Maria Sharapova

Grand slam winner Maria Sharapova will be a prominent representative of the Russian Olympic team at the London Olympics.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 26: Maria Sharapova of Russia drinks water during the practice session ahead of the 2012 London Olympic Games at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon on July 26, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Olympics - Previews - Day - 1
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 26: Maria Sharapova of Russia drinks water during the practice session ahead of the 2012 London Olympic Games at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon on July 26, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 27: Maria Sharapova of the Russia Olympic tennis team carries her country's flag during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
2012 Olympic Games - Opening Ceremony
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 27: Maria Sharapova of the Russia Olympic tennis team carries her country's flag during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 27: Maria Sharapova of the Russia Olympic tennis team carries her country's flag during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
2012 Olympic Games - Opening Ceremony
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 27: Maria Sharapova of the Russia Olympic tennis team carries her country's flag during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 26: Maria Sharapova of Russia plays a forehand during the practice session ahead of the 2012 London Olympic Games at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon on July 26, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Olympics - Previews - Day - 1
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 26: Maria Sharapova of Russia plays a forehand during the practice session ahead of the 2012 London Olympic Games at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon on July 26, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 26: Maria Sharapova of Russia smiles during the practice session ahead of the 2012 London Olympic Games at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon on July 26, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Olympics - Previews - Day - 1
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 26: Maria Sharapova of Russia smiles during the practice session ahead of the 2012 London Olympic Games at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon on July 26, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 26: Maria Sharapova of Russia serves during the practice session ahead of the 2012 London Olympic Games at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon on July 26, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Olympics - Previews - Day - 1
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 26: Maria Sharapova of Russia serves during the practice session ahead of the 2012 London Olympic Games at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon on July 26, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 26: Maria Sharapova of Russia plays a backhand during the practice session ahead of the 2012 London Olympic Games at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon on July 26, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Olympics - Previews - Day - 1
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 26: Maria Sharapova of Russia plays a backhand during the practice session ahead of the 2012 London Olympic Games at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon on July 26, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Maria Sharapova at ESPYs
Maria Sharapova at ESPYs
Maria Sharapova at ESPYs
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 29: Maria Sharapova of Russia returns the ball during her Ladies' singles third round match against Su-Wei Hsieh of Taipei on day five of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
The Championships - Wimbledon 2012: Day Five
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 29: Maria Sharapova of Russia returns the ball during her Ladies' singles third round match against Su-Wei Hsieh of Taipei on day five of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 09: French Open women's champion Maria Sharapova of Russia poses with the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen near the Eiffel Tower after her victory earlier in the day in the women's singles final against Sara Errani of Italy during day 14 of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 9, 2012 in Paris, France. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
French Open Women's Champion Maria Sharapova Of Russia Poses Getty Images
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 09: French Open women's champion Maria Sharapova of Russia poses with the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen near the Eiffel Tower after her victory earlier in the day in the women's singles final against Sara Errani of Italy during day 14 of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 9, 2012 in Paris, France. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Russia's Maria Sharapova poses with her trophy in the clockrooms after winning against Italy's Sara Errani the Women's Singles final tennis match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium, on June 9, 2012 in Paris. AFP PHOTO / POOL SINDY THOMASSINDY THOMAS/AFP/GettyImages
Russia's Maria Sharapova Poses AFP/Getty Images
Russia's Maria Sharapova poses with her trophy in the clockrooms after winning against Italy's Sara Errani the Women's Singles final tennis match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium, on June 9, 2012 in Paris. AFP PHOTO / POOL SINDY THOMASSINDY THOMAS/AFP/GettyImages
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 09: Maria Sharapova of Russia plays a backhand in the women's singles final against Sara Errani of Italy during day 14 of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 9, 2012 in Paris, France. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Maria Sharapova Of Russia Plays Getty Images
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 09: Maria Sharapova of Russia plays a backhand in the women's singles final against Sara Errani of Italy during day 14 of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 9, 2012 in Paris, France. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 09: Maria Sharapova of Russia kisses the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen after the women's singles final against Sara Errani of Italy during day 14 of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 9, 2012 in Paris, France. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Maria Sharapova Of Russia Kisses Getty Images
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 09: Maria Sharapova of Russia kisses the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen after the women's singles final against Sara Errani of Italy during day 14 of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 9, 2012 in Paris, France. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 09: Maria Sharapova of Russia celebrates with the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in her changing room after her women's singles final against Sara Errani of Italy during day 14 of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 9, 2012 in Paris, France. (Photo by Sindy Thomas - Pool/Getty Images)
Maria Sharapova Of Russia Celebrates Getty Images
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 09: Maria Sharapova of Russia celebrates with the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in her changing room after her women's singles final against Sara Errani of Italy during day 14 of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 9, 2012 in Paris, France. (Photo by Sindy Thomas - Pool/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 09: Maria Sharapova of Russia is sprayed with champagne by her physical trainer Juan Reque (L) and her hitting partner Cecil Mamiit (R) as she makes her way to her changing room after her women's singles final against Sara Errani of Italy during day 14 of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 9, 2012 in Paris, France. (Photo by Sindy Thomas - Pool/Getty Images)
Maria Sharapova Of Russia Is Sprayed With Champagne By Her Physical Trainer Juan Reque (L) And Her Hitting Partner Getty Images
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 09: Maria Sharapova of Russia is sprayed with champagne by her physical trainer Juan Reque (L) and her hitting partner Cecil Mamiit (R) as she makes her way to her changing room after her women's singles final against Sara Errani of Italy during day 14 of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 9, 2012 in Paris, France. (Photo by Sindy Thomas - Pool/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 09: Maria Sharapova of Russia plays a backhand in the women's singles final against Sara Errani of Italy during day 14 of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 9, 2012 in Paris, France. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Maria Sharapova Of Russia Plays Getty Images
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 09: Maria Sharapova of Russia plays a backhand in the women's singles final against Sara Errani of Italy during day 14 of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 9, 2012 in Paris, France. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
TOPSHOTS Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova poses with her trophy in front the Eiffel tower on June 9, 2012 in Paris, after winning the Women's Singles final tennis match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium. AFP PHOTO / PATRICK KOVARIKPATRICK KOVARIK/AFP/GettyImages
TOPSHOTS Russian Tennis Player Maria Sharapova Poses With Her Trophy In Front The Eiffel Tower On June 9, 2012 In Paris, AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOTS Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova poses with her trophy in front the Eiffel tower on June 9, 2012 in Paris, after winning the Women's Singles final tennis match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium. AFP PHOTO / PATRICK KOVARIKPATRICK KOVARIK/AFP/GettyImages
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 09: Maria Sharapova of Russia celebrates with the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in the women's singles final against Sara Errani of Italy during day 14 of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 9, 2012 in Paris, France. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Maria Sharapova Of Russia Celebrates With The Coupe Suzanne Lenglen In The Women's Singles Final Against Sara Errani Getty Images
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 09: Maria Sharapova of Russia celebrates with the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in the women's singles final against Sara Errani of Italy during day 14 of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 9, 2012 in Paris, France. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Croatia's Donna Vekic returns a shot against Russia's Maria Sharapova during their second round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France, Thursday, May 31, 2018. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Barty, Konta, Vekic, Osaka reach Nottingham Open semis
Croatia's Donna Vekic returns a shot against Russia's Maria Sharapova during their second round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France, Thursday, May 31, 2018. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Maria Sharapova will delay her start to the grass-court season and Madison Keys is being troubled by an abdominal injury.
Sharapova and Keys withdraw from Birmingham Classic
Maria Sharapova will delay her start to the grass-court season and Madison Keys is being troubled by an abdominal injury.
Jun 6, 2018, Paris, France: Maria Sharapova (RUS) in action during her match against Garbine Muguruza (ESP) on day 11 of the 2018 French Open at Roland Garros. Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports
Tennis: French Open
Jun 6, 2018, Paris, France: Maria Sharapova (RUS) in action during her match against Garbine Muguruza (ESP) on day 11 of the 2018 French Open at Roland Garros. Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 6, 2018, Paris, France: Maria Sharapova (RUS) in action during her match against Garbine Muguruza (ESP) on day 11 of the 2018 French Open at Roland Garros. Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports
Tennis: French Open
Jun 6, 2018, Paris, France: Maria Sharapova (RUS) in action during her match against Garbine Muguruza (ESP) on day 11 of the 2018 French Open at Roland Garros. Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports
Each of next week’s grass-court events took a hit to its celebrity pulling power on Wednesday, as Rafael Nadal pulled out of the Fever-Tree Championships at Queen’s and ­Maria Sharapova withdrew from the Birmingham Classic. Nadal had already hinted that he might skip his planned Wimbledon warm-up, soon after lifting his 11th French Open title on Sunday. On Wednesday, he ­explained that, “I have spoken to my doctors and I need to listen to what my body is telling me.” Sharapova made a similar comment, saying that, “I need to take care of my body” after her own run to the quarter-finals at Roland Garros. Just as Nadal has now withdrawn from Queen’s for a third consecutive season, this is the second year running that Sharapova has failed to show up at Birmingham. Her absence is ironic in light of the moral contortions that Michael Downey, the previous Lawn Tennis Association chief executive, put himself through in order to justify handing her a two-year deal – complete with guaranteed wild cards – so soon ­after her return from a 15-month doping ban. “Not everyone will agree,” he wrote last year, in a 700-word email to stakeholders. Sharapova has pulled out of Birmingham to look after her body Credit: Reuters The wild-card debate around Dan Evans is only likely to intensify after he pulled off another fine win in the Nottingham Open over world No 133 Sergiy Stakhovsky. Evans is thus through to the quarter-finals for the second straight week and will move comfortably inside the top 500 when the next set of rankings is published on Monday. His 7-5, 7-6 win was particularly notable because Stakhovsky is a fine grass-court player, a ­talented volleyer, who is best known for ending Roger Federer’s sequence of 36 straight grand-slam quarter-finals with a second-round Wimbledon win in 2013. On this form, Evans would seem to be worthy of an ­invitation into qualifying for Queen’s this weekend. To get there, though, he would have to lose his next match in ­Nottingham.
Rafael Nadal pulls out of Queen's while Maria Sharapova withdraws from Birmingham Classic
Each of next week’s grass-court events took a hit to its celebrity pulling power on Wednesday, as Rafael Nadal pulled out of the Fever-Tree Championships at Queen’s and ­Maria Sharapova withdrew from the Birmingham Classic. Nadal had already hinted that he might skip his planned Wimbledon warm-up, soon after lifting his 11th French Open title on Sunday. On Wednesday, he ­explained that, “I have spoken to my doctors and I need to listen to what my body is telling me.” Sharapova made a similar comment, saying that, “I need to take care of my body” after her own run to the quarter-finals at Roland Garros. Just as Nadal has now withdrawn from Queen’s for a third consecutive season, this is the second year running that Sharapova has failed to show up at Birmingham. Her absence is ironic in light of the moral contortions that Michael Downey, the previous Lawn Tennis Association chief executive, put himself through in order to justify handing her a two-year deal – complete with guaranteed wild cards – so soon ­after her return from a 15-month doping ban. “Not everyone will agree,” he wrote last year, in a 700-word email to stakeholders. Sharapova has pulled out of Birmingham to look after her body Credit: Reuters The wild-card debate around Dan Evans is only likely to intensify after he pulled off another fine win in the Nottingham Open over world No 133 Sergiy Stakhovsky. Evans is thus through to the quarter-finals for the second straight week and will move comfortably inside the top 500 when the next set of rankings is published on Monday. His 7-5, 7-6 win was particularly notable because Stakhovsky is a fine grass-court player, a ­talented volleyer, who is best known for ending Roger Federer’s sequence of 36 straight grand-slam quarter-finals with a second-round Wimbledon win in 2013. On this form, Evans would seem to be worthy of an ­invitation into qualifying for Queen’s this weekend. To get there, though, he would have to lose his next match in ­Nottingham.
Each of next week’s grass-court events took a hit to its celebrity pulling power on Wednesday, as Rafael Nadal pulled out of the Fever-Tree Championships at Queen’s and ­Maria Sharapova withdrew from the Birmingham Classic. Nadal had already hinted that he might skip his planned Wimbledon warm-up, soon after lifting his 11th French Open title on Sunday. On Wednesday, he ­explained that, “I have spoken to my doctors and I need to listen to what my body is telling me.” Sharapova made a similar comment, saying that, “I need to take care of my body” after her own run to the quarter-finals at Roland Garros. Just as Nadal has now withdrawn from Queen’s for a third consecutive season, this is the second year running that Sharapova has failed to show up at Birmingham. Her absence is ironic in light of the moral contortions that Michael Downey, the previous Lawn Tennis Association chief executive, put himself through in order to justify handing her a two-year deal – complete with guaranteed wild cards – so soon ­after her return from a 15-month doping ban. “Not everyone will agree,” he wrote last year, in a 700-word email to stakeholders. Sharapova has pulled out of Birmingham to look after her body Credit: Reuters The wild-card debate around Dan Evans is only likely to intensify after he pulled off another fine win in the Nottingham Open over world No 133 Sergiy Stakhovsky. Evans is thus through to the quarter-finals for the second straight week and will move comfortably inside the top 500 when the next set of rankings is published on Monday. His 7-5, 7-6 win was particularly notable because Stakhovsky is a fine grass-court player, a ­talented volleyer, who is best known for ending Roger Federer’s sequence of 36 straight grand-slam quarter-finals with a second-round Wimbledon win in 2013. On this form, Evans would seem to be worthy of an ­invitation into qualifying for Queen’s this weekend. To get there, though, he would have to lose his next match in ­Nottingham.
Rafael Nadal pulls out of Queen's while Maria Sharapova withdraws from Birmingham Classic
Each of next week’s grass-court events took a hit to its celebrity pulling power on Wednesday, as Rafael Nadal pulled out of the Fever-Tree Championships at Queen’s and ­Maria Sharapova withdrew from the Birmingham Classic. Nadal had already hinted that he might skip his planned Wimbledon warm-up, soon after lifting his 11th French Open title on Sunday. On Wednesday, he ­explained that, “I have spoken to my doctors and I need to listen to what my body is telling me.” Sharapova made a similar comment, saying that, “I need to take care of my body” after her own run to the quarter-finals at Roland Garros. Just as Nadal has now withdrawn from Queen’s for a third consecutive season, this is the second year running that Sharapova has failed to show up at Birmingham. Her absence is ironic in light of the moral contortions that Michael Downey, the previous Lawn Tennis Association chief executive, put himself through in order to justify handing her a two-year deal – complete with guaranteed wild cards – so soon ­after her return from a 15-month doping ban. “Not everyone will agree,” he wrote last year, in a 700-word email to stakeholders. Sharapova has pulled out of Birmingham to look after her body Credit: Reuters The wild-card debate around Dan Evans is only likely to intensify after he pulled off another fine win in the Nottingham Open over world No 133 Sergiy Stakhovsky. Evans is thus through to the quarter-finals for the second straight week and will move comfortably inside the top 500 when the next set of rankings is published on Monday. His 7-5, 7-6 win was particularly notable because Stakhovsky is a fine grass-court player, a ­talented volleyer, who is best known for ending Roger Federer’s sequence of 36 straight grand-slam quarter-finals with a second-round Wimbledon win in 2013. On this form, Evans would seem to be worthy of an ­invitation into qualifying for Queen’s this weekend. To get there, though, he would have to lose his next match in ­Nottingham.
