Court Philippe Chatrier, claiming the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen with an inspired comeback.

There was huge backing for Halep on a warm day but her supporters were silenced when she drilled a forehand into the net to give Stephens a first break for a 3-1 lead after the 10th seed worked her from side to side.

Incredible defence from Halep prolonged a point which she lost when her forehand let her down again and Stephens consolidated the break after the crowd favourite fizzed a majestic backhand winner down the line.

The Florida native looked very much at home as she unleashed a magnificent cross-court winner but was unable to claim back-to-back breaks.

Stephens defended superbly and had the better of the majority of the baseline rallies as she held her nerve to serve out the set after saving a break point that Halep earned with a delicate drop shot.

2018 French Open - Day Fourteen Source: Matthew Stockman

Halep marched to her chair after firing a backhand long to go a set down and cut a forlorn figure after hammering a forehand wide at full stretch to lose the opening game of the second set on serve.

Yet the gutsy Halep forced Stephens back as she won 12 points and four games in a row, only to squander her advantage when she was broken to love to be pegged back at 4-3. Halep took it the distance, though — breaking for a second time when Stephens thudded a backhand into the net under pressure — and maintained her momentum to win the first two games of the decider.

Unforced errors were costing the American and Halep was at her very best as she scorched a cross-court backhand winner and showed great speed before a brilliant drop shot set up another break for a 4-0 advantage.

Halep finished off the job in a hurry, drawing on her painful experiences of the past, and she rushed up to her box to celebrate after taking the title when Stephens crashed a backhand into the net.

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