Sharapova sees off Romanian resistance in epic battle
Russian claims her fifth grand slam title, and her second at Roland Garros, but is pushed all the way by gutsy maiden finalist Simona Halep
Reuters in Paris
Maria Sharapova claimed her second French Open title in a marathon encounter against Romanian fourth seed Simona Halep on Saturday.
The seventh seed from Russia won 6-4 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 to claim her fifth grand slam title, including her second at Roland Garros.
Halep, who had not lost a set entering the final, put up a great fight but bowed out after three hours and two minutes - making this the longest women's final in Paris since 1996.
Sharapova wrapped it up on her first match point when Halep could not return one of her opponent's sizzling forehands.
"This is the toughest grand slam final I have ever played. I respect Simona a lot, I thought she played an unbelievable match today," Sharapova said.
"I can't believe it, seven or eight years ago I would not have thought that I would win more Roland Garros than any other grand slam. To think I won it twice ... I'm so emotional now I can't talk."
Halep had forced a decider just as Sharapova seemed poised to end her resistance. Sharapova, however, had won her previous 19 three-set matches on clay and she made it 20 with a characteristically gutsy display.
Hoping to become the second Romanian woman to win a grand slam after her manager Virginia Ruzici won there in 1978, Halep broke in the very first game when Sharapova sent a backhand long.
The Russian bombarded Halep with powerful forehands and managed to break back twice. She took the set to 5-2 but lost two games before clinching it on her opponent's serve when Halep fired a crosscourt forehand wide.
Sharapova won the first game of the second set to love and broke in the second with the contest seemingly heading for a swift conclusion. Halep would not give up, however, and broke back quickly as the crowd roared "Simona, Simona".
They exchanged four breaks in a row as the set went into a tiebreak. Halep went 5-3 down but then scored four points in a row to force a deciding set.
Sharapova saw off two break points in a hotly contested fourth game and went on to break Halep's serve only to double fault yet again as the Romanian levelled for 4-4.
In a third set where the serve counted for little, Sharapova broke to love to move one service game from the title and fell to her knees in celebration as Halep sent a looping backhand wide.
"It's my first grand slam page, emotionally it's difficult," said Halep. "I hope there will be many more but this one will be special for me all my life."