Resting: Maria Sharapova (AFP Photo/Eric FEFERBERG)
Resting: Maria Sharapova
Resting: Maria Sharapova (AFP Photo/Eric FEFERBERG)
World No 1 Simona Halep finally broke her grand-slam jinx at Roland Garros, producing an unforgettable comeback to burn past the reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens on the home straight. The fans in Paris had watched Halep come up just short of the title here twice before, and they have developed a warm relationship with her. Court Philippe Chatrier was rocking in the third set as Halep pulled away, producing some absurd recovery shots to exhaust the waning Stephens further. At the close of her 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win, Halep accepted a leg-up from a courtside official and climbed up to her player box, where she embraced the three men who have stood consistently at her side through her climb up the world rankings: physio Andrei Cristofor, fitness trainer Teo Cercel and coach Darren Cahill. As the Telegraph reported, in a pre-tournament interview with Halep: “I have people around me who are friends and I feel like they are there forever.” This comeback was surely all the sweeter because Halep was thoroughly outplayed in the opening set. Stephens was so smooth and so resourceful, mixing booming topspin with flatter, faster strikes in a way that made her look – for 40 minutes or so – virtually unbeatable. The apparent rout continued into the early stages of the second, as Stephens broke again to lead 6-3, 2-0. The scoreline then was curiously similar to the lead that Halep had held over Jelena Ostapenko here 12 months ago. Halep celebrates winning the French Open Credit: AP Halep wound up as the frustrated party that day, backing off at just the wrong moment and allowing the free-swinging Ostapenko to surge to a shock win. But she is never more dangerous than when she is trailing, because that is when she loosens up and starts playing like a woman with nothing to lose. “I thought ‘Everything is gone. I just have to relax,’” said Halep afterwards, grinning her way through her on-court interview, as she remembered the key moment. The switch was partly spiritual, as she tapped into her deepest wells of tenacity. But it was also tactical, as she decided to use the whole area of the court for the first time, darting forward to the net whenever Stephens was pushed into deep defence. Commentating for ITV, the former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli began yelling: “That’s the play! That’s the play!” whenever Halep put away a winning volley. There is a huge amount of warmth towards Halep around the sport, as she conducts herself with real class at all times. If Halep found her best self in her moment of crisis, Stephens began to show signs of weariness. The match was only an hour old but Halep was setting a demanding pace and giving fewer and fewer freebies away as the match wore on. No fewer than 55 rallies exceeded nine shots, more than a third of the total points, which is an unusually high figure. The average speed of Stephens’ forehand, which had been doing so much damage, dropped from 77mph in the first set to 70mph in the second. Halep came from a set and break down to end Stephens' 100 per cent record in finals Credit: AFP The third set might look like a non-event on the scorecard but some of the rallies were extraordinary. And none more so than the point Halep won to go a double break ahead at 4-0. This was a 16-shot extravaganza in which she had to dig out a couple of desperate retrievals from the back of the court, then sprint up to the net to dink back a drop-shot, and finally backpedal to make that most awkward of putaways, the backhand overhead. When she finally edged Stephens out in that one, the usually sphinx-like Cahill jumped up off his seat and punched the air in the most uncharacteristic manner. Stephens would win only eight more points from that moment, as Halep finally finished the job with an unreturned serve, dropped her racket and put her hands over her face. Considering what she has been through to reach this point, she was surprisingly restrained in her celebrations, although she spoke eloquently afterwards. “I felt your support,” said Halep told the crowd, as she spoke to Bartoli afterwards. “In the last game I felt that I could not breathe any more, so I just tried not to repeat the last year. I did everything I could. It’s amazing what is happening now. Honestly I can’t believe it. I have been dreaming of this moment since I started to play tennis. I’m really happy that it’s happened in Roland Garros in Paris, my special city.” Halep has loved playing here ever since she won the junior event in 2008. She also took the time out to namecheck her compatriot Virginia Ruzici, who won the French Open 40 years ago and was watching from the stands. Halep won the junior title in 2008 Credit: AFP Messages of congratulation were now flooding in on social media from rivals like Petra Kvitova and Johanna Konta. Later Martina Navratilova – who recently hinted that she will be returning to Wimbledon for the BBC this summer on improved terms – would come up with a neat summation. “It wasn’t a monkey off her back; this was an 800lb gorilla.” The upshot is that this was the seventh straight women’s grand slam with a different winner. The tour is certainly open at the moment, after a sequence that began with Angelique Kerber in New York two years ago and continued through Serena Williams, Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and now Halep. Stephens shakes Halep's hand after losing the final Credit: AFP The one thing we are still waiting for is for anyone to show that they can put a sequence of results together to match what Williams and some of her 2000s rivals – the likes of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin – achieved at their peak. Yet if a straightforward narrative is hard to pull out of this unpredictable string of results, the women keep on throwing up quality matches, while the men have not produced an outstanding major tournament since Melbourne last year. In final analysis, Halep’s heartwarming victory was another good-news story for the WTA tour. 4:31PM Halep talks It's emotional to talk as the winner. I've been waiting for this moment since I was 14. I wanted this trophy to be here in France. Many congrats to Sloane. You have done a great job after those injuries. I'm sure you'll play many more finals in the future. Good luck and take care of your body. I wish in the future to play another final here. It's my favourite one. Thank you and see you next year. 4:29PM Stephens speaks It's been an incredible couple of weeks. It's not the trophy I wanted but it's still beautiful so thank you guys. To Simona, congratulations on your first slam. There's no one else I'd rather lose to than the world No 1. 4:28PM Halep the champion The world No 1 strides on to the mini stage assembled on Philippe Chatrier to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in relief and excitement in equal measure. The national anthem of Romanian is played out while Halep embraces the trophy. 4:26PM Sanchez Vicario hands out the trophies Arantxa Sanchez Vicario has the honour of handing out the runners-up plate and Suzanne Lenglen Cup this afternoon 20 years after her last Roland Garros title. 4:23PM A first time champion at Wimbledon awaits? Tears! Honestly tears!! Congratulations @Simona_Halep .... as a former player to see this moment is heartwarming! Three in a row 1st time slam winners....Sloane, Woz and Simo. Women’s tennis is hot!!— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 4:18PM Halep embraces Cahill in the stands The French Open champion is hoisted into the stands on Philippe Chatrier to give coach Cahill a warm embrace and then cuddles her mum and dad. There isn't a more popular winner than Halep. She manages to find her way back on to the court and looks to the sunny skies in thanks. The monkey is finally off her back. Simonaaaaa! You did it. So happy for you. Enjoy every second. You deserve this moment so much ��❤️ #RG18— Petra Kvitova (@Petra_Kvitova) June 9, 2018 4:16PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 Stephens* Here we go then. Halep lets out a deep sigh at winning the first point. But then nervously strikes long when well placed. A timely ace, her first of the match, is just what the doctor and her psychologist ordered but Stephens reels her in again for 30-all. Halep waits an age for a big overhead clearance to land. Halep stays strong to thwack a smash home and brings up championship point. She takes it. Stephens slaps a service return into the net. Halep has finally, finally won her first grand slam. Well done Simona. Her coach Darren Cahill can't quite believe it. He puts his hands on his head. Halep can't comprehend it either, placing both hands covering her face briefly before soaking up the adulation. GAME, SET AND MATCH: HALEP WINS FRENCH OPEN WITH 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 VICTORY OVER STEPHENS. 4:11PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 5-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh dear, dear. Stephens' level has dropped massively as she hands a free point for Halep for 0-30. She digs deep, fighting back for 30-all and then wins a third straight point with a backhand into the corner. Halep won't allow Stephens of a free game this set and draws back to deuce. Stephens swings a volley into the corner to edge to game point and as the clock passes the two-hour mark, Stephens finally gets on the board this set. 4:04PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 5-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Too many errors from Stephens now as Halep keeping her foot on the gas. She holds to 15. Stephens faces an uphill battle to get back into proceedings Credit: AP 4:02PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 4-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens looking exacerbated now as a failed drop shot lands lamely at the net. The unforced errors are creeping up for the American while Halep's dogged style is taking the Romanian closer to a first title. The 10th seed isn't ready yet to give up the fight as she digs in with a cross court winner for 30-15. But Halep isn't giving her rival any free points and making her work for everything and the errors still come. Halep misreads a slower second serve to miss a chance to set up break point but then hits an unbelievable backhand winner cross court which gets the crowd on Philippe Chatrier purring again. We're back to deuce. Halep gets a slice of luck with a clip of the tape to throw Stephens at the net. The American reacts, gets her racket on the high ball but can't get her return in the court. Halep has another break point here. Stephens pushes Halep to all corners again and how does the Romanian even stay in this incredible point? Both players advance to net, Halep managing to get an overhead and finally finding space to push home the winner. HALEP BREAKS. 3:55PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 3-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens trying to gee herself up by slapping her thigh trailing 30-0. The physical pep talk has worked in the short term, winning the next two points. Halep is more aggressive on the next point and the low ball is difficult for Stephens to retrieve. And at game point another lengthy rally ensues and Stephens blinks first. 'That's a play', shouts Bartoli in the ITV studio again. We know which way Bartoli wants this final to play out. 36 64 30 �� Halep has kept her head. She has kept her aggression. She has not gone away. And now she is amazingly 12 points from the title!���� #RG18pic.twitter.com/ZvL2ZtDDvP— Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) June 9, 2018 3:50PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 2-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Superb ball-striking from both players again as Stephens just misses a forehand when she was making them regularly during the first set. Pressure now as Halep moves to 15-30 up but Stephens keeps calm this time to deliver a brilliant forehand winner cross court. That was a big point. And here's a bigger one now. Stephens can't make a first serve. She gets a second one in but then throws in a sloppy forehand. Her level has massively dropped. Halep, break point now. She takes it. A punched deep forehand is too much for Stephens to get back. The momentum is all with Halep. HALEP BREAKS. 3:45PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 1-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Both players left the court at the end of the second set and we're into unchartered territory now as all seven of their head-to-heads haven't gone the distance before. All three of Halep's last grand slam finals went into a decider. At the start of the third and that break in action has worked to Stephens' advantage as she moves to 0-30. A brilliant backhand winner down the line draws Halep back to 30-all and nerves get the better of Stephens on the next point as she strikes long. Despite great defensive play from the 10th seed, Halep stays strong to see out the game. Sloane Stephens’ adjustment steps have slowed— bad sign when your opponent in the third set is Simona Halep. What a match @rolandgarros— Gerry Marzorati (@marzoTennis) June 9, 2018 3:36PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep stays positive, switching play from corner to corner and biding her time from the baseline. She gets a let off when Halep makes one stretch out wide and looks on as Stephens sends a forehand into the tramlines for 15-30. Stephens clenches her fist as a Halep groundstroke lands long. But she can't back it up as Halep's power and pace proves too hard to deal with. Halep brings up set point. And she takes it as Stephens hits into the tramlines. HALEP WINS SECOND SET TO LEVEL THE MATCH. 3:31PM Halep 3-6, 5-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep throws Stephens off balance by taking a forehand early and catching the American out on the baseline. Stephens stays strong during the next point, firing deep, so deep at the lines and piling further pressure on Halep at 30-all. Halep takes advantage as a ball rears up off the clay and takes the pace off Stephens' reply. Halep is on the short ball in a flash, striking a volley into the corner. Halep moves Stephens side-to-side before unleashing the winner and crucially Halep edges back in front this set. Halep battles against Stephens Credit: AFP 3:27PM Halep* 3-6, 4-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep looks to her corner with her arms extended out wide at missing one groundstroke. Stephens sends down her first ace of the match to establish a 30-0 advantage and then watches as Halep pushes long. That last game might be playing on the world No 1's mind. Stephens misses two game points, the second missing the line with a backhand. But she outlasts Halep during the next rally and we're back level for the set. 3:22PM Halep 3-6, 4-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens has woken back into action. A floating forehand on the line takes her to three break points and when Halep pushes long, we're back on serve this set. Halep will be kicking herself. That was lost far too quickly. STEPHENS BREAKS. 3:20PM Halep* 3-6, 4-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens stops the rot as she watches a Halep forehand land wide. The world No 1 stays focused on Stephens' backhand, whipping forehands out of the American's reach. Stephens digs deep for 30-all but then floats a tired groundstroke into the middle to hand Halep another break point. Another unforced error from Stephens hands Halep a second break this set. How quickly this match has turned. HALEP BREAKS. 3:15PM Halep 3-6, 3-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens' concentration levels have taken a hit. The momentum has shifted, Halep winning 10 of their last 11 points. Stephens' range is off now, a couple of unforced errors allowing Halep of edging ahead this set. Too soon? Wikipedia already has Sloane winning: https://t.co/yLIoTSBndh— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 9, 2018 3:12PM Halep* 3-6, 2-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Marion Bartoli on the ITV commentary is struggling with impartiality this afternoon. 'Go, go, go, go, go' she cries in encouragement to Halep to rush the net. The Romanian's revival gathers pace moving to 0-30 and drawing the American into an error. Now she has three break points this game to draw level this set. And she makes it as Stephens drags a forehand into the tramlines. HALEP BREAKS. 3:08PM Halep 3-6, 1-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens gives one mark a serious look as Halep edges to 30-15 and is finally starting to hurt the American will some deep hitting and solid net play. The Romanian's best chance is to cut short the points and rush the net where possible. A forehand down the line sets Halep up for moving into court and she duly dispatches the volley. Great play Halep. Halep keeps fighting against Stephens Credit: Getty Images 3:05PM Halep* 3-6, 0-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A drop in concentration now from Stephens as Halep moves to 0-30. Stephens composes herself passing Halep at the net and then getting a bit of fortune with a mishit forehand that lands flush on the line. Halep's head drops. From 30-0 down, Stephens completes the comeback with four straight points. That will hurt Halep. This performance from Sloane Stephens in a Slam final is the equal of those from all-time greats like Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova and Rafael Nadal. That good.— David Law (@DavidLawTennis) June 9, 2018 3:01PM Halep 3-6, 0-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep will be praying that Stephens' level drops soon. But it isn't. The American continues to work her magic, spraying unbelievable winners. One backhand down the line brings up two break points. She misses the first with a backhand error. Halep delivers a crucial first serve to blot the second. But Stephens has a third bite of the cherry now. Halep whips a forehand winner down the line to keep Stephens waiting. The American doesn't mind waiting. She's the patient kind. She demonstrates her ability to draw winners from all acute angles by setting up break point No 4 and this time she cheekily goes for a high ball as Halep moves into the net. The Romanian gets her racket to the ball but it flies wide. Stephens is playing unbelievable tennis. Why now? Halep must be thinking. Why now. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:53PM Halep* 3-6 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens' footwork behind the baseline and effortlessness moving side-to-side is mesmorising. Halep is finding the corners, but Stephens is retrieving everything thrown at her and asking further questions of Halep. One punching forehand flashes cross court at a zippy 90 mph for 30-15 but she blinks first during the next lengthy rally. Now she is breathing heavily as she lines up for her next service rotation. Halep toys with Stephens as another rally ensues, chasing down a drop shot and delivering her own drop which Stephens can't retrieve. It's a first break point for Halep. Anxiousness appears to get the better of her. She stands rigid in disbelief at missing that chance. Stephens composes herself to get back on track with decent serving to bring up set point. She takes it as her power is again too much for the world No 1. STEPHENS WINS THE FIRST SET 6-3 2:47PM Halep 3-5 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep working hard for every point and building some rhythm on her serve now. A strong hold to 30, the world No 1 steps into a short return to deliver her own forehand winner. More cries of 'Si-mon-a' ring round Chatrier. Stephens will be serving for the set. 2:43PM Halep* 2-5 Stephens (*denotes next server) A poorly-executed drop shot from Stephens coupled with sound defensive play behind the baseline work Halep to 15-30. Stephens runs round a backhand to strike a powerful forehand and deceives the world No 1 who anticipated Stephens going down the line at game point, only to be watch Stephens strike a forehand winner cross court. @SloaneStephens power AND her topspin is hurting Simo ... their movement is incredible but Sloane’s power is the difference and will be throughout. Only chance Simo has is if Sloane gets tight.— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 Stephens in fantastic form at the start of the opening set Credit: Reuters 2:38PM Halep 2-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Wow. Just when Halep looks to be in control of a rally, Stephens finds a winner at such a cute angle. It draws the American to 30-all and keeps the heat on Halep. The world No 1 isn't playing badly, but Stephens is hitting the lines quite perfectly so far. Halep makes an important hold when Stephens makes an uncharacteristic unforced error. 2:34PM Halep* 1-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh. My. Word! Halep is quite brilliant, brilliant terrier. She makes two ridiculous gets out wide which she has no right to retrieve to send everything back but then strikes an unforced error into the net. She stares down the net in disbelief. At 40-15 Halep fires a winner down the line and looks if to say 'is this what I have to do just to win a point?' Stephens, in true smoking a cigar, feet up style, gets over the night to cement the break. Women's final so far = (fire emoji)(fire emoji)(fire emoji).#RG18— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 9, 2018 2:29PM Halep 1-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Some fantastic tennis being played by both women now, working each other from side to side and creating the space to go for the kill. Halep moves into the court for the first time, smashing a sublime overhead deep into the corner for 30-all. But Stephens has some zip on a second service return to throw Halep at the baseline. It brings up a first break point for Stephens. And she makes it. Stephens does brilliantly to switch the play from down the line to cross court and it forces Halep to strike the middle. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:23PM Halep* 1-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A couple of long forehands from Halep allow Stephens to progress to 40-15. But the swirling wind is causing problems for both players and the American pushes one groundstroke behind the line to allow Halep to hang around in the game. The 10th seed stays on the front foot during the next rally and draws another error from Halep's forehand. It remains on serve. 2:19PM Halep 1-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Beautiful ball-striking from Stephens as the American strikes a clean forehand winner down the line after moving Halep at the baseline to create an opening. It's effortless from Stephens as she draws Halep wide to draw level at 30-all. Halep takes the crucial next point, relieved as Stephens' reply flies off the top of her racket. A cross court exchange during the next rally of 14 shots ends when Halep strikes into the tape. Cries of 'Simona' ring round at deuce. Stephens can't jump on a slower second serve but Halep finally holds when she outlasts Stephens during a brutal baseline duel. 2:13PM Halep* 0-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens opens up the final, watches a couple of service returns land long for 30-0. Halep drags a backhand into the tramlines but then gets a first point on the board when Stephens makes an unforced error. Stephens takes a comfortable hold with a backhand winner down the line. The American looks calm and focused early on as expected. 2:03PM Here they come Stephens, with headphones nestled in her ears, heads out to the Philippe Chatrier Court first. Halep follows and unsurprisingly draws a louder cheer from the crowd. Here she is! What Simona and Sloane are playing for today...#RG18pic.twitter.com/5Xq1GGbICc— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2018 1:56PM Getting to know Stephens Stephens' aloof and seemingly can't be bothered attitude hasn't won her too many additional followers and supporters in Paris. Our tennis correspondent Simon Briggs tweeted after Stephens' semi-final win over good friend Madison Keys that she looked like she would rather be "flossing her teeth" than giving her on-court interview. Her lack of French hasn't helped with making friends either. While many of the top level players have gone to great lengths to speak the local language at Roland Garros, Stephens has only uttered a tepid 'Merci Paris, je t'aime' in post-match discussions. Former player and American broadcaster Mary Carillo spent much time with Stephens last summer while working together at the Tennis Channel in the US. Carillo has offered a great insight into what Stephens is really like. She's not just the laid-back, unimpressed and unbothered individual she displays on the court. 1:39PM Halep's supporters Halep fans getting hyped outside Chatrier less an hour before the Women’s Final @rolandgarros ���� pic.twitter.com/uglLMFcyIl— Steve Weissman (@Steve_Weissman) June 9, 2018 1:33PM How will Halep cope with the pressure? Halep and Stephens have similar styles. Both glide around the back of the court, have an abundance of stamina and can switch from defence into attack. The biggest question mark hanging over Halep is the scar tissue of those defeats. When she came from a set down to beat Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals, Halep pointed her finger at her temple. She still has moments of anxiety and self doubt, but by and large she is starting to fix some of her self-inflicted issues. "She deals much better with pressure," 1978 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici who is also Halep's manager and the only woman from Romania to win a major. "The fact that she became No 1 has given her a different dimension, a different stature. She really deals with things better. Psychologically, she's also much better. ... And now she wants to win a Grand Slam. And now she says it. "Before, she didn't dare say it. Now she says it: 'I want to win a Grand Slam.'" Simona Halep, head in the game#RG18#Gettypic.twitter.com/70PQx2eI27— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 6, 2018 1:16PM Flashback to 2008 Halep shouldn't concern herself with the three grand slam finals lost but look back on a happy time when she was lifting the winners' trophy. Ten years ago, as ninth seed Halep won the junior girls' title beating compatriot Elena Bogdan in three sets. If the world No 1 prevails today, she would become the sixth player to win the women's singles title in Paris after winning the girls' title. The other five, you ask? Francoise Durr, Mima Jausovec, Hana Mandlikova, Jennifer Capriati and Justine Henin. Halep won the girls' title in Paris back in 2008 Credit: Getty Images 12:38PM Stephens' impeccable finals record Halep won't need reminding of Stephens' record in tournament finals. The American has proved herself a big-game player, most prominently during her charge to last year's US Open final where she became an unlikely champion so soon after returning from an 11-month injury lay-off. The 25-year-old's victory in Miami back in early April, was her sixth straight win from six finals. Of her impeccable form in finals, Stephens said in the lead up to today's showdown: "There is no formula. I didn't, like, try to do it. I'm not trying to break a record. It's just how it's happened for me." Halep has a mixed bag of results when it comes to finals - albeit competing in a far higher number than her rival. Stephens has won all six of her tournament finals Credit: Getty Images The Romanian is 16-14 overall but her experience hasn't helped her get over the line in the last 12 months. Halep has lost finals in Paris, Cincinnati, Beijing, Melbourne and Rome. Her only success was a smaller tournament in Shenzhen at the start of the year. Halep's 'always the bridesmaid never the bride' story makes her a favourite with neutral fans who are desperate to see the wounded 26-year-old put some painful defeats behind her and write a new chapter of positivity and success moving forward. 10:45AM And then there were two... Welcome all to coverage of the women's final at Roland Garros where Simona Halep looks to fulfil a career ambition of ending her grand slam drought by overcoming last year's US Open champion Sloane Stephens. Halep is well versed in the occasion of reaching the latter stages of a major, especially in Paris where she has won through to the final two other times in 2014 and last year, only to suffer defeat to Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko. This afternoon she must defy the brilliance and athleticism of American Stephens, who will be competing in her first final at Roland Garros, in order to get her hands on the Suzanne Lenglen cup. While the crowd are likely to get behind the world No 1 Halep, Stephens' nerveless approach to her game could prove a tough obstacle to clear. The Romanian has a superior head-to-head advantage, winning five of their seven battles - including winning all four of their last encounters. In fact Halep saw off the 10th seed Stephens during her run to the French Open final in 2014. If today's match goes to a third set, it will be the first time a decider has been required to determine the outcome of their battles. Who will you be supporting this afternoon and how do you see the final playing out? Vote in the poll below and send your thoughts to me at vicki.hodges@telegraph.co.uk
