Halep rallies past Stephens for first Grand Slam title

Top-ranked Romanian Simona Halep rallied from a set and a break down to beat No. 10-seeded American Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 in the French Open final in Paris on Saturday.

It’s the first Grand Slam title in four finals appearances for Halep, who will retain the No. 1 spot when the new rankings are released on Monday.

Halep, who lost in her previous two finals at Roland Garros in 2014 and 2017, beat Stephens for the sixth time in eight career meetings, including the last five and all three times on clay. Halep lost to Caroline Wozniacki in the final of the Australian Open this year.

“First of all, thank you guys,” Halep said from the court afterward. “It was amazing. I felt your support. In the last game I felt like I could not breathe anymore. I just tried to not repeat what happened last year. Honestly, I cannot believe. I’m so happy it happened at Roland Garros and in Paris, my special city.”

Stephens, the reigning U.S. Open champ, got off to a hot start, breaking Halep in the first set for a 3-1 lead and then holding steady the rest of the way to win the opener in 42 minutes.

In the second set, Halep was again broken early on — this time in the very first game — before recovering and putting Stephens on the defensive.

“When I was down a break in the second set I thought everything was gone and I just have to enjoy it,” Halep said.

Instead, Halep broke to draw even at 2-2, then again to lead 4-2 and then in the final game to seal the second set at 6-4.

From there, Halep found her groove and reeled off five straight games to jump ahead 5-0 in the final set. Stephens managed a late hold, but couldn’t prevent Halep from serving out for the victory.

“Last year it was tough to talk because I lost this match, but now it is really emotional to talk as the winner,” Halep said. “I was dreaming for this moment actually since I was 14. Thank you guys for supporting me, it was an amazing atmosphere.”

The loss ends Stephens’ streak of winning every final she has played. Stephens had only ever dropped a single set in a final on her way to a 6-0 record entering Saturday’s match.

Stephens will rise to No. 4 in the world rankings. Her previous best was No. 9, which she reached in February.

“Thank you everyone for two incredible weeks,” Stephens said in accepting the runner-up award. “It has been an amazing week for me. Not the trophy I wanted, but it’s still beautiful, so thank you guys.

“To Simona, congratulations on your first Slam, it looks great on you. No one else I’d rather lose to than No. 1 in the world.”

–Field Level Media