Serves hit by her surgically repaired shoulder often missed the mark, resulting in 12 double-faults. Shots that would be winners against most opponents were retrieved by Simona Halep and sent right back. Leads that usually hold up vanished in a blink. On a muggy afternoon, with the temperature in the high 70s, points were lung-searing struggles.
Sharapova was up to the task. In an entertaining and undulating championship match — the first women’s final at Roland Garros in 13 years to go three sets — Sharapova showed that she’s as tough as they come, particularly on the red clay that used to flummox her. She edged Halep 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-4 Saturday to win a second French Open title in three years.
“This is the toughest Grand Slam final I’ve ever played,” Sharapova said.
It is her fifth major trophy in all. Remarkably, Sharapova owns twice as many from Paris as the one each she won at Wimbledon in 2004, the U.S. Open in 2006, and the Australian Open in 2008.
“I never thought seven, eight years ago, that I would win more Roland Garroses when I was 27 years old than any other Grand Slam,” Sharapova said after the 3-hour, 2-minute tangle that featured terrific defense and shotmaking by both women.
“It’s a tournament, when I was young and growing up, I wanted to win,” Sharapova added. “To think that I’ve won it two times is, I don’t know — so emotional right now, I can’t even talk.”
Not bad for someone who once famously described herself as feeling like a “cow on ice” when it came to playing on clay, a slow, demanding surface that requires excellent footwork. Now she knows how to move on clay, and can stretch points when needed. Since the start of 2012, Sharapova is 54-4 with seven titles on clay. She’s also won 20 consecutive clay three-setters, including four in a row this week.
Sharapova is 20-1 the last three years at Roland Garros – which is nothing compared to Rafael Nadal’s 65-1 career French Open mark heading into Sunday’s final against Novak Djokovic, but certainly quite impressive.
Plus, Sharapova had an operation on her right shoulder, the one she uses to swing her racket, in October 2008. That joint troubled her again in 2013, when she played one match from July to December.
This was the ninth Grand Slam final for the No. 7-seeded Sharapova, and the first for Halep, a 22-year-old Romanian seeded fourth. Supported by a dozen folks in her guest box wearing red T-shirts saying “Allez Simona” and fans that chanted her first name, Halep acquitted herself well, showing off the scrambling baseline style that carried her to six straight-set wins until Saturday.
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