Simona Halep fights back from set and break down to end grand slam drought in Paris
World No 1 Simona Halep finally broke her grand-slam jinx at Roland Garros, producing an unforgettable comeback to burn past the reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens on the home straight. The fans in Paris had watched Halep come up just short of the title here twice before, and they have developed a warm relationship with her. Court Philippe Chatrier was rocking in the third set as Halep pulled away, producing some absurd recovery shots to exhaust the waning Stephens further. At the close of her 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win, Halep accepted a leg-up from a courtside official and climbed up to her player box, where she embraced the three men who have stood consistently at her side through her climb up the world rankings: physio Andrei Cristofor, fitness trainer Teo Cercel and coach Darren Cahill. As the Telegraph reported, in a pre-tournament interview with Halep: “I have people around me who are friends and I feel like they are there forever.” This comeback was surely all the sweeter because Halep was thoroughly outplayed in the opening set. Stephens was so smooth and so resourceful, mixing booming topspin with flatter, faster strikes in a way that made her look – for 40 minutes or so – virtually unbeatable. The apparent rout continued into the early stages of the second, as Stephens broke again to lead 6-3, 2-0. The scoreline then was curiously similar to the lead that Halep had held over Jelena Ostapenko here 12 months ago. Halep celebrates winning the French Open Credit: AP Halep wound up as the frustrated party that day, backing off at just the wrong moment and allowing the free-swinging Ostapenko to surge to a shock win. But she is never more dangerous than when she is trailing, because that is when she loosens up and starts playing like a woman with nothing to lose. “I thought ‘Everything is gone. I just have to relax,’” said Halep afterwards, grinning her way through her on-court interview, as she remembered the key moment. The switch was partly spiritual, as she tapped into her deepest wells of tenacity. But it was also tactical, as she decided to use the whole area of the court for the first time, darting forward to the net whenever Stephens was pushed into deep defence. Commentating for ITV, the former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli began yelling: “That’s the play! That’s the play!” whenever Halep put away a winning volley. There is a huge amount of warmth towards Halep around the sport, as she conducts herself with real class at all times. If Halep found her best self in her moment of crisis, Stephens began to show signs of weariness. The match was only an hour old but Halep was setting a demanding pace and giving fewer and fewer freebies away as the match wore on. No fewer than 55 rallies exceeded nine shots, more than a third of the total points, which is an unusually high figure. The average speed of Stephens’ forehand, which had been doing so much damage, dropped from 77mph in the first set to 70mph in the second. Halep came from a set and break down to end Stephens' 100 per cent record in finals Credit: AFP The third set might look like a non-event on the scorecard but some of the rallies were extraordinary. And none more so than the point Halep won to go a double break ahead at 4-0. This was a 16-shot extravaganza in which she had to dig out a couple of desperate retrievals from the back of the court, then sprint up to the net to dink back a drop-shot, and finally backpedal to make that most awkward of putaways, the backhand overhead. When she finally edged Stephens out in that one, the usually sphinx-like Cahill jumped up off his seat and punched the air in the most uncharacteristic manner. Stephens would win only eight more points from that moment, as Halep finally finished the job with an unreturned serve, dropped her racket and put her hands over her face. Considering what she has been through to reach this point, she was surprisingly restrained in her celebrations, although she spoke eloquently afterwards. “I felt your support,” said Halep told the crowd, as she spoke to Bartoli afterwards. “In the last game I felt that I could not breathe any more, so I just tried not to repeat the last year. I did everything I could. It’s amazing what is happening now. Honestly I can’t believe it. I have been dreaming of this moment since I started to play tennis. I’m really happy that it’s happened in Roland Garros in Paris, my special city.” Halep has loved playing here ever since she won the junior event in 2008. She also took the time out to namecheck her compatriot Virginia Ruzici, who won the French Open 40 years ago and was watching from the stands. Halep won the junior title in 2008 Credit: AFP Messages of congratulation were now flooding in on social media from rivals like Petra Kvitova and Johanna Konta. Later Martina Navratilova – who recently hinted that she will be returning to Wimbledon for the BBC this summer on improved terms – would come up with a neat summation. “It wasn’t a monkey off her back; this was an 800lb gorilla.” The upshot is that this was the seventh straight women’s grand slam with a different winner. The tour is certainly open at the moment, after a sequence that began with Angelique Kerber in New York two years ago and continued through Serena Williams, Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and now Halep. Stephens shakes Halep's hand after losing the final Credit: AFP The one thing we are still waiting for is for anyone to show that they can put a sequence of results together to match what Williams and some of her 2000s rivals – the likes of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin – achieved at their peak. Yet if a straightforward narrative is hard to pull out of this unpredictable string of results, the women keep on throwing up quality matches, while the men have not produced an outstanding major tournament since Melbourne last year. In final analysis, Halep’s heartwarming victory was another good-news story for the WTA tour. 4:31PM Halep talks It's emotional to talk as the winner. I've been waiting for this moment since I was 14. I wanted this trophy to be here in France. Many congrats to Sloane. You have done a great job after those injuries. I'm sure you'll play many more finals in the future. Good luck and take care of your body. I wish in the future to play another final here. It's my favourite one. Thank you and see you next year. 4:29PM Stephens speaks It's been an incredible couple of weeks. It's not the trophy I wanted but it's still beautiful so thank you guys. To Simona, congratulations on your first slam. There's no one else I'd rather lose to than the world No 1. 4:28PM Halep the champion The world No 1 strides on to the mini stage assembled on Philippe Chatrier to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in relief and excitement in equal measure. The national anthem of Romanian is played out while Halep embraces the trophy. 4:26PM Sanchez Vicario hands out the trophies Arantxa Sanchez Vicario has the honour of handing out the runners-up plate and Suzanne Lenglen Cup this afternoon 20 years after her last Roland Garros title. 4:23PM A first time champion at Wimbledon awaits? Tears! Honestly tears!! Congratulations @Simona_Halep .... as a former player to see this moment is heartwarming! Three in a row 1st time slam winners....Sloane, Woz and Simo. Women’s tennis is hot!!— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 4:18PM Halep embraces Cahill in the stands The French Open champion is hoisted into the stands on Philippe Chatrier to give coach Cahill a warm embrace and then cuddles her mum and dad. There isn't a more popular winner than Halep. She manages to find her way back on to the court and looks to the sunny skies in thanks. The monkey is finally off her back. Simonaaaaa! You did it. So happy for you. Enjoy every second. You deserve this moment so much ��❤️ #RG18— Petra Kvitova (@Petra_Kvitova) June 9, 2018 4:16PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 Stephens* Here we go then. Halep lets out a deep sigh at winning the first point. But then nervously strikes long when well placed. A timely ace, her first of the match, is just what the doctor and her psychologist ordered but Stephens reels her in again for 30-all. Halep waits an age for a big overhead clearance to land. Halep stays strong to thwack a smash home and brings up championship point. She takes it. Stephens slaps a service return into the net. Halep has finally, finally won her first grand slam. Well done Simona. Her coach Darren Cahill can't quite believe it. He puts his hands on his head. Halep can't comprehend it either, placing both hands covering her face briefly before soaking up the adulation. GAME, SET AND MATCH: HALEP WINS FRENCH OPEN WITH 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 VICTORY OVER STEPHENS. 4:11PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 5-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh dear, dear. Stephens' level has dropped massively as she hands a free point for Halep for 0-30. She digs deep, fighting back for 30-all and then wins a third straight point with a backhand into the corner. Halep won't allow Stephens of a free game this set and draws back to deuce. Stephens swings a volley into the corner to edge to game point and as the clock passes the two-hour mark, Stephens finally gets on the board this set. 4:04PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 5-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Too many errors from Stephens now as Halep keeping her foot on the gas. She holds to 15. Stephens faces an uphill battle to get back into proceedings Credit: AP 4:02PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 4-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens looking exacerbated now as a failed drop shot lands lamely at the net. The unforced errors are creeping up for the American while Halep's dogged style is taking the Romanian closer to a first title. The 10th seed isn't ready yet to give up the fight as she digs in with a cross court winner for 30-15. But Halep isn't giving her rival any free points and making her work for everything and the errors still come. Halep misreads a slower second serve to miss a chance to set up break point but then hits an unbelievable backhand winner cross court which gets the crowd on Philippe Chatrier purring again. We're back to deuce. Halep gets a slice of luck with a clip of the tape to throw Stephens at the net. The American reacts, gets her racket on the high ball but can't get her return in the court. Halep has another break point here. Stephens pushes Halep to all corners again and how does the Romanian even stay in this incredible point? Both players advance to net, Halep managing to get an overhead and finally finding space to push home the winner. HALEP BREAKS. 3:55PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 3-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens trying to gee herself up by slapping her thigh trailing 30-0. The physical pep talk has worked in the short term, winning the next two points. Halep is more aggressive on the next point and the low ball is difficult for Stephens to retrieve. And at game point another lengthy rally ensues and Stephens blinks first. 'That's a play', shouts Bartoli in the ITV studio again. We know which way Bartoli wants this final to play out. 36 64 30 �� Halep has kept her head. She has kept her aggression. She has not gone away. And now she is amazingly 12 points from the title!���� #RG18pic.twitter.com/ZvL2ZtDDvP— Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) June 9, 2018 3:50PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 2-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Superb ball-striking from both players again as Stephens just misses a forehand when she was making them regularly during the first set. Pressure now as Halep moves to 15-30 up but Stephens keeps calm this time to deliver a brilliant forehand winner cross court. That was a big point. And here's a bigger one now. Stephens can't make a first serve. She gets a second one in but then throws in a sloppy forehand. Her level has massively dropped. Halep, break point now. She takes it. A punched deep forehand is too much for Stephens to get back. The momentum is all with Halep. HALEP BREAKS. 3:45PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 1-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Both players left the court at the end of the second set and we're into unchartered territory now as all seven of their head-to-heads haven't gone the distance before. All three of Halep's last grand slam finals went into a decider. At the start of the third and that break in action has worked to Stephens' advantage as she moves to 0-30. A brilliant backhand winner down the line draws Halep back to 30-all and nerves get the better of Stephens on the next point as she strikes long. Despite great defensive play from the 10th seed, Halep stays strong to see out the game. Sloane Stephens’ adjustment steps have slowed— bad sign when your opponent in the third set is Simona Halep. What a match @rolandgarros— Gerry Marzorati (@marzoTennis) June 9, 2018 3:36PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep stays positive, switching play from corner to corner and biding her time from the baseline. She gets a let off when Halep makes one stretch out wide and looks on as Stephens sends a forehand into the tramlines for 15-30. Stephens clenches her fist as a Halep groundstroke lands long. But she can't back it up as Halep's power and pace proves too hard to deal with. Halep brings up set point. And she takes it as Stephens hits into the tramlines. HALEP WINS SECOND SET TO LEVEL THE MATCH. 3:31PM Halep 3-6, 5-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep throws Stephens off balance by taking a forehand early and catching the American out on the baseline. Stephens stays strong during the next point, firing deep, so deep at the lines and piling further pressure on Halep at 30-all. Halep takes advantage as a ball rears up off the clay and takes the pace off Stephens' reply. Halep is on the short ball in a flash, striking a volley into the corner. Halep moves Stephens side-to-side before unleashing the winner and crucially Halep edges back in front this set. Halep battles against Stephens Credit: AFP 3:27PM Halep* 3-6, 4-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep looks to her corner with her arms extended out wide at missing one groundstroke. Stephens sends down her first ace of the match to establish a 30-0 advantage and then watches as Halep pushes long. That last game might be playing on the world No 1's mind. Stephens misses two game points, the second missing the line with a backhand. But she outlasts Halep during the next rally and we're back level for the set. 3:22PM Halep 3-6, 4-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens has woken back into action. A floating forehand on the line takes her to three break points and when Halep pushes long, we're back on serve this set. Halep will be kicking herself. That was lost far too quickly. STEPHENS BREAKS. 3:20PM Halep* 3-6, 4-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens stops the rot as she watches a Halep forehand land wide. The world No 1 stays focused on Stephens' backhand, whipping forehands out of the American's reach. Stephens digs deep for 30-all but then floats a tired groundstroke into the middle to hand Halep another break point. Another unforced error from Stephens hands Halep a second break this set. How quickly this match has turned. HALEP BREAKS. 3:15PM Halep 3-6, 3-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens' concentration levels have taken a hit. The momentum has shifted, Halep winning 10 of their last 11 points. Stephens' range is off now, a couple of unforced errors allowing Halep of edging ahead this set. Too soon? Wikipedia already has Sloane winning: https://t.co/yLIoTSBndh— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 9, 2018 3:12PM Halep* 3-6, 2-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Marion Bartoli on the ITV commentary is struggling with impartiality this afternoon. 'Go, go, go, go, go' she cries in encouragement to Halep to rush the net. The Romanian's revival gathers pace moving to 0-30 and drawing the American into an error. Now she has three break points this game to draw level this set. And she makes it as Stephens drags a forehand into the tramlines. HALEP BREAKS. 3:08PM Halep 3-6, 1-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens gives one mark a serious look as Halep edges to 30-15 and is finally starting to hurt the American will some deep hitting and solid net play. The Romanian's best chance is to cut short the points and rush the net where possible. A forehand down the line sets Halep up for moving into court and she duly dispatches the volley. Great play Halep. Halep keeps fighting against Stephens Credit: Getty Images 3:05PM Halep* 3-6, 0-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A drop in concentration now from Stephens as Halep moves to 0-30. Stephens composes herself passing Halep at the net and then getting a bit of fortune with a mishit forehand that lands flush on the line. Halep's head drops. From 30-0 down, Stephens completes the comeback with four straight points. That will hurt Halep. This performance from Sloane Stephens in a Slam final is the equal of those from all-time greats like Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova and Rafael Nadal. That good.— David Law (@DavidLawTennis) June 9, 2018 3:01PM Halep 3-6, 0-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep will be praying that Stephens' level drops soon. But it isn't. The American continues to work her magic, spraying unbelievable winners. One backhand down the line brings up two break points. She misses the first with a backhand error. Halep delivers a crucial first serve to blot the second. But Stephens has a third bite of the cherry now. Halep whips a forehand winner down the line to keep Stephens waiting. The American doesn't mind waiting. She's the patient kind. She demonstrates her ability to draw winners from all acute angles by setting up break point No 4 and this time she cheekily goes for a high ball as Halep moves into the net. The Romanian gets her racket to the ball but it flies wide. Stephens is playing unbelievable tennis. Why now? Halep must be thinking. Why now. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:53PM Halep* 3-6 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens' footwork behind the baseline and effortlessness moving side-to-side is mesmorising. Halep is finding the corners, but Stephens is retrieving everything thrown at her and asking further questions of Halep. One punching forehand flashes cross court at a zippy 90 mph for 30-15 but she blinks first during the next lengthy rally. Now she is breathing heavily as she lines up for her next service rotation. Halep toys with Stephens as another rally ensues, chasing down a drop shot and delivering her own drop which Stephens can't retrieve. It's a first break point for Halep. Anxiousness appears to get the better of her. She stands rigid in disbelief at missing that chance. Stephens composes herself to get back on track with decent serving to bring up set point. She takes it as her power is again too much for the world No 1. STEPHENS WINS THE FIRST SET 6-3 2:47PM Halep 3-5 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep working hard for every point and building some rhythm on her serve now. A strong hold to 30, the world No 1 steps into a short return to deliver her own forehand winner. More cries of 'Si-mon-a' ring round Chatrier. Stephens will be serving for the set. 2:43PM Halep* 2-5 Stephens (*denotes next server) A poorly-executed drop shot from Stephens coupled with sound defensive play behind the baseline work Halep to 15-30. Stephens runs round a backhand to strike a powerful forehand and deceives the world No 1 who anticipated Stephens going down the line at game point, only to be watch Stephens strike a forehand winner cross court. @SloaneStephens power AND her topspin is hurting Simo ... their movement is incredible but Sloane’s power is the difference and will be throughout. Only chance Simo has is if Sloane gets tight.— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 Stephens in fantastic form at the start of the opening set Credit: Reuters 2:38PM Halep 2-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Wow. Just when Halep looks to be in control of a rally, Stephens finds a winner at such a cute angle. It draws the American to 30-all and keeps the heat on Halep. The world No 1 isn't playing badly, but Stephens is hitting the lines quite perfectly so far. Halep makes an important hold when Stephens makes an uncharacteristic unforced error. 2:34PM Halep* 1-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh. My. Word! Halep is quite brilliant, brilliant terrier. She makes two ridiculous gets out wide which she has no right to retrieve to send everything back but then strikes an unforced error into the net. She stares down the net in disbelief. At 40-15 Halep fires a winner down the line and looks if to say 'is this what I have to do just to win a point?' Stephens, in true smoking a cigar, feet up style, gets over the night to cement the break. Women's final so far = (fire emoji)(fire emoji)(fire emoji).#RG18— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 9, 2018 2:29PM Halep 1-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Some fantastic tennis being played by both women now, working each other from side to side and creating the space to go for the kill. Halep moves into the court for the first time, smashing a sublime overhead deep into the corner for 30-all. But Stephens has some zip on a second service return to throw Halep at the baseline. It brings up a first break point for Stephens. And she makes it. Stephens does brilliantly to switch the play from down the line to cross court and it forces Halep to strike the middle. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:23PM Halep* 1-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A couple of long forehands from Halep allow Stephens to progress to 40-15. But the swirling wind is causing problems for both players and the American pushes one groundstroke behind the line to allow Halep to hang around in the game. The 10th seed stays on the front foot during the next rally and draws another error from Halep's forehand. It remains on serve. 