*Reem Abulleil sat down with WTA Insider’s Courtney Nguyen and New York Times contributor Ben Rothenberg to dissect Simona Halep’s journey to a maiden Grand Slam title in this five-part video series. Scroll down for parts 2-5.*
Simona Halep’s journey to a maiden Grand Slam title is one that will be discussed probably for many years to come.
After losing her first three major finals, including a heartbreaker to an unseeded Jelena Ostapenko in last year’s French Open where she led by a set and 3-0 before succumbing to the Latvian power player, Halep returned to the scene of her deepest disappointment and rewrote her history in Paris.
A battling three-set win over Sloane Stephens in the Roland Garros final on Saturday saw the world No. 1 finally clinch a first Slam trophy, 10 years after she won the junior title here, and 40 years after Romanian Virginia Ruzici claimed her French Open crown. Ruzici and Halep are the only Romanian women to ever win a Grand Slam title.
I saw down with WTA Insider‘s Courtney Nguyen, and New York Times contributor Ben Rothenberg, to dissect Halep’s Roland Garros success.
In the video above, we discuss Halep’s comeback from 3-6, 0-2 down against Stephens on Saturday, and how she was able to pull it off. Nguyen poses the important question: Did Halep banish her demons from last year’s painful final, or did she actually embrace them?
Rothenberg then points out that Halep is the first Slam-less world No. 1 to claim a first major while holding the top spot. Unlike others in the past, Halep used her ascension to the top of the rankings as a springboard rather than getting weighed down by the fact she was at the summit but with no Slams on her resume. Nguyen also tells us about the great influence of her coach Darren Cahill, who seems to have finally cracked the Simona code.
The outpouring of congratulatory messages we’ve seen on social media from Halep’s peers, pundits and even ATP players and coaches has been undeniable. Nguyen tells us why the 26-year-old Romanian is so well-respected.
Stephens missed a chance of winning a second title in her last three Slams but can walk away with many positives, especially with a runner-up showing on clay, which is a surface she likes, but isn’t necessarily her best. The new world No. 4 went on an eight-match losing streak after winning her first major at the US Open last September. Will she find more consistency after her latest strong outing in Paris?
Finally, we deliberate how Halep will react after checking the biggest item on her bucket list. Will Wimbledon come too soon for her, or will she try and keep her momentum going?
You can tell how huge Simona Halep’s victory at the French Open means not from her own response to it but from the emotional reaction of the public, her fellow players, and people around her.
The ‘SI-MO-NA’ chants took over Roland Garros on Saturday, and even somehow made their way into her press conference. Twitter exploded with congratulatory messages from her peers – but they weren’t your standard mandatory cordial props.
“CONGRATULATIONS, Simona – is what I‘m trying to say and thank you for teaching us all,” said Andrea Petkovic, who lost to Halep in the third round here in Paris last week.
“For all the haters who said she‘ll never win a Slam because she‘s mentally weak, go choke on that. Everyone has their own timing and supposed failures are often just stepping stones in an individual‘s life,” continued the German.
Russia’s Elena Vesnina posted: “Simonaa! You deserve this title more than anyone @rolandgarros. Huge congratulations!”
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova messaged Halep after the Romanian lost last year’s French Open final to Jelena Ostapenko. She consoled her and told her, “it’s coming”.
The Czech texted her against after he win on Saturday and congratulated her.
Daria Gavrilova simply posted a tweet with Halep’s name and a crying face emoji, followed by applause.
People have been emotionally invested in Halep’s journey over the past 12 months and the 26-year-old made sure her tale has come full circle.
From blowing a set and a break lead against an unseeded Ostapenko in the Paris final last year, to coming back from a set and a break down against Sloane Stephens on the very same court on Saturday… The fact that she gets to walk away with the bigger trophy this time is what can be described as a perfectly-scripted ended to this one-year chapter of her career.
It’s how a sports movie would unfold except this isn’t cheesy fiction; this is an incredibly inspiring reality.
People felt her heartbreak after Roland Garros last year, then saw her heart on full display during her physically-gruelling run to the Australian Open final last January. She was 0-3 in Slam finals and almost everyone’s sentimental favourite.
When Halep stood on the podium on centre court hugging her trophy, she glanced at Stephens, who motioned to her to lift it high up in celebration.
Aww Sloane teaching Simona how to hold a Slam trophy ❤️ pic.twitter.com/HsNOMICtJ8
— Dr. Sholz (@SholzTalks10s) June 9, 2018
“Show the world your trophy. You have been waiting for this. So you better put it up in the air and show them what you got today,” a classy Stephens later said in her press conference of that moment.
“I think she’s had a tough journey. I think winning here is very special for her and I’m glad she finally got her first slam. It’s a beautiful thing, very special. No matter how hard the adversity that you go through, there is always light at the end of the tunnel, and I’m glad she finally got her light,” added the US Open champion.
