Classy Women’s Final In Paris

This was the toughest grand slam final I have ever played. Maria Sharapova

A thriller at Roland Garros

Sharapova with trophyBy Roger Childs

There hasn’t been a three set women’s final in the French Tennis Open since 2001. However, the drought was broken at the weekend when Russian, Maria Sharapova, won a high quality, pulsating match over Romania’s Simona Halep: 6-4 6-7. 6-4. The 14,000 spectators at Court Philippe Chatrier were on the edge of their seats throughout and the result remained in doubt until the final two games.

The experienced Russian advances

Sharapova forehand

Maria Sharapova was the beaten finalist last year, but had won the title in 2012. However she was only the seventh seed this year, whereas her opponent was seeded third on the back of seven tournament wins in the last twelve months.

The tall, attractive, blonde is much sought after by modelling and advertising agencies which stand to benefit from her ongoing tennis success. But, would this be another grand slam year for Sharapova?

The Russian has had mixed fortunes in her career, but over the last ten years she has been in eight grand slam finals with four wins to her credit.

Her chances in this year’s French Open improved when the top two seeds, Serena Williams (winner in 2013) and Li Na (Australian open champion), were bundled out in the first two rounds.

However, Sharapova was taken to three sets in the quarter and semi finals, while Simona Halep breezed through to the final without dropping a set.

Simona who?

Halep

The 22 year old Romanian was largely unknown until last year. She had won the Roland Garros Junior title back in 2008, but struggled to make it later on the WTA tour. In 2012 she played in all four grand slams, but didn’t advance beyond the second round.

2013 was the breakthrough year. At the start she was seeded 47. By the end it was number 11. During the year she won six tournaments, more than any other player. But grand slam success still eluded her. The US Open was her best effort, but only to the fourth round.

This year real progress has been made.

  • January: reached the quarter finals in the Australian Open
  • February: won the Qatar Open – one of the best moments of my life!
  • May: was the beaten finalist in the Madrid Open
  • May: made it comfortably through to the final in Paris.

Both finalists in great form

In the women’s final Maria Sharapova was at her best. She displayed great skills with her

  • superb fitness and speed around the court
  • powerful forehand winners often tightly angled or down the line
  • reliable double-handed backhand
  • strong service ranging from wide out placements to down the middle line
  • ability to run her opponent from side to side on the slippery clay.

Her only weakness was bouts of service double faults: eleven in all.

Halep in action

However, Simona Halep was up to the challenge. She is much shorter than Sharapova, but  had a more reliable serve and played her ground strokes with tremendous power. She also showed amazing speed along the baseline and retrieved shots that would have been beyond many top players.

The match was a great spectacle, as there were many long games with plenty of superb rallies, quality shot making and amazing retrieving. Sharapova won the first set 6-4, but Halep levelled with a 7-5 win the second set tie break.

So it came down to the last set, which was to provide plenty of drama, changing fortunes and a slice of controversy.

Third set drama

 You get the feeling that Sharapova doesn’t think she can lose this match. Commentator Fred Stolle

  • Halep lost her service: 1-0 Sharapova
  • Sharapova’s double faulting came back to haunt her and lost her service: 1-1
  • Halep won her service: 2-1 Halep
  • Sharapova survived two break points to win her service: 2-2
  • Halep lost her service: 3-2 Sharapova
  • Sharapova won to love on serve to lead 4-2

It looked as if it was all over, with the Russian cruising to victory, but there were more twists and turns to come. Halep won the next game and Sharapova stepped up to serve for a 5-3 lead.

This ninth game was eventful. Sharapova fired down two aces but these were cancelled out by two double faults. Halep then took the game on the 30-40 break point. It seemed that the Romanian now had the upper hand, but then came the controversy.

In the first point of Halep’s next service game a Sharapova forehand was called long by the line umpire. However the chair umpire overruled the call but, instead of having the point replayed, he called 15-0 to Sharapova. Expert commentator Fred Stolle remarked I don’t agree with this at all.

Halep and the umpire

Halep was understandably not happy, but the ruling stood. After that, I couldn’t manage my nerves maybe and I couldn’t stay very focused for the next points, Halep said. That’s it. That’s life.

The controversial decision proved to be the match changer. Sharapova proceeded to win the next seven points and took her second title in three years.

A great final

The enthusiastic French crowd warmly applauded both players knowing they had seen one of the best women’s grand slam finals of the twenty first century. Sharapova graciously acknowledged the wonderful effort of Halep in the very tight match.

Simona Halep realised that she had come very close to winning her first grand slam final and recognised the importance of what she had achieved.  In her post-match speech she said This will be very special for me all my life.