2:19PM Halep 1-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Beautiful ball-striking from Stephens as the American strikes a clean forehand winner down the line after moving Halep at the baseline to create an opening. It's effortless from Stephens as she draws Halep wide to draw level at 30-all. Halep takes the crucial next point, relieved as Stephens' reply flies off the top of her racket. A cross court exchange during the next rally of 14 shots ends when Halep strikes into the tape. Cries of 'Simona' ring round at deuce. Stephens can't jump on a slower second serve but Halep finally holds when she outlasts Stephens during a brutal baseline duel. 2:13PM Halep* 0-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens opens up the final, watches a couple of service returns land long for 30-0. Halep drags a backhand into the tramlines but then gets a first point on the board when Stephens makes an unforced error. Stephens takes a comfortable hold with a backhand winner down the line. The American looks calm and focused early on as expected. 2:03PM Here they come Stephens, with headphones nestled in her ears, heads out to the Philippe Chatrier Court first. Halep follows and unsurprisingly draws a louder cheer from the crowd. Here she is! What Simona and Sloane are playing for today...#RG18pic.twitter.com/5Xq1GGbICc— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2018 1:56PM Getting to know Stephens Stephens' aloof and seemingly can't be bothered attitude hasn't won her too many additional followers and supporters in Paris. Our tennis correspondent Simon Briggs tweeted after Stephens' semi-final win over good friend Madison Keys that she looked like she would rather be "flossing her teeth" than giving her on-court interview. Her lack of French hasn't helped with making friends either. While many of the top level players have gone to great lengths to speak the local language at Roland Garros, Stephens has only uttered a tepid 'Merci Paris, je t'aime' in post-match discussions. Former player and American broadcaster Mary Carillo spent much time with Stephens last summer while working together at the Tennis Channel in the US. Carillo has offered a great insight into what Stephens is really like. She's not just the laid-back, unimpressed and unbothered individual she displays on the court. 1:39PM Halep's supporters Halep fans getting hyped outside Chatrier less an hour before the Women’s Final @rolandgarros ���� pic.twitter.com/uglLMFcyIl— Steve Weissman (@Steve_Weissman) June 9, 2018 1:33PM How will Halep cope with the pressure? Halep and Stephens have similar styles. Both glide around the back of the court, have an abundance of stamina and can switch from defence into attack. The biggest question mark hanging over Halep is the scar tissue of those defeats. When she came from a set down to beat Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals, Halep pointed her finger at her temple. She still has moments of anxiety and self doubt, but by and large she is starting to fix some of her self-inflicted issues. "She deals much better with pressure," 1978 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici who is also Halep's manager and the only woman from Romania to win a major. "The fact that she became No 1 has given her a different dimension, a different stature. She really deals with things better. Psychologically, she's also much better. ... And now she wants to win a Grand Slam. And now she says it. "Before, she didn't dare say it. Now she says it: 'I want to win a Grand Slam.'" Simona Halep, head in the game#RG18#Gettypic.twitter.com/70PQx2eI27— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 6, 2018 1:16PM Flashback to 2008 Halep shouldn't concern herself with the three grand slam finals lost but look back on a happy time when she was lifting the winners' trophy. Ten years ago, as ninth seed Halep won the junior girls' title beating compatriot Elena Bogdan in three sets. If the world No 1 prevails today, she would become the sixth player to win the women's singles title in Paris after winning the girls' title. The other five, you ask? Francoise Durr, Mima Jausovec, Hana Mandlikova, Jennifer Capriati and Justine Henin. Halep won the girls' title in Paris back in 2008 Credit: Getty Images 12:38PM Stephens' impeccable finals record Halep won't need reminding of Stephens' record in tournament finals. The American has proved herself a big-game player, most prominently during her charge to last year's US Open final where she became an unlikely champion so soon after returning from an 11-month injury lay-off. The 25-year-old's victory in Miami back in early April, was her sixth straight win from six finals. Of her impeccable form in finals, Stephens said in the lead up to today's showdown: "There is no formula. I didn't, like, try to do it. I'm not trying to break a record. It's just how it's happened for me." Halep has a mixed bag of results when it comes to finals - albeit competing in a far higher number than her rival. Stephens has won all six of her tournament finals Credit: Getty Images The Romanian is 16-14 overall but her experience hasn't helped her get over the line in the last 12 months. Halep has lost finals in Paris, Cincinnati, Beijing, Melbourne and Rome. Her only success was a smaller tournament in Shenzhen at the start of the year. Halep's 'always the bridesmaid never the bride' story makes her a favourite with neutral fans who are desperate to see the wounded 26-year-old put some painful defeats behind her and write a new chapter of positivity and success moving forward. 10:45AM And then there were two... Welcome all to coverage of the women's final at Roland Garros where Simona Halep looks to fulfil a career ambition of ending her grand slam drought by overcoming last year's US Open champion Sloane Stephens. Halep is well versed in the occasion of reaching the latter stages of a major, especially in Paris where she has won through to the final two other times in 2014 and last year, only to suffer defeat to Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko. This afternoon she must defy the brilliance and athleticism of American Stephens, who will be competing in her first final at Roland Garros, in order to get her hands on the Suzanne Lenglen cup. While the crowd are likely to get behind the world No 1 Halep, Stephens' nerveless approach to her game could prove a tough obstacle to clear. The Romanian has a superior head-to-head advantage, winning five of their seven battles - including winning all four of their last encounters. In fact Halep saw off the 10th seed Stephens during her run to the French Open final in 2014. If today's match goes to a third set, it will be the first time a decider has been required to determine the outcome of their battles. Who will you be supporting this afternoon and how do you see the final playing out? Vote in the poll below and send your thoughts to me at vicki.hodges@telegraph.co.uk
World No 1 Simona Halep finally broke her grand-slam jinx at Roland Garros, producing an unforgettable comeback to burn past the reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens on the home straight. The fans in Paris had watched Halep come up just short of the title here twice before, and they have developed a warm relationship with her. Court Philippe Chatrier was rocking in the third set as Halep pulled away, producing some absurd recovery shots to exhaust the waning Stephens further. At the close of her 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win, Halep accepted a leg-up from a courtside official and climbed up to her player box, where she embraced the three men who have stood consistently at her side through her climb up the world rankings: physio Andrei Cristofor, fitness trainer Teo Cercel and coach Darren Cahill. As the Telegraph reported, in a pre-tournament interview with Halep: “I have people around me who are friends and I feel like they are there forever.” This comeback was surely all the sweeter because Halep was thoroughly outplayed in the opening set. Stephens was so smooth and so resourceful, mixing booming topspin with flatter, faster strikes in a way that made her look – for 40 minutes or so – virtually unbeatable. The apparent rout continued into the early stages of the second, as Stephens broke again to lead 6-3, 2-0. The scoreline then was curiously similar to the lead that Halep had held over Jelena Ostapenko here 12 months ago. Halep celebrates winning the French Open Credit: AP Halep wound up as the frustrated party that day, backing off at just the wrong moment and allowing the free-swinging Ostapenko to surge to a shock win. But she is never more dangerous than when she is trailing, because that is when she loosens up and starts playing like a woman with nothing to lose. “I thought ‘Everything is gone. I just have to relax,’” said Halep afterwards, grinning her way through her on-court interview, as she remembered the key moment. The switch was partly spiritual, as she tapped into her deepest wells of tenacity. But it was also tactical, as she decided to use the whole area of the court for the first time, darting forward to the net whenever Stephens was pushed into deep defence. Commentating for ITV, the former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli began yelling: “That’s the play! That’s the play!” whenever Halep put away a winning volley. There is a huge amount of warmth towards Halep around the sport, as she conducts herself with real class at all times. If Halep found her best self in her moment of crisis, Stephens began to show signs of weariness. The match was only an hour old but Halep was setting a demanding pace and giving fewer and fewer freebies away as the match wore on. No fewer than 55 rallies exceeded nine shots, more than a third of the total points, which is an unusually high figure. The average speed of Stephens’ forehand, which had been doing so much damage, dropped from 77mph in the first set to 70mph in the second. Halep came from a set and break down to end Stephens' 100 per cent record in finals Credit: AFP The third set might look like a non-event on the scorecard but some of the rallies were extraordinary. And none more so than the point Halep won to go a double break ahead at 4-0. This was a 16-shot extravaganza in which she had to dig out a couple of desperate retrievals from the back of the court, then sprint up to the net to dink back a drop-shot, and finally backpedal to make that most awkward of putaways, the backhand overhead. When she finally edged Stephens out in that one, the usually sphinx-like Cahill jumped up off his seat and punched the air in the most uncharacteristic manner. Stephens would win only eight more points from that moment, as Halep finally finished the job with an unreturned serve, dropped her racket and put her hands over her face. Considering what she has been through to reach this point, she was surprisingly restrained in her celebrations, although she spoke eloquently afterwards. “I felt your support,” said Halep told the crowd, as she spoke to Bartoli afterwards. “In the last game I felt that I could not breathe any more, so I just tried not to repeat the last year. I did everything I could. It’s amazing what is happening now. Honestly I can’t believe it. I have been dreaming of this moment since I started to play tennis. I’m really happy that it’s happened in Roland Garros in Paris, my special city.” Halep has loved playing here ever since she won the junior event in 2008. She also took the time out to namecheck her compatriot Virginia Ruzici, who won the French Open 40 years ago and was watching from the stands. Halep won the junior title in 2008 Credit: AFP Messages of congratulation were now flooding in on social media from rivals like Petra Kvitova and Johanna Konta. Later Martina Navratilova – who recently hinted that she will be returning to Wimbledon for the BBC this summer on improved terms – would come up with a neat summation. “It wasn’t a monkey off her back; this was an 800lb gorilla.” The upshot is that this was the seventh straight women’s grand slam with a different winner. The tour is certainly open at the moment, after a sequence that began with Angelique Kerber in New York two years ago and continued through Serena Williams, Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and now Halep. Stephens shakes Halep's hand after losing the final Credit: AFP The one thing we are still waiting for is for anyone to show that they can put a sequence of results together to match what Williams and some of her 2000s rivals – the likes of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin – achieved at their peak. Yet if a straightforward narrative is hard to pull out of this unpredictable string of results, the women keep on throwing up quality matches, while the men have not produced an outstanding major tournament since Melbourne last year. In final analysis, Halep’s heartwarming victory was another good-news story for the WTA tour. 4:31PM Halep talks It's emotional to talk as the winner. I've been waiting for this moment since I was 14. I wanted this trophy to be here in France. Many congrats to Sloane. You have done a great job after those injuries. I'm sure you'll play many more finals in the future. Good luck and take care of your body. I wish in the future to play another final here. It's my favourite one. Thank you and see you next year. 4:29PM Stephens speaks It's been an incredible couple of weeks. It's not the trophy I wanted but it's still beautiful so thank you guys. To Simona, congratulations on your first slam. There's no one else I'd rather lose to than the world No 1. 4:28PM Halep the champion The world No 1 strides on to the mini stage assembled on Philippe Chatrier to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in relief and excitement in equal measure. The national anthem of Romanian is played out while Halep embraces the trophy. 4:26PM Sanchez Vicario hands out the trophies Arantxa Sanchez Vicario has the honour of handing out the runners-up plate and Suzanne Lenglen Cup this afternoon 20 years after her last Roland Garros title. 4:23PM A first time champion at Wimbledon awaits? Tears! Honestly tears!! Congratulations @Simona_Halep .... as a former player to see this moment is heartwarming! Three in a row 1st time slam winners....Sloane, Woz and Simo. Women’s tennis is hot!!— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 4:18PM Halep embraces Cahill in the stands The French Open champion is hoisted into the stands on Philippe Chatrier to give coach Cahill a warm embrace and then cuddles her mum and dad. There isn't a more popular winner than Halep. She manages to find her way back on to the court and looks to the sunny skies in thanks. The monkey is finally off her back. Simonaaaaa! You did it. So happy for you. Enjoy every second. You deserve this moment so much ��❤️ #RG18— Petra Kvitova (@Petra_Kvitova) June 9, 2018 4:16PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 Stephens* Here we go then. Halep lets out a deep sigh at winning the first point. But then nervously strikes long when well placed. A timely ace, her first of the match, is just what the doctor and her psychologist ordered but Stephens reels her in again for 30-all. Halep waits an age for a big overhead clearance to land. Halep stays strong to thwack a smash home and brings up championship point. She takes it. Stephens slaps a service return into the net. Halep has finally, finally won her first grand slam. Well done Simona. Her coach Darren Cahill can't quite believe it. He puts his hands on his head. Halep can't comprehend it either, placing both hands covering her face briefly before soaking up the adulation. GAME, SET AND MATCH: HALEP WINS FRENCH OPEN WITH 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 VICTORY OVER STEPHENS. 4:11PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 5-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh dear, dear. Stephens' level has dropped massively as she hands a free point for Halep for 0-30. She digs deep, fighting back for 30-all and then wins a third straight point with a backhand into the corner. Halep won't allow Stephens of a free game this set and draws back to deuce. Stephens swings a volley into the corner to edge to game point and as the clock passes the two-hour mark, Stephens finally gets on the board this set. 4:04PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 5-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Too many errors from Stephens now as Halep keeping her foot on the gas. She holds to 15. Stephens faces an uphill battle to get back into proceedings Credit: AP 4:02PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 4-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens looking exacerbated now as a failed drop shot lands lamely at the net. The unforced errors are creeping up for the American while Halep's dogged style is taking the Romanian closer to a first title. The 10th seed isn't ready yet to give up the fight as she digs in with a cross court winner for 30-15. But Halep isn't giving her rival any free points and making her work for everything and the errors still come. Halep misreads a slower second serve to miss a chance to set up break point but then hits an unbelievable backhand winner cross court which gets the crowd on Philippe Chatrier purring again. We're back to deuce. Halep gets a slice of luck with a clip of the tape to throw Stephens at the net. The American reacts, gets her racket on the high ball but can't get her return in the court. Halep has another break point here. Stephens pushes Halep to all corners again and how does the Romanian even stay in this incredible point? Both players advance to net, Halep managing to get an overhead and finally finding space to push home the winner. HALEP BREAKS. 3:55PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 3-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens trying to gee herself up by slapping her thigh trailing 30-0. The physical pep talk has worked in the short term, winning the next two points. Halep is more aggressive on the next point and the low ball is difficult for Stephens to retrieve. And at game point another lengthy rally ensues and Stephens blinks first. 'That's a play', shouts Bartoli in the ITV studio again. We know which way Bartoli wants this final to play out. 36 64 30 �� Halep has kept her head. She has kept her aggression. She has not gone away. And now she is amazingly 12 points from the title!���� #RG18pic.twitter.com/ZvL2ZtDDvP— Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) June 9, 2018 3:50PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 2-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Superb ball-striking from both players again as Stephens just misses a forehand when she was making them regularly during the first set. Pressure now as Halep moves to 15-30 up but Stephens keeps calm this time to deliver a brilliant forehand winner cross court. That was a big point. And here's a bigger one now. Stephens can't make a first serve. She gets a second one in but then throws in a sloppy forehand. Her level has massively dropped. Halep, break point now. She takes it. A punched deep forehand is too much for Stephens to get back. The momentum is all with Halep. HALEP BREAKS. 3:45PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 1-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Both players left the court at the end of the second set and we're into unchartered territory now as all seven of their head-to-heads haven't gone the distance before. All three of Halep's last grand slam finals went into a decider. At the start of the third and that break in action has worked to Stephens' advantage as she moves to 0-30. A brilliant backhand winner down the line draws Halep back to 30-all and nerves get the better of Stephens on the next point as she strikes long. Despite great defensive play from the 10th seed, Halep stays strong to see out the game. Sloane Stephens’ adjustment steps have slowed— bad sign when your opponent in the third set is Simona Halep. What a match @rolandgarros— Gerry Marzorati (@marzoTennis) June 9, 2018 3:36PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep stays positive, switching play from corner to corner and biding her time from the baseline. She gets a let off when Halep makes one stretch out wide and looks on as Stephens sends a forehand into the tramlines for 15-30. Stephens clenches her fist as a Halep groundstroke lands long. But she can't back it up as Halep's power and pace proves too hard to deal with. Halep brings up set point. And she takes it as Stephens hits into the tramlines. HALEP WINS SECOND SET TO LEVEL THE MATCH. 3:31PM Halep 3-6, 5-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep throws Stephens off balance by taking a forehand early and catching the American out on the baseline. Stephens stays strong during the next point, firing deep, so deep at the lines and piling further pressure on Halep at 30-all. Halep takes advantage as a ball rears up off the clay and takes the pace off Stephens' reply. Halep is on the short ball in a flash, striking a volley into the corner. Halep moves Stephens side-to-side before unleashing the winner and crucially Halep edges back in front this set. Halep battles against Stephens Credit: AFP 3:27PM Halep* 3-6, 4-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep looks to her corner with her arms extended out wide at missing one groundstroke. Stephens sends down her first ace of the match to establish a 30-0 advantage and then watches as Halep pushes long. That last game might be playing on the world No 1's mind. Stephens misses two game points, the second missing the line with a backhand. But she outlasts Halep during the next rally and we're back level for the set. 3:22PM Halep 3-6, 4-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens has woken back into action. A floating forehand on the line takes her to three break points and when Halep pushes long, we're back on serve this set. Halep will be kicking herself. That was lost far too quickly. STEPHENS BREAKS. 3:20PM Halep* 3-6, 4-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens stops the rot as she watches a Halep forehand land wide. The world No 1 stays focused on Stephens' backhand, whipping forehands out of the American's reach. Stephens digs deep for 30-all but then floats a tired groundstroke into the middle to hand Halep another break point. Another unforced error from Stephens hands Halep a second break this set. How quickly this match has turned. HALEP BREAKS. 3:15PM Halep 3-6, 3-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens' concentration levels have taken a hit. The momentum has shifted, Halep winning 10 of their last 11 points. Stephens' range is off now, a couple of unforced errors allowing Halep of edging ahead this set. Too soon? Wikipedia already has Sloane winning: https://t.co/yLIoTSBndh— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 9, 2018 3:12PM Halep* 3-6, 2-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Marion Bartoli on the ITV commentary is struggling with impartiality this afternoon. 'Go, go, go, go, go' she cries in encouragement to Halep to rush the net. The Romanian's revival gathers pace moving to 0-30 and drawing the American into an error. Now she has three break points this game to draw level this set. And she makes it as Stephens drags a forehand into the tramlines. HALEP BREAKS. 3:08PM Halep 3-6, 1-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens gives one mark a serious look as Halep edges to 30-15 and is finally starting to hurt the American will some deep hitting and solid net play. The Romanian's best chance is to cut short the points and rush the net where possible. A forehand down the line sets Halep up for moving into court and she duly dispatches the volley. Great play Halep. Halep keeps fighting against Stephens Credit: Getty Images 3:05PM Halep* 3-6, 0-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A drop in concentration now from Stephens as Halep moves to 0-30. Stephens composes herself passing Halep at the net and then getting a bit of fortune with a mishit forehand that lands flush on the line. Halep's head drops. From 30-0 down, Stephens completes the comeback with four straight points. That will hurt Halep. This performance from Sloane Stephens in a Slam final is the equal of those from all-time greats like Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova and Rafael Nadal. That good.— David Law (@DavidLawTennis) June 9, 2018 3:01PM Halep 3-6, 0-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep will be praying that Stephens' level drops soon. But it isn't. The American continues to work her magic, spraying unbelievable winners. One backhand down the line brings up two break points. She misses the first with a backhand error. Halep delivers a crucial first serve to blot the second. But Stephens has a third bite of the cherry now. Halep whips a forehand winner down the line to keep Stephens waiting. The American doesn't mind waiting. She's the patient kind. She demonstrates her ability to draw winners from all acute angles by setting up break point No 4 and this time she cheekily goes for a high ball as Halep moves into the net. The Romanian gets her racket to the ball but it flies wide. Stephens is playing unbelievable tennis. Why now? Halep must be thinking. Why now. