Maria Sharapova overcame Simona Halep in three sets in sweltering temperatures to clinch her second French Open championship at Roland Garros.
The Russian defeated the fourth-ranked Romanian, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4 on the main Court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros in Paris where temperatures rose to as high as 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit).
“It’s the toughest Grand Slam final I’ve ever played,” Sharapova told the crowd after she won in just over three hours. “To think I’ve won it two times, I’m so emotional I can’t even talk,” said Sharapova, before she received the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen from former champion Chris Evert.
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.
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.
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.
“I’ve had an incredible two weeks here,” Halep told the crowd. “I played my best. I’m happy.”
It took 15 minutes for Sharapova to get on the scoreboard as she dropped her opening service game on two backhand errors. Sharapova clenched her fist as she broke back in the fourth game on a backhand wide by her opponent. The former top-ranked Russian broke again for a 4-2 lead as she frequently changed direction during long baseline duels, often wrong-footing Halep with ground strokes down the line.
Serving for the first set against the wind at 5-3, Sharapova handed Halep two break points on a double fault. She turned to look at her coach, Sven Groeneveld, when she got broken on a forehand wide. The crowd cheered for both players as Halep saved a set point at 5-4 down with a hard serve and forehand cross-court winner combination. Sharapova set up a second set point as she took advantage of a short second serve. A forehand wide handed Sharapova the first set, 6-4.
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.
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.
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.
Halep is having her best year on the women’s tour, winning seven tournaments in the past twelve months, the most after Williams. Halep started playing tennis when she was four, after being introduced to the game by her older brother. The five-foot-six (1.68 meter) player has built a game around her athleticism, quick footwork and taking the ball early.
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 had to work hard for her title, spending 10 hours on the court to reach her third straight French Open final. She fought back from a set down against former U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur of Australia in the fourth round, Spain’s Garbine Muguruza in the quarterfinals and rising star Eugenie Bouchard of Canada in the last four. Halep reached her first major championship match without dropping a set, and had spent three-and-a-half hours less on court than her opponent.