PARIS – Coming into the women’s final at the French Open on Saturday, much of the discussion had been about Simona Halep’s season.
Halep, 22, was playing for her first Grand Slam tournament title after rising from No. 57 to No. 4 in the world rankings and winning seven tournaments since losing in the first round of last year’s French Open.
But her opponent, Maria Sharapova, the 2012 champion and the 2013 runner-up here, has come a long way in a year, too.
After the French Open last year, the Russian lost in the second round at Wimbledon, missed most of the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, changed coaches twice and slipped to eighth in the rankings, from fourth.
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She returned to the WTA Tour at the beginning of this season still motivated to add to her trophy case.
“I don’t think I would form a new team together and that I would go through the efforts of trying to come back if I didn’t have it,” she said late last year. “It’s a lot of work, a lot of work, and I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t feel strongly about what my goals are and what I feel I can accomplish.”
After a slow start, Sharapova did not make winning the French Open one of those goals, she said. But as has been, surprisingly, the case at this stage in her career, clay was her springboard.
Sharapova won her second French Open in three years with a 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4 victory over Romanian Halep, for her third clay-court title in a 19-1 season on the surface.
This is Sharapova’s fifth career championship in a Grand Slam event, but the first time she has won the same major twice. She has more victories at the French Open (50) than at the other three Grand Slam tournaments.
“If somebody had told me that I’d win at some stage in my career, that I’d have more Roland Garros titles than any other Grand Slam, I’d probably go get drunk,” she said Saturday. “Or tell them to get drunk, one or the other.”
The 6-foot-2 Sharapova and the 5-6 Halep presented a tantalizing matchup of power versus guile, experience versus new blood, and they did not disappoint, giving Roland Garros its first three-set women’s final since 2001.
As she did throughout the tournament, Sharapova raised her game when she was down.
She was down a break early in the first set but rallied to win it. Halep served for the second set twice but could not close out Sharapova until a tiebreaker. When Sharapova lost her lead in the third set, she mercilessly took it back, winning the last eight points of the match.
“This is the toughest Grand Slam final I’ve ever played,” Sharapova said.
Halep was trying to become the first Romanian woman to earn a major title since her manager, Virginia Ruzici, won the French Open in 1978.
Halep sat in her chair with a towel over her head and cried after the match, but soon was smiling,
“I have to be happy, to smile, because I did everything on court,” Halep said, adding: “I didn’t expect three sets, three hours, but it happened, and I’m really happy that I could stay very long time on court.”
Sharapova called it the most emotional victory of her career.
“There is a reason why I haven’t been to one shop while I have been in Paris,” she said of the championship trophy. “It’s because I want this. I haven’t eaten many macaroons, either. It’s because I want this.”
• Eight-time champion Rafael Nadal of Spain plays Novak Djokovic of Serbia for the men’s title Sunday. In addition to a major championship, the No. 1 world ranking is at stake.
Nadal has a 22-19 record in matches against Djokovic.