“I tried to not do the same thing as last year. It’s a dream and it’s so special to do it here in Paris.”
PARIS, France — Simona Halep fought back from a set and a break down to finally achieve her “dream” of winning a Grand Slam title, beating Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 in a grueling French Open final on Saturday.
The world number one had lost all three of her previous major finals, including two at Roland Garros, and said she struggled to contain her emotions after staging a thrilling comeback.
“In the last game I felt like I could not breathe anymore”, said Halep.
It was the perfect way for the Romanian to banish the demons of her painful final defeat by Jelena Ostapenko 12 months ago, when she blew a lead of a set and 3-0.
“Last year it was tough to talk because I lost this match,” added Halep, only the second Romanian to win a Slam after Virginia Ruzici who won the 1978 French Open.
“But it’s emotional to be making this speech as a winner. I’ve been dreaming of this since I was 14.”
US Open champion Stephens had looked set to lift a second Grand Slam trophy when leading 6-3, 2-0, but the American 10th seed wilted in hot conditions and Halep pounced.
“It’s been amazing here for me,” said Stephens. “It’s not the trophy I wanted, but it’s still beautiful.”
Halep played a scintillating deciding set in which she made only five unforced errors, breaking her major duck in style after two hours and three minutes.
The 26-year-old celebrated her victory in a way usually seen at Wimbledon, climbing into her box to greet friends and family.
“I tried to not do the same thing as last year. It’s a dream and it’s so special to do it here in Paris,” she said.
“When I was down a break in the second set I just tried to relax and enjoy the match.”
The fans at Roland Garros preceded the match with a standing ovation for seven-time Grand Slam champion Maria Bueno after the Brazilian’s death on Friday aged 78.
Halep had vocal support from the start on Court Philippe Chatrier, but Stephens was the better player in the baseline rallies and made an early breakthrough as two big forehands left the top seed scrambling.
The early exchanges were brutal in the Paris heat, but it was the world number one who found herself being forced onto the defensive as Stephens moved 4-1 ahead.