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
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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.
Rafael Nadal will be looking to avoid another slow start when he takes on Dominic Thiem in the Roland Garros final on Sunday, with the Spaniard’s coach Carlos Moya assuring that they expect a tougher version of the opponent they faced in last year’s semi-finals here in Paris.
Moya admits that nerves accounted for Nadal losing the opening set against Diego Schwartzman in the quarter-finals on Wednesday – before rain suspended play until the following day – as well as the tight opening set the world No. 1 contested against Juan Martin del Potro in Friday’s semis.
Del Potro did everything right against Nadal in that opener, except actually winning the set. The tall Argentine created six break point opportunities on the Mallorcan’s serve, and faced none on his own in the first nine games. But Nadal saved all six and broke in game 10 to take a one-set lead. It was cruise control for the 10-time Roland Garros champion from then on.
Nadal might not be able to get away with a nervy start against an opponent like Thiem, who is the only player to defeat him on clay in the build-up to Roland Garros over the past two seasons.
Moya says he’ll make sure they try to address that ahead of the final.
“He’s feeling a bit insecure maybe at the beginning and once he gets ahead in the match his confidence comes back. It’s something we’re aware of, it just happened in the last couple of matches, it’s not something that is happening very often with him. But yes it happened in the last two matches. But I guess the way he’s been playing the last three sets yesterday and the last two sets today is going to help give him confidence,” said Moya on Friday.
“We will talk about that [nervous starts]. We don’t have to forget that, we have to be aware of that, but also not give too much importance to that otherwise it can get in your head and it’s not helping.”
The plan is for Nadal to practice for one hour on Saturday morning and then rest all afternoon, Moya told Spanish radio station Cope.
“We’ll play Parchis [Spanish board game] and we’ll let Rafa win so that he’s happy before the final,” joked Moya. “I’ll pretend that I’m angry but it’s a tactic.”
Nadal is 6-3 head-to-head against Thiem, but they’ve split their two meetings this season. All of their previous encounters have come on clay and the Austrian No. 7 seed knows what he needs to do if he wants to end Nadal’s reign at the French Open.
But an 85-2 win-loss record like Nadal’s in Paris is not something easy to shake.
“It’s his court, he has the keys and he has to take advantage of that,” said Moya, referring to Nadal’s track record at Philippe Chatrier stadium.
“It’s not going to be easy but he’s facing Dominic, we know he’s the only player that beat him on clay the last couple of years. He’s a player that can be adapted more to the clay, it will be tough.”
Moya, the 1998 French Open champion, added: “Dominic plays very heavy topspin, very aggressive, good fitness condition, he’s probably the best clay-court player right now, along with Rafa. Although he can lose matches, but the way he plays suits clay courts very well.”
Patrick Mouratoglou, coach of Serena Williams and commentator for Eurosport, believes Thiem has the game to upset Nadal, but he’ll need to execute his game plan perfectly.
“Of course the chance is really small [for Thiem] but I think that DelPo kind of showed the way. I think he showed that at the start of the match Rafa was very nervous and you have to keep his head under the water, and that’s what DelPo couldn’t do today,” said Mouratoglou.
“You can’t afford to miss the occasions against Rafa. If you don’t miss the occasions you have a chance to keep his head under the water and then he is beatable. If not, you have the second and the third sets of today’s match, it speaks for itself. He starts to be more loose, he starts to go for it, and then he’s unplayable.
“Same against Schwartzman, where Rafa was saved a bit by the rain. For sure he is beatable, but you have to have the level, and Dominic has the level and you have to play the perfect match and the most important thing is you can’t miss the occasions that you have. If you do, it’s finished. And so that puts the bar really high and the pressure is at its maximum, that’s why he’s so tough to beat.”
Nadal has dropped just one set en route to the final while Thiem lost three – one against each of Stefanos Tsitsipas (round two), Matteo Berrettini (round three) and Kei Nishikori (round four).
Last year, Nadal completed a ‘Decima’ in Paris, lifting the trophy without dropping a set and losing just 35 games in total.
“It’s difficult to better the performance he had last year here,” Moya said of Nadal’s 2017 masterpiece.
“Well Monte Carlo this year he was very close to that level, but it’s hard to see that again.”
Thiem was one of Nadal’s victims during his 2017 French Open campaign, where the Austrian lost 6-3, 6-4, 6-0.
Thiem could only muster two games against Nadal in Monte Carlo last April but got his revenge a few weeks later with a straight-sets win in Madrid. It was a match where Nadal was completely outplayed and in which he later admitted to being nervous.
“I guess he [Thiem] is improving every year, he’s 24 right now, he’s at the age of improving, getting more experience, getting closer to his limits. We expect a better Thiem for sure than the one we met last year here,” said Moya.