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:53PM Halep* 3-6 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens' footwork behind the baseline and effortlessness moving side-to-side is mesmorising. Halep is finding the corners, but Stephens is retrieving everything thrown at her and asking further questions of Halep. One punching forehand flashes cross court at a zippy 90 mph for 30-15 but she blinks first during the next lengthy rally. Now she is breathing heavily as she lines up for her next service rotation. Halep toys with Stephens as another rally ensues, chasing down a drop shot and delivering her own drop which Stephens can't retrieve. It's a first break point for Halep. Anxiousness appears to get the better of her. She stands rigid in disbelief at missing that chance. Stephens composes herself to get back on track with decent serving to bring up set point. She takes it as her power is again too much for the world No 1. STEPHENS WINS THE FIRST SET 6-3 2:47PM Halep 3-5 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep working hard for every point and building some rhythm on her serve now. A strong hold to 30, the world No 1 steps into a short return to deliver her own forehand winner. More cries of 'Si-mon-a' ring round Chatrier. Stephens will be serving for the set. 2:43PM Halep* 2-5 Stephens (*denotes next server) A poorly-executed drop shot from Stephens coupled with sound defensive play behind the baseline work Halep to 15-30. Stephens runs round a backhand to strike a powerful forehand and deceives the world No 1 who anticipated Stephens going down the line at game point, only to be watch Stephens strike a forehand winner cross court. @SloaneStephens power AND her topspin is hurting Simo ... their movement is incredible but Sloane’s power is the difference and will be throughout. Only chance Simo has is if Sloane gets tight.— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 Stephens in fantastic form at the start of the opening set Credit: Reuters 2:38PM Halep 2-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Wow. Just when Halep looks to be in control of a rally, Stephens finds a winner at such a cute angle. It draws the American to 30-all and keeps the heat on Halep. The world No 1 isn't playing badly, but Stephens is hitting the lines quite perfectly so far. Halep makes an important hold when Stephens makes an uncharacteristic unforced error. 2:34PM Halep* 1-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh. My. Word! Halep is quite brilliant, brilliant terrier. She makes two ridiculous gets out wide which she has no right to retrieve to send everything back but then strikes an unforced error into the net. She stares down the net in disbelief. At 40-15 Halep fires a winner down the line and looks if to say 'is this what I have to do just to win a point?' Stephens, in true smoking a cigar, feet up style, gets over the night to cement the break. Women's final so far = (fire emoji)(fire emoji)(fire emoji).#RG18— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 9, 2018 2:29PM Halep 1-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Some fantastic tennis being played by both women now, working each other from side to side and creating the space to go for the kill. Halep moves into the court for the first time, smashing a sublime overhead deep into the corner for 30-all. But Stephens has some zip on a second service return to throw Halep at the baseline. It brings up a first break point for Stephens. And she makes it. Stephens does brilliantly to switch the play from down the line to cross court and it forces Halep to strike the middle. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:23PM Halep* 1-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A couple of long forehands from Halep allow Stephens to progress to 40-15. But the swirling wind is causing problems for both players and the American pushes one groundstroke behind the line to allow Halep to hang around in the game. The 10th seed stays on the front foot during the next rally and draws another error from Halep's forehand. It remains on serve. 2:19PM Halep 1-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Beautiful ball-striking from Stephens as the American strikes a clean forehand winner down the line after moving Halep at the baseline to create an opening. It's effortless from Stephens as she draws Halep wide to draw level at 30-all. Halep takes the crucial next point, relieved as Stephens' reply flies off the top of her racket. A cross court exchange during the next rally of 14 shots ends when Halep strikes into the tape. Cries of 'Simona' ring round at deuce. Stephens can't jump on a slower second serve but Halep finally holds when she outlasts Stephens during a brutal baseline duel. 2:13PM Halep* 0-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens opens up the final, watches a couple of service returns land long for 30-0. Halep drags a backhand into the tramlines but then gets a first point on the board when Stephens makes an unforced error. Stephens takes a comfortable hold with a backhand winner down the line. The American looks calm and focused early on as expected. 2:03PM Here they come Stephens, with headphones nestled in her ears, heads out to the Philippe Chatrier Court first. Halep follows and unsurprisingly draws a louder cheer from the crowd. Here she is! What Simona and Sloane are playing for today...#RG18pic.twitter.com/5Xq1GGbICc— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2018 1:56PM Getting to know Stephens Stephens' aloof and seemingly can't be bothered attitude hasn't won her too many additional followers and supporters in Paris. Our tennis correspondent Simon Briggs tweeted after Stephens' semi-final win over good friend Madison Keys that she looked like she would rather be "flossing her teeth" than giving her on-court interview. Her lack of French hasn't helped with making friends either. While many of the top level players have gone to great lengths to speak the local language at Roland Garros, Stephens has only uttered a tepid 'Merci Paris, je t'aime' in post-match discussions. Former player and American broadcaster Mary Carillo spent much time with Stephens last summer while working together at the Tennis Channel in the US. Carillo has offered a great insight into what Stephens is really like. She's not just the laid-back, unimpressed and unbothered individual she displays on the court. 1:39PM Halep's supporters Halep fans getting hyped outside Chatrier less an hour before the Women’s Final @rolandgarros ���� pic.twitter.com/uglLMFcyIl— Steve Weissman (@Steve_Weissman) June 9, 2018 1:33PM How will Halep cope with the pressure? Halep and Stephens have similar styles. Both glide around the back of the court, have an abundance of stamina and can switch from defence into attack. The biggest question mark hanging over Halep is the scar tissue of those defeats. When she came from a set down to beat Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals, Halep pointed her finger at her temple. She still has moments of anxiety and self doubt, but by and large she is starting to fix some of her self-inflicted issues. "She deals much better with pressure," 1978 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici who is also Halep's manager and the only woman from Romania to win a major. "The fact that she became No 1 has given her a different dimension, a different stature. She really deals with things better. Psychologically, she's also much better. ... And now she wants to win a Grand Slam. And now she says it. "Before, she didn't dare say it. Now she says it: 'I want to win a Grand Slam.'" Simona Halep, head in the game#RG18#Gettypic.twitter.com/70PQx2eI27— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 6, 2018 1:16PM Flashback to 2008 Halep shouldn't concern herself with the three grand slam finals lost but look back on a happy time when she was lifting the winners' trophy. Ten years ago, as ninth seed Halep won the junior girls' title beating compatriot Elena Bogdan in three sets. If the world No 1 prevails today, she would become the sixth player to win the women's singles title in Paris after winning the girls' title. The other five, you ask? Francoise Durr, Mima Jausovec, Hana Mandlikova, Jennifer Capriati and Justine Henin. Halep won the girls' title in Paris back in 2008 Credit: Getty Images 12:38PM Stephens' impeccable finals record Halep won't need reminding of Stephens' record in tournament finals. The American has proved herself a big-game player, most prominently during her charge to last year's US Open final where she became an unlikely champion so soon after returning from an 11-month injury lay-off. The 25-year-old's victory in Miami back in early April, was her sixth straight win from six finals. Of her impeccable form in finals, Stephens said in the lead up to today's showdown: "There is no formula. I didn't, like, try to do it. I'm not trying to break a record. It's just how it's happened for me." Halep has a mixed bag of results when it comes to finals - albeit competing in a far higher number than her rival. Stephens has won all six of her tournament finals Credit: Getty Images The Romanian is 16-14 overall but her experience hasn't helped her get over the line in the last 12 months. Halep has lost finals in Paris, Cincinnati, Beijing, Melbourne and Rome. Her only success was a smaller tournament in Shenzhen at the start of the year. Halep's 'always the bridesmaid never the bride' story makes her a favourite with neutral fans who are desperate to see the wounded 26-year-old put some painful defeats behind her and write a new chapter of positivity and success moving forward. 10:45AM And then there were two... Welcome all to coverage of the women's final at Roland Garros where Simona Halep looks to fulfil a career ambition of ending her grand slam drought by overcoming last year's US Open champion Sloane Stephens. Halep is well versed in the occasion of reaching the latter stages of a major, especially in Paris where she has won through to the final two other times in 2014 and last year, only to suffer defeat to Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko. This afternoon she must defy the brilliance and athleticism of American Stephens, who will be competing in her first final at Roland Garros, in order to get her hands on the Suzanne Lenglen cup. While the crowd are likely to get behind the world No 1 Halep, Stephens' nerveless approach to her game could prove a tough obstacle to clear. The Romanian has a superior head-to-head advantage, winning five of their seven battles - including winning all four of their last encounters. In fact Halep saw off the 10th seed Stephens during her run to the French Open final in 2014. If today's match goes to a third set, it will be the first time a decider has been required to determine the outcome of their battles. Who will you be supporting this afternoon and how do you see the final playing out? Vote in the poll below and send your thoughts to me at vicki.hodges@telegraph.co.uk
Simona Halep fights back from set and break down to end grand slam drought in Paris
World No 1 Simona Halep finally broke her grand-slam jinx at Roland Garros, producing an unforgettable comeback to burn past the reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens on the home straight. The fans in Paris had watched Halep come up just short of the title here twice before, and they have developed a warm relationship with her. Court Philippe Chatrier was rocking in the third set as Halep pulled away, producing some absurd recovery shots to exhaust the waning Stephens further. At the close of her 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win, Halep accepted a leg-up from a courtside official and climbed up to her player box, where she embraced the three men who have stood consistently at her side through her climb up the world rankings: physio Andrei Cristofor, fitness trainer Teo Cercel and coach Darren Cahill. As the Telegraph reported, in a pre-tournament interview with Halep: “I have people around me who are friends and I feel like they are there forever.” This comeback was surely all the sweeter because Halep was thoroughly outplayed in the opening set. Stephens was so smooth and so resourceful, mixing booming topspin with flatter, faster strikes in a way that made her look – for 40 minutes or so – virtually unbeatable. The apparent rout continued into the early stages of the second, as Stephens broke again to lead 6-3, 2-0. The scoreline then was curiously similar to the lead that Halep had held over Jelena Ostapenko here 12 months ago. Halep celebrates winning the French Open Credit: AP Halep wound up as the frustrated party that day, backing off at just the wrong moment and allowing the free-swinging Ostapenko to surge to a shock win. But she is never more dangerous than when she is trailing, because that is when she loosens up and starts playing like a woman with nothing to lose. “I thought ‘Everything is gone. I just have to relax,’” said Halep afterwards, grinning her way through her on-court interview, as she remembered the key moment. The switch was partly spiritual, as she tapped into her deepest wells of tenacity. But it was also tactical, as she decided to use the whole area of the court for the first time, darting forward to the net whenever Stephens was pushed into deep defence. Commentating for ITV, the former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli began yelling: “That’s the play! That’s the play!” whenever Halep put away a winning volley. There is a huge amount of warmth towards Halep around the sport, as she conducts herself with real class at all times. If Halep found her best self in her moment of crisis, Stephens began to show signs of weariness. The match was only an hour old but Halep was setting a demanding pace and giving fewer and fewer freebies away as the match wore on. No fewer than 55 rallies exceeded nine shots, more than a third of the total points, which is an unusually high figure. The average speed of Stephens’ forehand, which had been doing so much damage, dropped from 77mph in the first set to 70mph in the second. Halep came from a set and break down to end Stephens' 100 per cent record in finals Credit: AFP The third set might look like a non-event on the scorecard but some of the rallies were extraordinary. And none more so than the point Halep won to go a double break ahead at 4-0. This was a 16-shot extravaganza in which she had to dig out a couple of desperate retrievals from the back of the court, then sprint up to the net to dink back a drop-shot, and finally backpedal to make that most awkward of putaways, the backhand overhead. When she finally edged Stephens out in that one, the usually sphinx-like Cahill jumped up off his seat and punched the air in the most uncharacteristic manner. Stephens would win only eight more points from that moment, as Halep finally finished the job with an unreturned serve, dropped her racket and put her hands over her face. Considering what she has been through to reach this point, she was surprisingly restrained in her celebrations, although she spoke eloquently afterwards. “I felt your support,” said Halep told the crowd, as she spoke to Bartoli afterwards. “In the last game I felt that I could not breathe any more, so I just tried not to repeat the last year. I did everything I could. It’s amazing what is happening now. Honestly I can’t believe it. I have been dreaming of this moment since I started to play tennis. I’m really happy that it’s happened in Roland Garros in Paris, my special city.” Halep has loved playing here ever since she won the junior event in 2008. She also took the time out to namecheck her compatriot Virginia Ruzici, who won the French Open 40 years ago and was watching from the stands. Halep won the junior title in 2008 Credit: AFP Messages of congratulation were now flooding in on social media from rivals like Petra Kvitova and Johanna Konta. Later Martina Navratilova – who recently hinted that she will be returning to Wimbledon for the BBC this summer on improved terms – would come up with a neat summation. “It wasn’t a monkey off her back; this was an 800lb gorilla.” The upshot is that this was the seventh straight women’s grand slam with a different winner. The tour is certainly open at the moment, after a sequence that began with Angelique Kerber in New York two years ago and continued through Serena Williams, Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and now Halep. Stephens shakes Halep's hand after losing the final Credit: AFP The one thing we are still waiting for is for anyone to show that they can put a sequence of results together to match what Williams and some of her 2000s rivals – the likes of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin – achieved at their peak. Yet if a straightforward narrative is hard to pull out of this unpredictable string of results, the women keep on throwing up quality matches, while the men have not produced an outstanding major tournament since Melbourne last year. In final analysis, Halep’s heartwarming victory was another good-news story for the WTA tour. 4:31PM Halep talks It's emotional to talk as the winner. I've been waiting for this moment since I was 14. I wanted this trophy to be here in France. Many congrats to Sloane. You have done a great job after those injuries. I'm sure you'll play many more finals in the future. Good luck and take care of your body. I wish in the future to play another final here. It's my favourite one. Thank you and see you next year. 4:29PM Stephens speaks It's been an incredible couple of weeks. It's not the trophy I wanted but it's still beautiful so thank you guys. To Simona, congratulations on your first slam. There's no one else I'd rather lose to than the world No 1. 4:28PM Halep the champion The world No 1 strides on to the mini stage assembled on Philippe Chatrier to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in relief and excitement in equal measure. The national anthem of Romanian is played out while Halep embraces the trophy. 4:26PM Sanchez Vicario hands out the trophies Arantxa Sanchez Vicario has the honour of handing out the runners-up plate and Suzanne Lenglen Cup this afternoon 20 years after her last Roland Garros title. 4:23PM A first time champion at Wimbledon awaits? Tears! Honestly tears!! Congratulations @Simona_Halep .... as a former player to see this moment is heartwarming! Three in a row 1st time slam winners....Sloane, Woz and Simo. Women’s tennis is hot!!— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 4:18PM Halep embraces Cahill in the stands The French Open champion is hoisted into the stands on Philippe Chatrier to give coach Cahill a warm embrace and then cuddles her mum and dad. There isn't a more popular winner than Halep. She manages to find her way back on to the court and looks to the sunny skies in thanks. The monkey is finally off her back. Simonaaaaa! You did it. So happy for you. Enjoy every second. You deserve this moment so much ��❤️ #RG18— Petra Kvitova (@Petra_Kvitova) June 9, 2018 4:16PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 Stephens* Here we go then. Halep lets out a deep sigh at winning the first point. But then nervously strikes long when well placed. A timely ace, her first of the match, is just what the doctor and her psychologist ordered but Stephens reels her in again for 30-all. Halep waits an age for a big overhead clearance to land. Halep stays strong to thwack a smash home and brings up championship point. She takes it. Stephens slaps a service return into the net. Halep has finally, finally won her first grand slam. Well done Simona. Her coach Darren Cahill can't quite believe it. He puts his hands on his head. Halep can't comprehend it either, placing both hands covering her face briefly before soaking up the adulation. GAME, SET AND MATCH: HALEP WINS FRENCH OPEN WITH 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 VICTORY OVER STEPHENS. 4:11PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 5-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh dear, dear. Stephens' level has dropped massively as she hands a free point for Halep for 0-30. She digs deep, fighting back for 30-all and then wins a third straight point with a backhand into the corner. Halep won't allow Stephens of a free game this set and draws back to deuce. Stephens swings a volley into the corner to edge to game point and as the clock passes the two-hour mark, Stephens finally gets on the board this set. 4:04PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 5-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Too many errors from Stephens now as Halep keeping her foot on the gas. She holds to 15. Stephens faces an uphill battle to get back into proceedings Credit: AP 4:02PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 4-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens looking exacerbated now as a failed drop shot lands lamely at the net. The unforced errors are creeping up for the American while Halep's dogged style is taking the Romanian closer to a first title. The 10th seed isn't ready yet to give up the fight as she digs in with a cross court winner for 30-15. But Halep isn't giving her rival any free points and making her work for everything and the errors still come. Halep misreads a slower second serve to miss a chance to set up break point but then hits an unbelievable backhand winner cross court which gets the crowd on Philippe Chatrier purring again. We're back to deuce. Halep gets a slice of luck with a clip of the tape to throw Stephens at the net. The American reacts, gets her racket on the high ball but can't get her return in the court. Halep has another break point here. Stephens pushes Halep to all corners again and how does the Romanian even stay in this incredible point? Both players advance to net, Halep managing to get an overhead and finally finding space to push home the winner. HALEP BREAKS. 3:55PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 3-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens trying to gee herself up by slapping her thigh trailing 30-0. The physical pep talk has worked in the short term, winning the next two points. Halep is more aggressive on the next point and the low ball is difficult for Stephens to retrieve. And at game point another lengthy rally ensues and Stephens blinks first. 'That's a play', shouts Bartoli in the ITV studio again. We know which way Bartoli wants this final to play out. 36 64 30 �� Halep has kept her head. She has kept her aggression. She has not gone away. And now she is amazingly 12 points from the title!���� #RG18pic.twitter.com/ZvL2ZtDDvP— Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) June 9, 2018 3:50PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 2-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Superb ball-striking from both players again as Stephens just misses a forehand when she was making them regularly during the first set. Pressure now as Halep moves to 15-30 up but Stephens keeps calm this time to deliver a brilliant forehand winner cross court. That was a big point. And here's a bigger one now. Stephens can't make a first serve. She gets a second one in but then throws in a sloppy forehand. Her level has massively dropped. Halep, break point now. She takes it. A punched deep forehand is too much for Stephens to get back. The momentum is all with Halep. HALEP BREAKS. 3:45PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 1-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Both players left the court at the end of the second set and we're into unchartered territory now as all seven of their head-to-heads haven't gone the distance before. All three of Halep's last grand slam finals went into a decider. At the start of the third and that break in action has worked to Stephens' advantage as she moves to 0-30. A brilliant backhand winner down the line draws Halep back to 30-all and nerves get the better of Stephens on the next point as she strikes long. Despite great defensive play from the 10th seed, Halep stays strong to see out the game. Sloane Stephens’ adjustment steps have slowed— bad sign when your opponent in the third set is Simona Halep. What a match @rolandgarros— Gerry Marzorati (@marzoTennis) June 9, 2018 3:36PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep stays positive, switching play from corner to corner and biding her time from the baseline. She gets a let off when Halep makes one stretch out wide and looks on as Stephens sends a forehand into the tramlines for 15-30. Stephens clenches her fist as a Halep groundstroke lands long. But she can't back it up as Halep's power and pace proves too hard to deal with. Halep brings up set point. And she takes it as Stephens hits into the tramlines. HALEP WINS SECOND SET TO LEVEL THE MATCH. 3:31PM Halep 3-6, 5-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep throws Stephens off balance by taking a forehand early and catching the American out on the baseline. Stephens stays strong during the next point, firing deep, so deep at the lines and piling further pressure on Halep at 30-all. Halep takes advantage as a ball rears up off the clay and takes the pace off Stephens' reply. Halep is on the short ball in a flash, striking a volley into the corner. Halep moves Stephens side-to-side before unleashing the winner and crucially Halep edges back in front this set. Halep battles against Stephens Credit: AFP 3:27PM Halep* 3-6, 4-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep looks to her corner with her arms extended out wide at missing one groundstroke. Stephens sends down her first ace of the match to establish a 30-0 advantage and then watches as Halep pushes long. That last game might be playing on the world No 1's mind. Stephens misses two game points, the second missing the line with a backhand. But she outlasts Halep during the next rally and we're back level for the set. 3:22PM Halep 3-6, 4-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens has woken back into action. A floating forehand on the line takes her to three break points and when Halep pushes long, we're back on serve this set. Halep will be kicking herself. That was lost far too quickly. STEPHENS BREAKS. 3:20PM Halep* 3-6, 4-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens stops the rot as she watches a Halep forehand land wide. The world No 1 stays focused on Stephens' backhand, whipping forehands out of the American's reach. Stephens digs deep for 30-all but then floats a tired groundstroke into the middle to hand Halep another break point. Another unforced error from Stephens hands Halep a second break this set. How quickly this match has turned. HALEP BREAKS. 