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08 Jun 2014 07:13
Maria Sharapova after winning the French Open against Romania's Simona Halep at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris on Saturday. (Kenzo Tribouillard, AFP)
Her 12 double faults were a nuisance and the non-stop shrieks that puncturedthe air for more than three hours even made a baby wail, yet all Maria
Sharapova will want to remember from the French Open is the moment she sunk to
her knees in triumph.
The Russian had scrapped in eight major finals, winning four of them, but
never before had she been taken to three sets in a showpiece match until she ran
into a tireless Romanian named Simona Halep on Saturday.
Showing nerves of steel that would have made seasoned champions proud,
grand-slam final debutante Halep fought, believed and risked everything for
three hours and two minutes before a backhand into the tramlines allowed
Sharapova to hug the Suzanne Lenglen Cup for a second time in three years.
A woman who had played three successive three-set matches to reach the final
was left in no doubt about where her 6-4 6-7(5) 6-4 win over Halep stood among
her major wins.
“This is the toughest grand slam final I have ever played and all
respect to Simona as she played an unbelievable match today,” an emotional
Sharapova told the crowd during a victory speech in three different languages.
“I can’t believe it, seven or eight years ago I would not have thought
that I would win more Roland Garros titles than any other grand slam.
“To think I won it twice ... I’m so emotional right now, I don’t know
what language to speak ...
English, Russian or French.”
While Sharapova clambered up the stands to hug her three-man entourage,
which included coach Sven Groeneveld, a distraught Halep sat on her courtside
bench with a towel over her head wondering what might have been.
“I played very good tennis, very good level. So I’m really proud about
these two weeks. They were incredible weeks here ... and it was an amazing
feeling on court today,” added Halep after picking up the €825 000
runners-up cheque that will go some way towards soothing her pain.
Sharapova’s purse was double that but for a woman whose worth is said to be
close to $100-million, the prize money was largely insignificant. What she
really wanted to take away from Roland Garros was the trophy.
‘Might have to steal it’
“I wish I could keep the big [trophy] ... I might have to steal it.
There is a reason why I haven’t been to one shop while I have been in Paris.
It’s because I want this. I haven’t eaten many macaroons, either. It’s because
I want this,” Sharapova said after recording her 50th win at Roland
Parisians had not been treated to a three-set women’s final at the claycourt
major for 13 years but Sharapova and Halep made up for lost time in a match
that seemed to have never-ending twists and turns.
A battle that started with the sun beating down on Philippe Chatrier Court -
featuring 227 points, 83 unforced errors, 66 winners, 33 break points, 16
breaks and 12 Sharapova double faults - turned into a contest that was the
longest women’s final in Paris since 1996.
The double faults became a recurring nightmare for Sharapova as she kept
gifting her fourth-seeded rival break points.
It cost her the opening game before she levelled for 2-2.
Serving for the set at 5-3, another double fault left Sharapova cursing her
luck as she got broken.
With one tendon-twisting rally being followed by another sinew-stretching
point, Sharapova’s shrieks started to hit new heights and left one baby high up
in the stands crying her lungs out just as the Russian earned her second set
point on Halep’s serve.
No stranger to making a noisy racket herself, the seventh seed blocked out
the commotion to snatch the set as a distracted Halep whipped the ball wide on
Their bare shoulders were glistening with sweat and Sharapova’s pale
rose-coloured dress even changed into a darker shade of pink but there was no
let up on the intensity in the second set.
Halep broke for a 5-4 lead in a game that brought the cheering crowd to
their feet following a 21-shot rally but that advantage disappeared within
minutes as Sharapova broke back for 5-5 thanks to a rasping service return that
bobbed on the tape and dropped dead over the net.
The set headed into a tiebreak following two more breaks and Halep rewarded
her vocal cheering squad’s chants of “Si-mon-a, Si-mon-a, Si-mon-a”
by bagging the tiebreak 7-5 when her seventh-seeded opponent slashed a backhand
The drama did not stop there.
Serving at 4-4 in the third set, Halep was left dismayed and distracted
after a Sharapova shot was called “out” rather late by a linesman, only to be
overruled by the umpire.
That set off a chain of events that resulted in Halep losing eight straight
points, the match, and the trophy.
But a year after walking away from Roland Garros
as a first-round loser and ranked 57th in the world, Halep will stride out of Paris
as the world’s third best player and with the knowledge that she has left an
indelible mark on the soft red clay. - Reuters
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