Romania’s Simona Halep defeated American Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 in the women’s final at the French Open on Saturday to claim her maiden grand slam title.
Stephens outlasted the world number one Halep in lengthy rallies, where she controlled a majority of the points, to force errors and take a first set advantage.
However, Halep, who has sealed her first major honour at the fourth attempt, roared back in a remarkable turnaround from 2-0 down in the second set to win 12 of the next 15 games to grasp the title that has eluded her for so long.
“I was dreaming for this moment since I was 14 and I am so happy because I wanted this first trophy to be here in France,” said Halep, loser in two previous Roland Garros finals.
“I wish to play another final here because this court is my favourite one.”
Despite defeat, Stephens will enter the world rankings at a career-high number four on Monday.
Halep, who reached the French showpiece in 2014 and 2017, was the crowd favourite from the start but it was her American opposite who dominated the early exchanges and moved ahead.
The Romanian was staring at a fourth major final defeat as she conceded an early second set break to Stephens, who won the US Open last year, but then turned the match on its head.
Backed by a deafening soundtrack of “Si-mon-a, Si-mon-a,” she completed the match with a triumphant serve in two hours and three minutes.
Halep becomes only the second Romanian woman to win a grand slam title since Virginia Ruzici’s French Open success in 1978.
Before proceedings began, the tournament organizers paid tribute to a former great of the sport with a one-minute applause in memory of Maria Bueno, who died after a struggle with mouth cancer at the age of 78.
Beuno was Brazil’s most successful female tennis player with 19 major titles in the 1950’s and 60’s.
Going into the grand finale, Halep had won her four previous meetings with Stephens.
The reigning US Open champion Stephens on the other hand had never lost a tournament final with six successes, and it was looking likely she was going to claim a seventh after a slow start from Halep.
A mistimed strike and a net error from the 26-year-old conceded the first break.
With her back against a wall under heavy fire, Halep showed tremendous defence in a scintillating melee as she returned a triple of winning attempts from Stephens but was unable to prevent her opponent from gaining a 4-1 lead.
Stephens looked in confident form and displayed the kind of ruthless power that has seen her win all of her previous finals on the WTA circuit and a desperately wide backhand swing from Halep capped the first set.
However, Halep was determined not to let Stephens have any more easy chances as she stormed back with two breaks to lead 4-2 – only to immediately give back the break as Stephens levelled at 4-4.
But with the echo of her name ringing from the stands in support of her courageous comeback, she broke serve for a third time to force a deciding set.
Halep summoned all of her skill and will to completely out-play Stephens, with a stiff backhand as her weapon of choice to surge 3-0 in front before a determined net point winner earned a double break.
Stephens managed to hold a single service game to delay celebrations but all eyes were then on Halep as a netted return from a solid serve confirmed that her wait to be crowned a grand slam champion was finally over.
The men’s final between Dominic Thiem and Rafael Nadal takes place Sunday.