3:15PM Halep 3-6, 3-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens' concentration levels have taken a hit. The momentum has shifted, Halep winning 10 of their last 11 points. Stephens' range is off now, a couple of unforced errors allowing Halep of edging ahead this set. Too soon? Wikipedia already has Sloane winning: https://t.co/yLIoTSBndh— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 9, 2018 3:12PM Halep* 3-6, 2-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Marion Bartoli on the ITV commentary is struggling with impartiality this afternoon. 'Go, go, go, go, go' she cries in encouragement to Halep to rush the net. The Romanian's revival gathers pace moving to 0-30 and drawing the American into an error. Now she has three break points this game to draw level this set. And she makes it as Stephens drags a forehand into the tramlines. HALEP BREAKS. 3:08PM Halep 3-6, 1-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens gives one mark a serious look as Halep edges to 30-15 and is finally starting to hurt the American will some deep hitting and solid net play. The Romanian's best chance is to cut short the points and rush the net where possible. A forehand down the line sets Halep up for moving into court and she duly dispatches the volley. Great play Halep. Halep keeps fighting against Stephens Credit: Getty Images 3:05PM Halep* 3-6, 0-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A drop in concentration now from Stephens as Halep moves to 0-30. Stephens composes herself passing Halep at the net and then getting a bit of fortune with a mishit forehand that lands flush on the line. Halep's head drops. From 30-0 down, Stephens completes the comeback with four straight points. That will hurt Halep. This performance from Sloane Stephens in a Slam final is the equal of those from all-time greats like Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova and Rafael Nadal. That good.— David Law (@DavidLawTennis) June 9, 2018 3:01PM Halep 3-6, 0-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep will be praying that Stephens' level drops soon. But it isn't. The American continues to work her magic, spraying unbelievable winners. One backhand down the line brings up two break points. She misses the first with a backhand error. Halep delivers a crucial first serve to blot the second. But Stephens has a third bite of the cherry now. Halep whips a forehand winner down the line to keep Stephens waiting. The American doesn't mind waiting. She's the patient kind. She demonstrates her ability to draw winners from all acute angles by setting up break point No 4 and this time she cheekily goes for a high ball as Halep moves into the net. The Romanian gets her racket to the ball but it flies wide. Stephens is playing unbelievable tennis. Why now? Halep must be thinking. Why now. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:53PM Halep* 3-6 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens' footwork behind the baseline and effortlessness moving side-to-side is mesmorising. Halep is finding the corners, but Stephens is retrieving everything thrown at her and asking further questions of Halep. One punching forehand flashes cross court at a zippy 90 mph for 30-15 but she blinks first during the next lengthy rally. Now she is breathing heavily as she lines up for her next service rotation. Halep toys with Stephens as another rally ensues, chasing down a drop shot and delivering her own drop which Stephens can't retrieve. It's a first break point for Halep. Anxiousness appears to get the better of her. She stands rigid in disbelief at missing that chance. Stephens composes herself to get back on track with decent serving to bring up set point. She takes it as her power is again too much for the world No 1. STEPHENS WINS THE FIRST SET 6-3 2:47PM Halep 3-5 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep working hard for every point and building some rhythm on her serve now. A strong hold to 30, the world No 1 steps into a short return to deliver her own forehand winner. More cries of 'Si-mon-a' ring round Chatrier. Stephens will be serving for the set. 2:43PM Halep* 2-5 Stephens (*denotes next server) A poorly-executed drop shot from Stephens coupled with sound defensive play behind the baseline work Halep to 15-30. Stephens runs round a backhand to strike a powerful forehand and deceives the world No 1 who anticipated Stephens going down the line at game point, only to be watch Stephens strike a forehand winner cross court. @SloaneStephens power AND her topspin is hurting Simo ... their movement is incredible but Sloane’s power is the difference and will be throughout. Only chance Simo has is if Sloane gets tight.— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 Stephens in fantastic form at the start of the opening set Credit: Reuters 2:38PM Halep 2-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Wow. Just when Halep looks to be in control of a rally, Stephens finds a winner at such a cute angle. It draws the American to 30-all and keeps the heat on Halep. The world No 1 isn't playing badly, but Stephens is hitting the lines quite perfectly so far. Halep makes an important hold when Stephens makes an uncharacteristic unforced error. 2:34PM Halep* 1-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh. My. Word! Halep is quite brilliant, brilliant terrier. She makes two ridiculous gets out wide which she has no right to retrieve to send everything back but then strikes an unforced error into the net. She stares down the net in disbelief. At 40-15 Halep fires a winner down the line and looks if to say 'is this what I have to do just to win a point?' Stephens, in true smoking a cigar, feet up style, gets over the night to cement the break. Women's final so far = (fire emoji)(fire emoji)(fire emoji).#RG18— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 9, 2018 2:29PM Halep 1-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Some fantastic tennis being played by both women now, working each other from side to side and creating the space to go for the kill. Halep moves into the court for the first time, smashing a sublime overhead deep into the corner for 30-all. But Stephens has some zip on a second service return to throw Halep at the baseline. It brings up a first break point for Stephens. And she makes it. Stephens does brilliantly to switch the play from down the line to cross court and it forces Halep to strike the middle. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:23PM Halep* 1-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A couple of long forehands from Halep allow Stephens to progress to 40-15. But the swirling wind is causing problems for both players and the American pushes one groundstroke behind the line to allow Halep to hang around in the game. The 10th seed stays on the front foot during the next rally and draws another error from Halep's forehand. It remains on serve. 2:19PM Halep 1-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Beautiful ball-striking from Stephens as the American strikes a clean forehand winner down the line after moving Halep at the baseline to create an opening. It's effortless from Stephens as she draws Halep wide to draw level at 30-all. Halep takes the crucial next point, relieved as Stephens' reply flies off the top of her racket. A cross court exchange during the next rally of 14 shots ends when Halep strikes into the tape. Cries of 'Simona' ring round at deuce. Stephens can't jump on a slower second serve but Halep finally holds when she outlasts Stephens during a brutal baseline duel. 2:13PM Halep* 0-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens opens up the final, watches a couple of service returns land long for 30-0. Halep drags a backhand into the tramlines but then gets a first point on the board when Stephens makes an unforced error. Stephens takes a comfortable hold with a backhand winner down the line. The American looks calm and focused early on as expected. 2:03PM Here they come Stephens, with headphones nestled in her ears, heads out to the Philippe Chatrier Court first. Halep follows and unsurprisingly draws a louder cheer from the crowd. Here she is! What Simona and Sloane are playing for today...#RG18pic.twitter.com/5Xq1GGbICc— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2018 1:56PM Getting to know Stephens Stephens' aloof and seemingly can't be bothered attitude hasn't won her too many additional followers and supporters in Paris. Our tennis correspondent Simon Briggs tweeted after Stephens' semi-final win over good friend Madison Keys that she looked like she would rather be "flossing her teeth" than giving her on-court interview. Her lack of French hasn't helped with making friends either. While many of the top level players have gone to great lengths to speak the local language at Roland Garros, Stephens has only uttered a tepid 'Merci Paris, je t'aime' in post-match discussions. Former player and American broadcaster Mary Carillo spent much time with Stephens last summer while working together at the Tennis Channel in the US. Carillo has offered a great insight into what Stephens is really like. She's not just the laid-back, unimpressed and unbothered individual she displays on the court. 1:39PM Halep's supporters Halep fans getting hyped outside Chatrier less an hour before the Women’s Final @rolandgarros ���� pic.twitter.com/uglLMFcyIl— Steve Weissman (@Steve_Weissman) June 9, 2018 1:33PM How will Halep cope with the pressure? Halep and Stephens have similar styles. Both glide around the back of the court, have an abundance of stamina and can switch from defence into attack. The biggest question mark hanging over Halep is the scar tissue of those defeats. When she came from a set down to beat Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals, Halep pointed her finger at her temple. She still has moments of anxiety and self doubt, but by and large she is starting to fix some of her self-inflicted issues. "She deals much better with pressure," 1978 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici who is also Halep's manager and the only woman from Romania to win a major. "The fact that she became No 1 has given her a different dimension, a different stature. She really deals with things better. Psychologically, she's also much better. ... And now she wants to win a Grand Slam. And now she says it. "Before, she didn't dare say it. Now she says it: 'I want to win a Grand Slam.'" Simona Halep, head in the game#RG18#Gettypic.twitter.com/70PQx2eI27— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 6, 2018 1:16PM Flashback to 2008 Halep shouldn't concern herself with the three grand slam finals lost but look back on a happy time when she was lifting the winners' trophy. Ten years ago, as ninth seed Halep won the junior girls' title beating compatriot Elena Bogdan in three sets. If the world No 1 prevails today, she would become the sixth player to win the women's singles title in Paris after winning the girls' title. The other five, you ask? Francoise Durr, Mima Jausovec, Hana Mandlikova, Jennifer Capriati and Justine Henin. Halep won the girls' title in Paris back in 2008 Credit: Getty Images 12:38PM Stephens' impeccable finals record Halep won't need reminding of Stephens' record in tournament finals. The American has proved herself a big-game player, most prominently during her charge to last year's US Open final where she became an unlikely champion so soon after returning from an 11-month injury lay-off. The 25-year-old's victory in Miami back in early April, was her sixth straight win from six finals. Of her impeccable form in finals, Stephens said in the lead up to today's showdown: "There is no formula. I didn't, like, try to do it. I'm not trying to break a record. It's just how it's happened for me." Halep has a mixed bag of results when it comes to finals - albeit competing in a far higher number than her rival. Stephens has won all six of her tournament finals Credit: Getty Images The Romanian is 16-14 overall but her experience hasn't helped her get over the line in the last 12 months. Halep has lost finals in Paris, Cincinnati, Beijing, Melbourne and Rome. Her only success was a smaller tournament in Shenzhen at the start of the year. Halep's 'always the bridesmaid never the bride' story makes her a favourite with neutral fans who are desperate to see the wounded 26-year-old put some painful defeats behind her and write a new chapter of positivity and success moving forward. 10:45AM And then there were two... Welcome all to coverage of the women's final at Roland Garros where Simona Halep looks to fulfil a career ambition of ending her grand slam drought by overcoming last year's US Open champion Sloane Stephens. Halep is well versed in the occasion of reaching the latter stages of a major, especially in Paris where she has won through to the final two other times in 2014 and last year, only to suffer defeat to Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko. This afternoon she must defy the brilliance and athleticism of American Stephens, who will be competing in her first final at Roland Garros, in order to get her hands on the Suzanne Lenglen cup. While the crowd are likely to get behind the world No 1 Halep, Stephens' nerveless approach to her game could prove a tough obstacle to clear. The Romanian has a superior head-to-head advantage, winning five of their seven battles - including winning all four of their last encounters. In fact Halep saw off the 10th seed Stephens during her run to the French Open final in 2014. If today's match goes to a third set, it will be the first time a decider has been required to determine the outcome of their battles. Who will you be supporting this afternoon and how do you see the final playing out? Vote in the poll below and send your thoughts to me at vicki.hodges@telegraph.co.uk
World No 1 Simona Halep finally broke her grand-slam jinx at Roland Garros, producing an unforgettable comeback to burn past the reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens on the home straight. The fans in Paris had watched Halep come up just short of the title here twice before, and they have developed a warm relationship with her. Court Philippe Chatrier was rocking in the third set as Halep pulled away, producing some absurd recovery shots to exhaust the waning Stephens further. At the close of her 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win, Halep accepted a leg-up from a courtside official and climbed up to her player box, where she embraced the three men who have stood consistently at her side through her climb up the world rankings: physio Andrei Cristofor, fitness trainer Teo Cercel and coach Darren Cahill. As the Telegraph reported, in a pre-tournament interview with Halep: “I have people around me who are friends and I feel like they are there forever.” This comeback was surely all the sweeter because Halep was thoroughly outplayed in the opening set. Stephens was so smooth and so resourceful, mixing booming topspin with flatter, faster strikes in a way that made her look – for 40 minutes or so – virtually unbeatable. The apparent rout continued into the early stages of the second, as Stephens broke again to lead 6-3, 2-0. The scoreline then was curiously similar to the lead that Halep had held over Jelena Ostapenko here 12 months ago. Halep celebrates winning the French Open Credit: AP Halep wound up as the frustrated party that day, backing off at just the wrong moment and allowing the free-swinging Ostapenko to surge to a shock win. But she is never more dangerous than when she is trailing, because that is when she loosens up and starts playing like a woman with nothing to lose. “I thought ‘Everything is gone. I just have to relax,’” said Halep afterwards, grinning her way through her on-court interview, as she remembered the key moment. The switch was partly spiritual, as she tapped into her deepest wells of tenacity. But it was also tactical, as she decided to use the whole area of the court for the first time, darting forward to the net whenever Stephens was pushed into deep defence. Commentating for ITV, the former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli began yelling: “That’s the play! That’s the play!” whenever Halep put away a winning volley. There is a huge amount of warmth towards Halep around the sport, as she conducts herself with real class at all times. If Halep found her best self in her moment of crisis, Stephens began to show signs of weariness. The match was only an hour old but Halep was setting a demanding pace and giving fewer and fewer freebies away as the match wore on. No fewer than 55 rallies exceeded nine shots, more than a third of the total points, which is an unusually high figure. The average speed of Stephens’ forehand, which had been doing so much damage, dropped from 77mph in the first set to 70mph in the second. Halep came from a set and break down to end Stephens' 100 per cent record in finals Credit: AFP The third set might look like a non-event on the scorecard but some of the rallies were extraordinary. And none more so than the point Halep won to go a double break ahead at 4-0. This was a 16-shot extravaganza in which she had to dig out a couple of desperate retrievals from the back of the court, then sprint up to the net to dink back a drop-shot, and finally backpedal to make that most awkward of putaways, the backhand overhead. When she finally edged Stephens out in that one, the usually sphinx-like Cahill jumped up off his seat and punched the air in the most uncharacteristic manner. Stephens would win only eight more points from that moment, as Halep finally finished the job with an unreturned serve, dropped her racket and put her hands over her face. Considering what she has been through to reach this point, she was surprisingly restrained in her celebrations, although she spoke eloquently afterwards. “I felt your support,” said Halep told the crowd, as she spoke to Bartoli afterwards. “In the last game I felt that I could not breathe any more, so I just tried not to repeat the last year. I did everything I could. It’s amazing what is happening now. Honestly I can’t believe it. I have been dreaming of this moment since I started to play tennis. I’m really happy that it’s happened in Roland Garros in Paris, my special city.” Halep has loved playing here ever since she won the junior event in 2008. She also took the time out to namecheck her compatriot Virginia Ruzici, who won the French Open 40 years ago and was watching from the stands. Halep won the junior title in 2008 Credit: AFP Messages of congratulation were now flooding in on social media from rivals like Petra Kvitova and Johanna Konta. Later Martina Navratilova – who recently hinted that she will be returning to Wimbledon for the BBC this summer on improved terms – would come up with a neat summation. “It wasn’t a monkey off her back; this was an 800lb gorilla.” The upshot is that this was the seventh straight women’s grand slam with a different winner. The tour is certainly open at the moment, after a sequence that began with Angelique Kerber in New York two years ago and continued through Serena Williams, Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and now Halep. Stephens shakes Halep's hand after losing the final Credit: AFP The one thing we are still waiting for is for anyone to show that they can put a sequence of results together to match what Williams and some of her 2000s rivals – the likes of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin – achieved at their peak. Yet if a straightforward narrative is hard to pull out of this unpredictable string of results, the women keep on throwing up quality matches, while the men have not produced an outstanding major tournament since Melbourne last year. In final analysis, Halep’s heartwarming victory was another good-news story for the WTA tour. 4:31PM Halep talks It's emotional to talk as the winner. I've been waiting for this moment since I was 14. I wanted this trophy to be here in France. Many congrats to Sloane. You have done a great job after those injuries. I'm sure you'll play many more finals in the future. Good luck and take care of your body. I wish in the future to play another final here. It's my favourite one. Thank you and see you next year. 4:29PM Stephens speaks It's been an incredible couple of weeks. It's not the trophy I wanted but it's still beautiful so thank you guys. To Simona, congratulations on your first slam. There's no one else I'd rather lose to than the world No 1. 4:28PM Halep the champion The world No 1 strides on to the mini stage assembled on Philippe Chatrier to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in relief and excitement in equal measure. The national anthem of Romanian is played out while Halep embraces the trophy. 4:26PM Sanchez Vicario hands out the trophies Arantxa Sanchez Vicario has the honour of handing out the runners-up plate and Suzanne Lenglen Cup this afternoon 20 years after her last Roland Garros title. 4:23PM A first time champion at Wimbledon awaits? Tears! Honestly tears!! Congratulations @Simona_Halep .... as a former player to see this moment is heartwarming! Three in a row 1st time slam winners....Sloane, Woz and Simo. Women’s tennis is hot!!— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 4:18PM Halep embraces Cahill in the stands The French Open champion is hoisted into the stands on Philippe Chatrier to give coach Cahill a warm embrace and then cuddles her mum and dad. There isn't a more popular winner than Halep. She manages to find her way back on to the court and looks to the sunny skies in thanks. The monkey is finally off her back. Simonaaaaa! You did it. So happy for you. Enjoy every second. You deserve this moment so much ��❤️ #RG18— Petra Kvitova (@Petra_Kvitova) June 9, 2018 4:16PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 Stephens* Here we go then. Halep lets out a deep sigh at winning the first point. But then nervously strikes long when well placed. A timely ace, her first of the match, is just what the doctor and her psychologist ordered but Stephens reels her in again for 30-all. Halep waits an age for a big overhead clearance to land. Halep stays strong to thwack a smash home and brings up championship point. She takes it. Stephens slaps a service return into the net. Halep has finally, finally won her first grand slam. Well done Simona. Her coach Darren Cahill can't quite believe it. He puts his hands on his head. Halep can't comprehend it either, placing both hands covering her face briefly before soaking up the adulation. GAME, SET AND MATCH: HALEP WINS FRENCH OPEN WITH 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 VICTORY OVER STEPHENS. 4:11PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 5-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh dear, dear. Stephens' level has dropped massively as she hands a free point for Halep for 0-30. She digs deep, fighting back for 30-all and then wins a third straight point with a backhand into the corner. Halep won't allow Stephens of a free game this set and draws back to deuce. Stephens swings a volley into the corner to edge to game point and as the clock passes the two-hour mark, Stephens finally gets on the board this set. 4:04PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 5-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Too many errors from Stephens now as Halep keeping her foot on the gas. She holds to 15. Stephens faces an uphill battle to get back into proceedings Credit: AP 4:02PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 4-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens looking exacerbated now as a failed drop shot lands lamely at the net. The unforced errors are creeping up for the American while Halep's dogged style is taking the Romanian closer to a first title. The 10th seed isn't ready yet to give up the fight as she digs in with a cross court winner for 30-15. But Halep isn't giving her rival any free points and making her work for everything and the errors still come. Halep misreads a slower second serve to miss a chance to set up break point but then hits an unbelievable backhand winner cross court which gets the crowd on Philippe Chatrier purring again. We're back to deuce. Halep gets a slice of luck with a clip of the tape to throw Stephens at the net. The American reacts, gets her racket on the high ball but can't get her return in the court. Halep has another break point here. Stephens pushes Halep to all corners again and how does the Romanian even stay in this incredible point? Both players advance to net, Halep managing to get an overhead and finally finding space to push home the winner. HALEP BREAKS. 3:55PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 3-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens trying to gee herself up by slapping her thigh trailing 30-0. The physical pep talk has worked in the short term, winning the next two points. Halep is more aggressive on the next point and the low ball is difficult for Stephens to retrieve. And at game point another lengthy rally ensues and Stephens blinks first. 'That's a play', shouts Bartoli in the ITV studio again. We know which way Bartoli wants this final to play out. 36 64 30 �� Halep has kept her head. She has kept her aggression. She has not gone away. And now she is amazingly 12 points from the title!���� #RG18pic.twitter.com/ZvL2ZtDDvP— Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) June 9, 2018 3:50PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 2-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Superb ball-striking from both players again as Stephens just misses a forehand when she was making them regularly during the first set. Pressure now as Halep moves to 15-30 up but Stephens keeps calm this time to deliver a brilliant forehand winner cross court. That was a big point. And here's a bigger one now. Stephens can't make a first serve. She gets a second one in but then throws in a sloppy forehand. Her level has massively dropped. Halep, break point now. She takes it. A punched deep forehand is too much for Stephens to get back. The momentum is all with Halep. HALEP BREAKS. 