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French Open 2014: Sharapova battles to second French title

Maria Sharapova with her second Roland Garros trophy
by Alexandra Willis
Saturday 7 June 2014

Maria Sharapova won a hard-fought three-set final against Simona Halep to claim her second French Open title in three years. Wimbledon.com reports...

What makes a champion? A player who is so good, he or she sweeps past all opponents with barely a care in the world, with hardly a hair out of place. But arguably more impressive are those champions who come through when the height of the net is raised against them. In winning her second French Open singles title in just three years, Maria Sharapova won four three-set matches back-to-back, finally triumphing in the best women's singles final Roland Garros has seen for some years, and the first one to go the distance since Jennifer Capriati defeated Kim Clijsters 12-10 in the decider 13 years ago.

As Judy Murray inferred in her own unique way, Sharapova seems to be at her best when life gets tough. And Halep certainly made life tough on Philippe Chatrier Court on a muggy Parisian afternoon. 

The match did not follow the pattern of their previous encounter in Rome just a few weeks ago. On that occasion, Halep was the one to take early advantage, storming through the first set 6-1. But then Sharapova began to find her rhythm and did what she’s now done eight times this year – found a way to win after dropping the opening set.

Her task was just as challenging this time. 

For three hours and two minutes Sharapova and Halep went foot to foot, Sharapova building the early lead - 6-4, 2-0 - but Halep working her way right back into it. Sneaking the second set in a tie-break, she then broke to lead 3-1 in the third, and clung on again for 4-4.

But the seventh seed found another level when she had to, winning two games on the trot without dropping a point to triumph 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-4.

It is somewhat ironic that Sharapova, who claimed her first major title on Wimbledon's grass, and second and then third on the US Open and Melbourne's hard, should win her second Slam title at any of those on clay, which she once professed not to be her favourite. 

"This was the toughest Grand Slam final I've ever played," Sharapova said in her on-court interview. 

"I can't believe it. I never thought seven or eight years ago that I'd win more Roland Garroses when I was 27-yearsold than any other Grand Slam. It's a dream come true. This tournament means so much to me. And to think I've won it two times now - I'm so emotional, I can't even talk right now."

Sharapova thus becomes the 12th woman in the Open Era to win five or more Grand Slam titles, after Steffi Graf (22), Chris Evert (18), Martina Navratilova (18), Serena Williams (17), Margaret Court (11), Monica Seles (9), Billie Jean King (8),Evonne Goolagong Cawley (7), Venus Williams (7), Justine Henin (7) and Martina Hingis (5).

She will rise from No.8 to No.5 on the WTA rankings, which will make her life easier at Wimbledon and from No.3 to No.2 on the all-time prize money list (trailing only Serena Williams).

For Halep meanwhile, who at this juncture last year did not have a single singles title to her name, it was an extremely impressive Grand Slam debut, and she will now advance to No.3 in the WTA rankings.

"To be in your first Grand Slam final is an incredible achievement," Sharapova commended. "You've had an amazing two weeks, and this is just the first step. I think you'll have an incredible career."

"This is my first Grand Slam final speech, but I wish to have many more," Halep said to the welcoming Chatrier crowd. "First I'd like to say congratulations Maria. You're a great champion and you played really well, and you really deserved this title. I wish you all of the best for the future.

"I've had two incredible weeks here. It was an amazing tournament for me. I played my best and I'm happy you guys all came every match to support me. I want to thank all of you - and also to the people back home in Romania, I just want to say thank you to all of you as well for all of your support."

 She is very much one to watch. For Sharapova meanwhile, life has rarely been better. 

Follow the French Open live on ITV and at rolandgarros.com

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