Halep’s team have witnessed firsthand what she has gone through to finally become a Grand Slam winner. Virginia Ruzici, who was the only Romanian woman to win a major before Halep matched her achievement, has been in Halep’s corner for many years as a manager and confidante.
It’s been exactly 40 years since Ruzici lifted the French Open trophy. She was in the stands watching Halep on Saturday.
“To me, it tells her that she did it because she’s big. She’s a big champion. She’s huge,” said Ruzici after Halep’s win.
“I like her modesty. She’s down to earth. She treats people all equal. These are important qualities, and she’s very honest. Also with her team and her friends, she’s really fantastic.”
Halep’s honesty, be it on the court or off it, is what captured people’s attention. In success and failure, she showed how she felt and articulated her most complex feelings. Her lowest moments struck a chord with so many people out there.
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2018
“I know it’s just a tennis match, but it’s not really just a tennis match, because this is what we sweat blood and tears and this is what it’s all about for us,” her coach Darren Cahill said.
In her champion’s press conference, Halep told us how difficult it’s been sitting in that chair every tournament having to talk about whether she would ever become a Grand Slam winner.
“Honestly, that’s the toughest thing,” she confessed.
She will now be sitting in that chair as a world No. 1 and Grand Slam champion. It’s hard to think of anyone at this moment who deserves it more.
Congratulations to @Simona_Halep and her team! Great job 👍🏻
— victoria azarenka (@vika7) June 9, 2018
— Thomas Johansson (@tompatennis) June 9, 2018
— Carla Suarez Navarro (@CarlaSuarezNava) June 9, 2018
— Jule Goerges✌️🇩🇪 (@juliagoerges) June 9, 2018
— Alize Cornet (@alizecornet) June 9, 2018
— Kristina Mladenovic (@KikiMladenovic) June 9, 2018
Very very happy for @Simona_Halep. So well deserved. More to come….
— Ivan Ljubicic (@theljubicic) June 9, 2018
— Kevin Anderson (@KAndersonATP) June 9, 2018
Congrats Simona 🙏 Well deserved, great job! 🖐
— Karolina Pliskova (@KaPliskova) June 9, 2018
Simonaaaaa! You did it. So happy for you. Enjoy every second. You deserve this moment so much 🎉❤️ #RG18
— Petra Kvitova (@Petra_Kvitova) June 9, 2018
Simona Halep erased the painful memories from last year’s Roland Garros final loss by claiming a maiden Grand Slam trophy with a 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory over Sloane Stephens in Paris on Saturday.
On the very same court where she tasted defeat twice before in a French Open final, the top-ranked Halep fought back from a set and a break down to become just the second Romanian woman to win a Grand Slam title, following Virginia Ruzici’s triumph at Roland Garros in 1978.
Stephens, who was looking to add a second major trophy to the US Open crown she won last September, entered the contest with a stunning 6-0 record in career finals, while Halep was 0-3 in Slam finals, and had lost six of her last seven titles matches.
But Halep made sure there was no repeat of last year’s Paris final, and found her inner warrior to complete a memorable victory, on her favourite court, in her favourite tournament.
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2018
“First of all thank you guys, it was amazing. I felt your support. In the last game I felt I cannot breathe anymore. I tried not to repeat what happened last year. Honestly I cannot believe it,” Halep told the crowd on Court Philippe Chatrier.
This was never going to be a match with winners raining on either end. With both players being excellent movers, getting the ball past either woman is no mean feat. A combined four winners were struck in the first four games but it was Stephens who drew first blood, breaking the Halep serve for a 3-1 advantage.
She needed to save a break point while serving for the opening set, but in 41 minutes, Stephens found herself one set away from a second Grand Slam trophy.
The American broke early in the second to open up a 2-0 advantage but Halep stormed back, taking four games in a row – including a stretch of nine consecutive points – to make a contest out of the final.
The 10th-ranked Stephens halted the Romanian’s streak though, and they were soon back on serve at 4-all.
Halep showed real grit the following game, pulling off two huge points from 30/30 to hold for 5-4. She got a first set point with a deep down-the-line forehand winner on Stephens’ serve the next game and converted right away to force a deciding set.
Seven minutes into the third, Halep had already broken serve and she was soon up 3-0, as Stephens’ unforced error count soared to 35.
— 𝙰𝚌𝚝𝚞𝚊𝚕 𝙷𝚞𝚖𝚊𝚗™ (@lynnlovestennis) June 9, 2018
Halep broken again on what was arguably the point of the match, chasing down a drop shot, then finding the backhand smash to go up 4-0.
Breaking in style.@Simona_Halep takes a 4-0 lead and inches closer to her first Grand Slam title.
7e jeu consécutif remporté par la Roumaine, qui prend à présent les commandes du match dans ce 3e set. Simona Halep qui se rapproche d’un premier titre ici à Roland-Garros#RG18 pic.twitter.com/mQDTZQKBKp
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2018
The world No. 1 put pressure on Stephens in game six but the American held for 1-5, forcing Halep to serve for the championship.
Halep got her first championship point with an overhead and a service winner sealed the deal for her.