3:45PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 1-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Both players left the court at the end of the second set and we're into unchartered territory now as all seven of their head-to-heads haven't gone the distance before. All three of Halep's last grand slam finals went into a decider. At the start of the third and that break in action has worked to Stephens' advantage as she moves to 0-30. A brilliant backhand winner down the line draws Halep back to 30-all and nerves get the better of Stephens on the next point as she strikes long. Despite great defensive play from the 10th seed, Halep stays strong to see out the game. Sloane Stephens’ adjustment steps have slowed— bad sign when your opponent in the third set is Simona Halep. What a match @rolandgarros— Gerry Marzorati (@marzoTennis) June 9, 2018 3:36PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep stays positive, switching play from corner to corner and biding her time from the baseline. She gets a let off when Halep makes one stretch out wide and looks on as Stephens sends a forehand into the tramlines for 15-30. Stephens clenches her fist as a Halep groundstroke lands long. But she can't back it up as Halep's power and pace proves too hard to deal with. Halep brings up set point. And she takes it as Stephens hits into the tramlines. HALEP WINS SECOND SET TO LEVEL THE MATCH. 3:31PM Halep 3-6, 5-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep throws Stephens off balance by taking a forehand early and catching the American out on the baseline. Stephens stays strong during the next point, firing deep, so deep at the lines and piling further pressure on Halep at 30-all. Halep takes advantage as a ball rears up off the clay and takes the pace off Stephens' reply. Halep is on the short ball in a flash, striking a volley into the corner. Halep moves Stephens side-to-side before unleashing the winner and crucially Halep edges back in front this set. Halep battles against Stephens Credit: AFP 3:27PM Halep* 3-6, 4-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep looks to her corner with her arms extended out wide at missing one groundstroke. Stephens sends down her first ace of the match to establish a 30-0 advantage and then watches as Halep pushes long. That last game might be playing on the world No 1's mind. Stephens misses two game points, the second missing the line with a backhand. But she outlasts Halep during the next rally and we're back level for the set. 3:22PM Halep 3-6, 4-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens has woken back into action. A floating forehand on the line takes her to three break points and when Halep pushes long, we're back on serve this set. Halep will be kicking herself. That was lost far too quickly. STEPHENS BREAKS. 3:20PM Halep* 3-6, 4-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens stops the rot as she watches a Halep forehand land wide. The world No 1 stays focused on Stephens' backhand, whipping forehands out of the American's reach. Stephens digs deep for 30-all but then floats a tired groundstroke into the middle to hand Halep another break point. Another unforced error from Stephens hands Halep a second break this set. How quickly this match has turned. HALEP BREAKS. 3:15PM Halep 3-6, 3-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens' concentration levels have taken a hit. The momentum has shifted, Halep winning 10 of their last 11 points. Stephens' range is off now, a couple of unforced errors allowing Halep of edging ahead this set. Too soon? Wikipedia already has Sloane winning: https://t.co/yLIoTSBndh— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 9, 2018 3:12PM Halep* 3-6, 2-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Marion Bartoli on the ITV commentary is struggling with impartiality this afternoon. 'Go, go, go, go, go' she cries in encouragement to Halep to rush the net. The Romanian's revival gathers pace moving to 0-30 and drawing the American into an error. Now she has three break points this game to draw level this set. And she makes it as Stephens drags a forehand into the tramlines. HALEP BREAKS. 3:08PM Halep 3-6, 1-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens gives one mark a serious look as Halep edges to 30-15 and is finally starting to hurt the American will some deep hitting and solid net play. The Romanian's best chance is to cut short the points and rush the net where possible. A forehand down the line sets Halep up for moving into court and she duly dispatches the volley. Great play Halep. Halep keeps fighting against Stephens Credit: Getty Images 3:05PM Halep* 3-6, 0-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A drop in concentration now from Stephens as Halep moves to 0-30. Stephens composes herself passing Halep at the net and then getting a bit of fortune with a mishit forehand that lands flush on the line. Halep's head drops. From 30-0 down, Stephens completes the comeback with four straight points. That will hurt Halep. This performance from Sloane Stephens in a Slam final is the equal of those from all-time greats like Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova and Rafael Nadal. That good.— David Law (@DavidLawTennis) June 9, 2018 3:01PM Halep 3-6, 0-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep will be praying that Stephens' level drops soon. But it isn't. The American continues to work her magic, spraying unbelievable winners. One backhand down the line brings up two break points. She misses the first with a backhand error. Halep delivers a crucial first serve to blot the second. But Stephens has a third bite of the cherry now. Halep whips a forehand winner down the line to keep Stephens waiting. The American doesn't mind waiting. She's the patient kind. She demonstrates her ability to draw winners from all acute angles by setting up break point No 4 and this time she cheekily goes for a high ball as Halep moves into the net. The Romanian gets her racket to the ball but it flies wide. Stephens is playing unbelievable tennis. Why now? Halep must be thinking. Why now. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:53PM Halep* 3-6 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens' footwork behind the baseline and effortlessness moving side-to-side is mesmorising. Halep is finding the corners, but Stephens is retrieving everything thrown at her and asking further questions of Halep. One punching forehand flashes cross court at a zippy 90 mph for 30-15 but she blinks first during the next lengthy rally. Now she is breathing heavily as she lines up for her next service rotation. Halep toys with Stephens as another rally ensues, chasing down a drop shot and delivering her own drop which Stephens can't retrieve. It's a first break point for Halep. Anxiousness appears to get the better of her. She stands rigid in disbelief at missing that chance. Stephens composes herself to get back on track with decent serving to bring up set point. She takes it as her power is again too much for the world No 1. STEPHENS WINS THE FIRST SET 6-3 2:47PM Halep 3-5 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep working hard for every point and building some rhythm on her serve now. A strong hold to 30, the world No 1 steps into a short return to deliver her own forehand winner. More cries of 'Si-mon-a' ring round Chatrier. Stephens will be serving for the set. 2:43PM Halep* 2-5 Stephens (*denotes next server) A poorly-executed drop shot from Stephens coupled with sound defensive play behind the baseline work Halep to 15-30. Stephens runs round a backhand to strike a powerful forehand and deceives the world No 1 who anticipated Stephens going down the line at game point, only to be watch Stephens strike a forehand winner cross court. @SloaneStephens power AND her topspin is hurting Simo ... their movement is incredible but Sloane’s power is the difference and will be throughout. Only chance Simo has is if Sloane gets tight.— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 Stephens in fantastic form at the start of the opening set Credit: Reuters 2:38PM Halep 2-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Wow. Just when Halep looks to be in control of a rally, Stephens finds a winner at such a cute angle. It draws the American to 30-all and keeps the heat on Halep. The world No 1 isn't playing badly, but Stephens is hitting the lines quite perfectly so far. Halep makes an important hold when Stephens makes an uncharacteristic unforced error. 2:34PM Halep* 1-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh. My. Word! Halep is quite brilliant, brilliant terrier. She makes two ridiculous gets out wide which she has no right to retrieve to send everything back but then strikes an unforced error into the net. She stares down the net in disbelief. At 40-15 Halep fires a winner down the line and looks if to say 'is this what I have to do just to win a point?' Stephens, in true smoking a cigar, feet up style, gets over the night to cement the break. Women's final so far = (fire emoji)(fire emoji)(fire emoji).#RG18— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 9, 2018 2:29PM Halep 1-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Some fantastic tennis being played by both women now, working each other from side to side and creating the space to go for the kill. Halep moves into the court for the first time, smashing a sublime overhead deep into the corner for 30-all. But Stephens has some zip on a second service return to throw Halep at the baseline. It brings up a first break point for Stephens. And she makes it. Stephens does brilliantly to switch the play from down the line to cross court and it forces Halep to strike the middle. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:23PM Halep* 1-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A couple of long forehands from Halep allow Stephens to progress to 40-15. But the swirling wind is causing problems for both players and the American pushes one groundstroke behind the line to allow Halep to hang around in the game. The 10th seed stays on the front foot during the next rally and draws another error from Halep's forehand. It remains on serve. 2:19PM Halep 1-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Beautiful ball-striking from Stephens as the American strikes a clean forehand winner down the line after moving Halep at the baseline to create an opening. It's effortless from Stephens as she draws Halep wide to draw level at 30-all. Halep takes the crucial next point, relieved as Stephens' reply flies off the top of her racket. A cross court exchange during the next rally of 14 shots ends when Halep strikes into the tape. Cries of 'Simona' ring round at deuce. Stephens can't jump on a slower second serve but Halep finally holds when she outlasts Stephens during a brutal baseline duel. 2:13PM Halep* 0-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens opens up the final, watches a couple of service returns land long for 30-0. Halep drags a backhand into the tramlines but then gets a first point on the board when Stephens makes an unforced error. Stephens takes a comfortable hold with a backhand winner down the line. The American looks calm and focused early on as expected. 2:03PM Here they come Stephens, with headphones nestled in her ears, heads out to the Philippe Chatrier Court first. Halep follows and unsurprisingly draws a louder cheer from the crowd. Here she is! What Simona and Sloane are playing for today...#RG18pic.twitter.com/5Xq1GGbICc— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2018 1:56PM Getting to know Stephens Stephens' aloof and seemingly can't be bothered attitude hasn't won her too many additional followers and supporters in Paris. Our tennis correspondent Simon Briggs tweeted after Stephens' semi-final win over good friend Madison Keys that she looked like she would rather be "flossing her teeth" than giving her on-court interview. Her lack of French hasn't helped with making friends either. While many of the top level players have gone to great lengths to speak the local language at Roland Garros, Stephens has only uttered a tepid 'Merci Paris, je t'aime' in post-match discussions. Former player and American broadcaster Mary Carillo spent much time with Stephens last summer while working together at the Tennis Channel in the US. Carillo has offered a great insight into what Stephens is really like. She's not just the laid-back, unimpressed and unbothered individual she displays on the court. 1:39PM Halep's supporters Halep fans getting hyped outside Chatrier less an hour before the Women’s Final @rolandgarros ���� pic.twitter.com/uglLMFcyIl— Steve Weissman (@Steve_Weissman) June 9, 2018 1:33PM How will Halep cope with the pressure? Halep and Stephens have similar styles. Both glide around the back of the court, have an abundance of stamina and can switch from defence into attack. The biggest question mark hanging over Halep is the scar tissue of those defeats. When she came from a set down to beat Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals, Halep pointed her finger at her temple. She still has moments of anxiety and self doubt, but by and large she is starting to fix some of her self-inflicted issues. "She deals much better with pressure," 1978 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici who is also Halep's manager and the only woman from Romania to win a major. "The fact that she became No 1 has given her a different dimension, a different stature. She really deals with things better. Psychologically, she's also much better. ... And now she wants to win a Grand Slam. And now she says it. "Before, she didn't dare say it. Now she says it: 'I want to win a Grand Slam.'" Simona Halep, head in the game#RG18#Gettypic.twitter.com/70PQx2eI27— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 6, 2018 1:16PM Flashback to 2008 Halep shouldn't concern herself with the three grand slam finals lost but look back on a happy time when she was lifting the winners' trophy. Ten years ago, as ninth seed Halep won the junior girls' title beating compatriot Elena Bogdan in three sets. If the world No 1 prevails today, she would become the sixth player to win the women's singles title in Paris after winning the girls' title. The other five, you ask? Francoise Durr, Mima Jausovec, Hana Mandlikova, Jennifer Capriati and Justine Henin. Halep won the girls' title in Paris back in 2008 Credit: Getty Images 12:38PM Stephens' impeccable finals record Halep won't need reminding of Stephens' record in tournament finals. The American has proved herself a big-game player, most prominently during her charge to last year's US Open final where she became an unlikely champion so soon after returning from an 11-month injury lay-off. The 25-year-old's victory in Miami back in early April, was her sixth straight win from six finals. Of her impeccable form in finals, Stephens said in the lead up to today's showdown: "There is no formula. I didn't, like, try to do it. I'm not trying to break a record. It's just how it's happened for me." Halep has a mixed bag of results when it comes to finals - albeit competing in a far higher number than her rival. Stephens has won all six of her tournament finals Credit: Getty Images The Romanian is 16-14 overall but her experience hasn't helped her get over the line in the last 12 months. Halep has lost finals in Paris, Cincinnati, Beijing, Melbourne and Rome. Her only success was a smaller tournament in Shenzhen at the start of the year. Halep's 'always the bridesmaid never the bride' story makes her a favourite with neutral fans who are desperate to see the wounded 26-year-old put some painful defeats behind her and write a new chapter of positivity and success moving forward. 10:45AM And then there were two... Welcome all to coverage of the women's final at Roland Garros where Simona Halep looks to fulfil a career ambition of ending her grand slam drought by overcoming last year's US Open champion Sloane Stephens. Halep is well versed in the occasion of reaching the latter stages of a major, especially in Paris where she has won through to the final two other times in 2014 and last year, only to suffer defeat to Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko. This afternoon she must defy the brilliance and athleticism of American Stephens, who will be competing in her first final at Roland Garros, in order to get her hands on the Suzanne Lenglen cup. While the crowd are likely to get behind the world No 1 Halep, Stephens' nerveless approach to her game could prove a tough obstacle to clear. The Romanian has a superior head-to-head advantage, winning five of their seven battles - including winning all four of their last encounters. In fact Halep saw off the 10th seed Stephens during her run to the French Open final in 2014. If today's match goes to a third set, it will be the first time a decider has been required to determine the outcome of their battles. Who will you be supporting this afternoon and how do you see the final playing out? Vote in the poll below and send your thoughts to me at vicki.hodges@telegraph.co.uk
Simona Halep fights back from set and break down to end grand slam drought in Paris
World No 1 Simona Halep finally broke her grand-slam jinx at Roland Garros, producing an unforgettable comeback to burn past the reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens on the home straight. The fans in Paris had watched Halep come up just short of the title here twice before, and they have developed a warm relationship with her. Court Philippe Chatrier was rocking in the third set as Halep pulled away, producing some absurd recovery shots to exhaust the waning Stephens further. At the close of her 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win, Halep accepted a leg-up from a courtside official and climbed up to her player box, where she embraced the three men who have stood consistently at her side through her climb up the world rankings: physio Andrei Cristofor, fitness trainer Teo Cercel and coach Darren Cahill. As the Telegraph reported, in a pre-tournament interview with Halep: “I have people around me who are friends and I feel like they are there forever.” This comeback was surely all the sweeter because Halep was thoroughly outplayed in the opening set. Stephens was so smooth and so resourceful, mixing booming topspin with flatter, faster strikes in a way that made her look – for 40 minutes or so – virtually unbeatable. The apparent rout continued into the early stages of the second, as Stephens broke again to lead 6-3, 2-0. The scoreline then was curiously similar to the lead that Halep had held over Jelena Ostapenko here 12 months ago. Halep celebrates winning the French Open Credit: AP Halep wound up as the frustrated party that day, backing off at just the wrong moment and allowing the free-swinging Ostapenko to surge to a shock win. But she is never more dangerous than when she is trailing, because that is when she loosens up and starts playing like a woman with nothing to lose. “I thought ‘Everything is gone. I just have to relax,’” said Halep afterwards, grinning her way through her on-court interview, as she remembered the key moment. The switch was partly spiritual, as she tapped into her deepest wells of tenacity. But it was also tactical, as she decided to use the whole area of the court for the first time, darting forward to the net whenever Stephens was pushed into deep defence. Commentating for ITV, the former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli began yelling: “That’s the play! That’s the play!” whenever Halep put away a winning volley. There is a huge amount of warmth towards Halep around the sport, as she conducts herself with real class at all times. If Halep found her best self in her moment of crisis, Stephens began to show signs of weariness. The match was only an hour old but Halep was setting a demanding pace and giving fewer and fewer freebies away as the match wore on. No fewer than 55 rallies exceeded nine shots, more than a third of the total points, which is an unusually high figure. The average speed of Stephens’ forehand, which had been doing so much damage, dropped from 77mph in the first set to 70mph in the second. Halep came from a set and break down to end Stephens' 100 per cent record in finals Credit: AFP The third set might look like a non-event on the scorecard but some of the rallies were extraordinary. And none more so than the point Halep won to go a double break ahead at 4-0. This was a 16-shot extravaganza in which she had to dig out a couple of desperate retrievals from the back of the court, then sprint up to the net to dink back a drop-shot, and finally backpedal to make that most awkward of putaways, the backhand overhead. When she finally edged Stephens out in that one, the usually sphinx-like Cahill jumped up off his seat and punched the air in the most uncharacteristic manner. Stephens would win only eight more points from that moment, as Halep finally finished the job with an unreturned serve, dropped her racket and put her hands over her face. Considering what she has been through to reach this point, she was surprisingly restrained in her celebrations, although she spoke eloquently afterwards. “I felt your support,” said Halep told the crowd, as she spoke to Bartoli afterwards. “In the last game I felt that I could not breathe any more, so I just tried not to repeat the last year. I did everything I could. It’s amazing what is happening now. Honestly I can’t believe it. I have been dreaming of this moment since I started to play tennis. I’m really happy that it’s happened in Roland Garros in Paris, my special city.” Halep has loved playing here ever since she won the junior event in 2008. She also took the time out to namecheck her compatriot Virginia Ruzici, who won the French Open 40 years ago and was watching from the stands. Halep won the junior title in 2008 Credit: AFP Messages of congratulation were now flooding in on social media from rivals like Petra Kvitova and Johanna Konta. Later Martina Navratilova – who recently hinted that she will be returning to Wimbledon for the BBC this summer on improved terms – would come up with a neat summation. “It wasn’t a monkey off her back; this was an 800lb gorilla.” The upshot is that this was the seventh straight women’s grand slam with a different winner. The tour is certainly open at the moment, after a sequence that began with Angelique Kerber in New York two years ago and continued through Serena Williams, Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and now Halep. Stephens shakes Halep's hand after losing the final Credit: AFP The one thing we are still waiting for is for anyone to show that they can put a sequence of results together to match what Williams and some of her 2000s rivals – the likes of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin – achieved at their peak. Yet if a straightforward narrative is hard to pull out of this unpredictable string of results, the women keep on throwing up quality matches, while the men have not produced an outstanding major tournament since Melbourne last year. In final analysis, Halep’s heartwarming victory was another good-news story for the WTA tour. 4:31PM Halep talks It's emotional to talk as the winner. I've been waiting for this moment since I was 14. I wanted this trophy to be here in France. Many congrats to Sloane. You have done a great job after those injuries. I'm sure you'll play many more finals in the future. Good luck and take care of your body. I wish in the future to play another final here. It's my favourite one. Thank you and see you next year. 4:29PM Stephens speaks It's been an incredible couple of weeks. It's not the trophy I wanted but it's still beautiful so thank you guys. To Simona, congratulations on your first slam. There's no one else I'd rather lose to than the world No 1. 4:28PM Halep the champion The world No 1 strides on to the mini stage assembled on Philippe Chatrier to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in relief and excitement in equal measure. The national anthem of Romanian is played out while Halep embraces the trophy. 4:26PM Sanchez Vicario hands out the trophies Arantxa Sanchez Vicario has the honour of handing out the runners-up plate and Suzanne Lenglen Cup this afternoon 20 years after her last Roland Garros title. 4:23PM A first time champion at Wimbledon awaits? Tears! Honestly tears!! Congratulations @Simona_Halep .... as a former player to see this moment is heartwarming! Three in a row 1st time slam winners....Sloane, Woz and Simo. Women’s tennis is hot!!— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 4:18PM Halep embraces Cahill in the stands The French Open champion is hoisted into the stands on Philippe Chatrier to give coach Cahill a warm embrace and then cuddles her mum and dad. There isn't a more popular winner than Halep. She manages to find her way back on to the court and looks to the sunny skies in thanks. The monkey is finally off her back. Simonaaaaa! You did it. So happy for you. Enjoy every second. You deserve this moment so much ��❤️ #RG18— Petra Kvitova (@Petra_Kvitova) June 9, 2018 4:16PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 Stephens* Here we go then. Halep lets out a deep sigh at winning the first point. But then nervously strikes long when well placed. A timely ace, her first of the match, is just what the doctor and her psychologist ordered but Stephens reels her in again for 30-all. Halep waits an age for a big overhead clearance to land. Halep stays strong to thwack a smash home and brings up championship point. She takes it. Stephens slaps a service return into the net. Halep has finally, finally won her first grand slam. Well done Simona. Her coach Darren Cahill can't quite believe it. He puts his hands on his head. Halep can't comprehend it either, placing both hands covering her face briefly before soaking up the adulation. GAME, SET AND MATCH: HALEP WINS FRENCH OPEN WITH 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 VICTORY OVER STEPHENS. 