Down a set and break in the French Open final, it looked like a familiar refrain for Simona Halep – not being able to rise to the occasion and win a major final.
However, the 26-year-old Romanian, previously 0-3 in major finals and ranked No. 1 in the world despite her lack of success on the highest levels of pro tennis, was able to show amazing resiliency and win her first major championships at the French Open, defeating reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 in the final.
“All the experience from those three finals that I lost … was a positive thing,” Halep said, “and gave me a little bit more power to believe.”
“That’s the most important thing — that I stay there focused,” said Halep, the first Romanian to win a major singles title since her agent Virginia Ruzici, ironically 40 years earlier at the 1978 French Open. “I believed. And I never gave up.”
Halep lost two previous finals at the French Open — against Maria Sharapova in 2014 as the underdog in a three-set slugfest, then as the heavy favorite last year against unseeded Jelena Ostapenko despite leading by a set and 3-0. Her third runner-up finish came against Caroline Wozniacki at the Australian Open in January, where she lost a tight three-set battle.
“Her journey has been tough. And she had a heartbreak here last year and in Australia and all the things that have happened to her,” Stephens said. “I mean, it’s a great story and just a great moment for her.”
From 4-4 in the second set, Halep won seven games in a row to take a 5-0 lead in the final set as Stephens appeared to tire.