4:11PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 5-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh dear, dear. Stephens' level has dropped massively as she hands a free point for Halep for 0-30. She digs deep, fighting back for 30-all and then wins a third straight point with a backhand into the corner. Halep won't allow Stephens of a free game this set and draws back to deuce. Stephens swings a volley into the corner to edge to game point and as the clock passes the two-hour mark, Stephens finally gets on the board this set. 4:04PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 5-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Too many errors from Stephens now as Halep keeping her foot on the gas. She holds to 15. Stephens faces an uphill battle to get back into proceedings Credit: AP 4:02PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 4-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens looking exacerbated now as a failed drop shot lands lamely at the net. The unforced errors are creeping up for the American while Halep's dogged style is taking the Romanian closer to a first title. The 10th seed isn't ready yet to give up the fight as she digs in with a cross court winner for 30-15. But Halep isn't giving her rival any free points and making her work for everything and the errors still come. Halep misreads a slower second serve to miss a chance to set up break point but then hits an unbelievable backhand winner cross court which gets the crowd on Philippe Chatrier purring again. We're back to deuce. Halep gets a slice of luck with a clip of the tape to throw Stephens at the net. The American reacts, gets her racket on the high ball but can't get her return in the court. Halep has another break point here. Stephens pushes Halep to all corners again and how does the Romanian even stay in this incredible point? Both players advance to net, Halep managing to get an overhead and finally finding space to push home the winner. HALEP BREAKS. 3:55PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 3-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens trying to gee herself up by slapping her thigh trailing 30-0. The physical pep talk has worked in the short term, winning the next two points. Halep is more aggressive on the next point and the low ball is difficult for Stephens to retrieve. And at game point another lengthy rally ensues and Stephens blinks first. 'That's a play', shouts Bartoli in the ITV studio again. We know which way Bartoli wants this final to play out. 36 64 30 �� Halep has kept her head. She has kept her aggression. She has not gone away. And now she is amazingly 12 points from the title!���� #RG18pic.twitter.com/ZvL2ZtDDvP— Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) June 9, 2018 3:50PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 2-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Superb ball-striking from both players again as Stephens just misses a forehand when she was making them regularly during the first set. Pressure now as Halep moves to 15-30 up but Stephens keeps calm this time to deliver a brilliant forehand winner cross court. That was a big point. And here's a bigger one now. Stephens can't make a first serve. She gets a second one in but then throws in a sloppy forehand. Her level has massively dropped. Halep, break point now. She takes it. A punched deep forehand is too much for Stephens to get back. The momentum is all with Halep. HALEP BREAKS. 3:45PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 1-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Both players left the court at the end of the second set and we're into unchartered territory now as all seven of their head-to-heads haven't gone the distance before. All three of Halep's last grand slam finals went into a decider. At the start of the third and that break in action has worked to Stephens' advantage as she moves to 0-30. A brilliant backhand winner down the line draws Halep back to 30-all and nerves get the better of Stephens on the next point as she strikes long. Despite great defensive play from the 10th seed, Halep stays strong to see out the game. Sloane Stephens’ adjustment steps have slowed— bad sign when your opponent in the third set is Simona Halep. What a match @rolandgarros— Gerry Marzorati (@marzoTennis) June 9, 2018 3:36PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep stays positive, switching play from corner to corner and biding her time from the baseline. She gets a let off when Halep makes one stretch out wide and looks on as Stephens sends a forehand into the tramlines for 15-30. Stephens clenches her fist as a Halep groundstroke lands long. But she can't back it up as Halep's power and pace proves too hard to deal with. Halep brings up set point. And she takes it as Stephens hits into the tramlines. HALEP WINS SECOND SET TO LEVEL THE MATCH. 3:31PM Halep 3-6, 5-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep throws Stephens off balance by taking a forehand early and catching the American out on the baseline. Stephens stays strong during the next point, firing deep, so deep at the lines and piling further pressure on Halep at 30-all. Halep takes advantage as a ball rears up off the clay and takes the pace off Stephens' reply. Halep is on the short ball in a flash, striking a volley into the corner. Halep moves Stephens side-to-side before unleashing the winner and crucially Halep edges back in front this set. Halep battles against Stephens Credit: AFP 3:27PM Halep* 3-6, 4-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep looks to her corner with her arms extended out wide at missing one groundstroke. Stephens sends down her first ace of the match to establish a 30-0 advantage and then watches as Halep pushes long. That last game might be playing on the world No 1's mind. Stephens misses two game points, the second missing the line with a backhand. But she outlasts Halep during the next rally and we're back level for the set. 3:22PM Halep 3-6, 4-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens has woken back into action. A floating forehand on the line takes her to three break points and when Halep pushes long, we're back on serve this set. Halep will be kicking herself. That was lost far too quickly. STEPHENS BREAKS. 3:20PM Halep* 3-6, 4-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens stops the rot as she watches a Halep forehand land wide. The world No 1 stays focused on Stephens' backhand, whipping forehands out of the American's reach. Stephens digs deep for 30-all but then floats a tired groundstroke into the middle to hand Halep another break point. Another unforced error from Stephens hands Halep a second break this set. How quickly this match has turned. HALEP BREAKS. 3:15PM Halep 3-6, 3-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens' concentration levels have taken a hit. The momentum has shifted, Halep winning 10 of their last 11 points. Stephens' range is off now, a couple of unforced errors allowing Halep of edging ahead this set. Too soon? Wikipedia already has Sloane winning: https://t.co/yLIoTSBndh— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 9, 2018 3:12PM Halep* 3-6, 2-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Marion Bartoli on the ITV commentary is struggling with impartiality this afternoon. 'Go, go, go, go, go' she cries in encouragement to Halep to rush the net. The Romanian's revival gathers pace moving to 0-30 and drawing the American into an error. Now she has three break points this game to draw level this set. And she makes it as Stephens drags a forehand into the tramlines. HALEP BREAKS. 3:08PM Halep 3-6, 1-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens gives one mark a serious look as Halep edges to 30-15 and is finally starting to hurt the American will some deep hitting and solid net play. The Romanian's best chance is to cut short the points and rush the net where possible. A forehand down the line sets Halep up for moving into court and she duly dispatches the volley. Great play Halep. Halep keeps fighting against Stephens Credit: Getty Images 3:05PM Halep* 3-6, 0-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A drop in concentration now from Stephens as Halep moves to 0-30. Stephens composes herself passing Halep at the net and then getting a bit of fortune with a mishit forehand that lands flush on the line. Halep's head drops. From 30-0 down, Stephens completes the comeback with four straight points. That will hurt Halep. This performance from Sloane Stephens in a Slam final is the equal of those from all-time greats like Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova and Rafael Nadal. That good.— David Law (@DavidLawTennis) June 9, 2018 3:01PM Halep 3-6, 0-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep will be praying that Stephens' level drops soon. But it isn't. The American continues to work her magic, spraying unbelievable winners. One backhand down the line brings up two break points. She misses the first with a backhand error. Halep delivers a crucial first serve to blot the second. But Stephens has a third bite of the cherry now. Halep whips a forehand winner down the line to keep Stephens waiting. The American doesn't mind waiting. She's the patient kind. She demonstrates her ability to draw winners from all acute angles by setting up break point No 4 and this time she cheekily goes for a high ball as Halep moves into the net. The Romanian gets her racket to the ball but it flies wide. Stephens is playing unbelievable tennis. Why now? Halep must be thinking. Why now. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:53PM Halep* 3-6 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens' footwork behind the baseline and effortlessness moving side-to-side is mesmorising. Halep is finding the corners, but Stephens is retrieving everything thrown at her and asking further questions of Halep. One punching forehand flashes cross court at a zippy 90 mph for 30-15 but she blinks first during the next lengthy rally. Now she is breathing heavily as she lines up for her next service rotation. Halep toys with Stephens as another rally ensues, chasing down a drop shot and delivering her own drop which Stephens can't retrieve. It's a first break point for Halep. Anxiousness appears to get the better of her. She stands rigid in disbelief at missing that chance. Stephens composes herself to get back on track with decent serving to bring up set point. She takes it as her power is again too much for the world No 1. STEPHENS WINS THE FIRST SET 6-3 2:47PM Halep 3-5 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep working hard for every point and building some rhythm on her serve now. A strong hold to 30, the world No 1 steps into a short return to deliver her own forehand winner. More cries of 'Si-mon-a' ring round Chatrier. Stephens will be serving for the set. 2:43PM Halep* 2-5 Stephens (*denotes next server) A poorly-executed drop shot from Stephens coupled with sound defensive play behind the baseline work Halep to 15-30. Stephens runs round a backhand to strike a powerful forehand and deceives the world No 1 who anticipated Stephens going down the line at game point, only to be watch Stephens strike a forehand winner cross court. @SloaneStephens power AND her topspin is hurting Simo ... their movement is incredible but Sloane’s power is the difference and will be throughout. Only chance Simo has is if Sloane gets tight.— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 Stephens in fantastic form at the start of the opening set Credit: Reuters 2:38PM Halep 2-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Wow. Just when Halep looks to be in control of a rally, Stephens finds a winner at such a cute angle. It draws the American to 30-all and keeps the heat on Halep. The world No 1 isn't playing badly, but Stephens is hitting the lines quite perfectly so far. Halep makes an important hold when Stephens makes an uncharacteristic unforced error. 2:34PM Halep* 1-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh. My. Word! Halep is quite brilliant, brilliant terrier. She makes two ridiculous gets out wide which she has no right to retrieve to send everything back but then strikes an unforced error into the net. She stares down the net in disbelief. At 40-15 Halep fires a winner down the line and looks if to say 'is this what I have to do just to win a point?' Stephens, in true smoking a cigar, feet up style, gets over the night to cement the break. Women's final so far = (fire emoji)(fire emoji)(fire emoji).#RG18— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 9, 2018 2:29PM Halep 1-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Some fantastic tennis being played by both women now, working each other from side to side and creating the space to go for the kill. Halep moves into the court for the first time, smashing a sublime overhead deep into the corner for 30-all. But Stephens has some zip on a second service return to throw Halep at the baseline. It brings up a first break point for Stephens. And she makes it. Stephens does brilliantly to switch the play from down the line to cross court and it forces Halep to strike the middle. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:23PM Halep* 1-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A couple of long forehands from Halep allow Stephens to progress to 40-15. But the swirling wind is causing problems for both players and the American pushes one groundstroke behind the line to allow Halep to hang around in the game. The 10th seed stays on the front foot during the next rally and draws another error from Halep's forehand. It remains on serve. 2:19PM Halep 1-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Beautiful ball-striking from Stephens as the American strikes a clean forehand winner down the line after moving Halep at the baseline to create an opening. It's effortless from Stephens as she draws Halep wide to draw level at 30-all. Halep takes the crucial next point, relieved as Stephens' reply flies off the top of her racket. A cross court exchange during the next rally of 14 shots ends when Halep strikes into the tape. Cries of 'Simona' ring round at deuce. Stephens can't jump on a slower second serve but Halep finally holds when she outlasts Stephens during a brutal baseline duel. 2:13PM Halep* 0-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens opens up the final, watches a couple of service returns land long for 30-0. Halep drags a backhand into the tramlines but then gets a first point on the board when Stephens makes an unforced error. Stephens takes a comfortable hold with a backhand winner down the line. The American looks calm and focused early on as expected. 2:03PM Here they come Stephens, with headphones nestled in her ears, heads out to the Philippe Chatrier Court first. Halep follows and unsurprisingly draws a louder cheer from the crowd. Here she is! What Simona and Sloane are playing for today...#RG18pic.twitter.com/5Xq1GGbICc— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2018 1:56PM Getting to know Stephens Stephens' aloof and seemingly can't be bothered attitude hasn't won her too many additional followers and supporters in Paris. Our tennis correspondent Simon Briggs tweeted after Stephens' semi-final win over good friend Madison Keys that she looked like she would rather be "flossing her teeth" than giving her on-court interview. Her lack of French hasn't helped with making friends either. While many of the top level players have gone to great lengths to speak the local language at Roland Garros, Stephens has only uttered a tepid 'Merci Paris, je t'aime' in post-match discussions. Former player and American broadcaster Mary Carillo spent much time with Stephens last summer while working together at the Tennis Channel in the US. Carillo has offered a great insight into what Stephens is really like. She's not just the laid-back, unimpressed and unbothered individual she displays on the court. 1:39PM Halep's supporters Halep fans getting hyped outside Chatrier less an hour before the Women’s Final @rolandgarros ���� pic.twitter.com/uglLMFcyIl— Steve Weissman (@Steve_Weissman) June 9, 2018 1:33PM How will Halep cope with the pressure? Halep and Stephens have similar styles. Both glide around the back of the court, have an abundance of stamina and can switch from defence into attack. The biggest question mark hanging over Halep is the scar tissue of those defeats. When she came from a set down to beat Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals, Halep pointed her finger at her temple. She still has moments of anxiety and self doubt, but by and large she is starting to fix some of her self-inflicted issues. "She deals much better with pressure," 1978 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici who is also Halep's manager and the only woman from Romania to win a major. "The fact that she became No 1 has given her a different dimension, a different stature. She really deals with things better. Psychologically, she's also much better. ... And now she wants to win a Grand Slam. And now she says it. "Before, she didn't dare say it. Now she says it: 'I want to win a Grand Slam.'" Simona Halep, head in the game#RG18#Gettypic.twitter.com/70PQx2eI27— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 6, 2018 1:16PM Flashback to 2008 Halep shouldn't concern herself with the three grand slam finals lost but look back on a happy time when she was lifting the winners' trophy. Ten years ago, as ninth seed Halep won the junior girls' title beating compatriot Elena Bogdan in three sets. If the world No 1 prevails today, she would become the sixth player to win the women's singles title in Paris after winning the girls' title. The other five, you ask? Francoise Durr, Mima Jausovec, Hana Mandlikova, Jennifer Capriati and Justine Henin. Halep won the girls' title in Paris back in 2008 Credit: Getty Images 12:38PM Stephens' impeccable finals record Halep won't need reminding of Stephens' record in tournament finals. The American has proved herself a big-game player, most prominently during her charge to last year's US Open final where she became an unlikely champion so soon after returning from an 11-month injury lay-off. The 25-year-old's victory in Miami back in early April, was her sixth straight win from six finals. Of her impeccable form in finals, Stephens said in the lead up to today's showdown: "There is no formula. I didn't, like, try to do it. I'm not trying to break a record. It's just how it's happened for me." Halep has a mixed bag of results when it comes to finals - albeit competing in a far higher number than her rival. Stephens has won all six of her tournament finals Credit: Getty Images The Romanian is 16-14 overall but her experience hasn't helped her get over the line in the last 12 months. Halep has lost finals in Paris, Cincinnati, Beijing, Melbourne and Rome. Her only success was a smaller tournament in Shenzhen at the start of the year. Halep's 'always the bridesmaid never the bride' story makes her a favourite with neutral fans who are desperate to see the wounded 26-year-old put some painful defeats behind her and write a new chapter of positivity and success moving forward. 10:45AM And then there were two... Welcome all to coverage of the women's final at Roland Garros where Simona Halep looks to fulfil a career ambition of ending her grand slam drought by overcoming last year's US Open champion Sloane Stephens. Halep is well versed in the occasion of reaching the latter stages of a major, especially in Paris where she has won through to the final two other times in 2014 and last year, only to suffer defeat to Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko. This afternoon she must defy the brilliance and athleticism of American Stephens, who will be competing in her first final at Roland Garros, in order to get her hands on the Suzanne Lenglen cup. While the crowd are likely to get behind the world No 1 Halep, Stephens' nerveless approach to her game could prove a tough obstacle to clear. The Romanian has a superior head-to-head advantage, winning five of their seven battles - including winning all four of their last encounters. In fact Halep saw off the 10th seed Stephens during her run to the French Open final in 2014. If today's match goes to a third set, it will be the first time a decider has been required to determine the outcome of their battles. Who will you be supporting this afternoon and how do you see the final playing out? Vote in the poll below and send your thoughts to me at vicki.hodges@telegraph.co.uk
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 09: Maria Sharapova of Russia celebrates with the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in the women's singles final against Sara Errani of Italy during day 14 of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 9, 2012 in Paris, France. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Maria Sharapova Of Russia Celebrates With The Coupe Suzanne Lenglen In The Women's Singles Final Against Sara Errani Getty Images
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 09: Maria Sharapova of Russia celebrates with the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in the women's singles final against Sara Errani of Italy during day 14 of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 9, 2012 in Paris, France. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Croatia's Donna Vekic returns a shot against Russia's Maria Sharapova during their second round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France, Thursday, May 31, 2018. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Barty, Konta, Vekic, Osaka reach Nottingham Open semis
Croatia's Donna Vekic returns a shot against Russia's Maria Sharapova during their second round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France, Thursday, May 31, 2018. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Maria Sharapova will delay her start to the grass-court season and Madison Keys is being troubled by an abdominal injury.
Sharapova and Keys withdraw from Birmingham Classic
Maria Sharapova will delay her start to the grass-court season and Madison Keys is being troubled by an abdominal injury.
Jun 6, 2018, Paris, France: Maria Sharapova (RUS) in action during her match against Garbine Muguruza (ESP) on day 11 of the 2018 French Open at Roland Garros. Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports
Tennis: French Open
Jun 6, 2018, Paris, France: Maria Sharapova (RUS) in action during her match against Garbine Muguruza (ESP) on day 11 of the 2018 French Open at Roland Garros. Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 6, 2018, Paris, France: Maria Sharapova (RUS) in action during her match against Garbine Muguruza (ESP) on day 11 of the 2018 French Open at Roland Garros. Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports
Tennis: French Open
Jun 6, 2018, Paris, France: Maria Sharapova (RUS) in action during her match against Garbine Muguruza (ESP) on day 11 of the 2018 French Open at Roland Garros. Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports
Each of next week’s grass-court events took a hit to its celebrity pulling power on Wednesday, as Rafael Nadal pulled out of the Fever-Tree Championships at Queen’s and ­Maria Sharapova withdrew from the Birmingham Classic. Nadal had already hinted that he might skip his planned Wimbledon warm-up, soon after lifting his 11th French Open title on Sunday. On Wednesday, he ­explained that, “I have spoken to my doctors and I need to listen to what my body is telling me.” Sharapova made a similar comment, saying that, “I need to take care of my body” after her own run to the quarter-finals at Roland Garros. Just as Nadal has now withdrawn from Queen’s for a third consecutive season, this is the second year running that Sharapova has failed to show up at Birmingham. Her absence is ironic in light of the moral contortions that Michael Downey, the previous Lawn Tennis Association chief executive, put himself through in order to justify handing her a two-year deal – complete with guaranteed wild cards – so soon ­after her return from a 15-month doping ban. “Not everyone will agree,” he wrote last year, in a 700-word email to stakeholders. Sharapova has pulled out of Birmingham to look after her body Credit: Reuters The wild-card debate around Dan Evans is only likely to intensify after he pulled off another fine win in the Nottingham Open over world No 133 Sergiy Stakhovsky. Evans is thus through to the quarter-finals for the second straight week and will move comfortably inside the top 500 when the next set of rankings is published on Monday. His 7-5, 7-6 win was particularly notable because Stakhovsky is a fine grass-court player, a ­talented volleyer, who is best known for ending Roger Federer’s sequence of 36 straight grand-slam quarter-finals with a second-round Wimbledon win in 2013. On this form, Evans would seem to be worthy of an ­invitation into qualifying for Queen’s this weekend. To get there, though, he would have to lose his next match in ­Nottingham.
Rafael Nadal pulls out of Queen's while Maria Sharapova withdraws from Birmingham Classic
Each of next week’s grass-court events took a hit to its celebrity pulling power on Wednesday, as Rafael Nadal pulled out of the Fever-Tree Championships at Queen’s and ­Maria Sharapova withdrew from the Birmingham Classic. Nadal had already hinted that he might skip his planned Wimbledon warm-up, soon after lifting his 11th French Open title on Sunday. On Wednesday, he ­explained that, “I have spoken to my doctors and I need to listen to what my body is telling me.” Sharapova made a similar comment, saying that, “I need to take care of my body” after her own run to the quarter-finals at Roland Garros. Just as Nadal has now withdrawn from Queen’s for a third consecutive season, this is the second year running that Sharapova has failed to show up at Birmingham. Her absence is ironic in light of the moral contortions that Michael Downey, the previous Lawn Tennis Association chief executive, put himself through in order to justify handing her a two-year deal – complete with guaranteed wild cards – so soon ­after her return from a 15-month doping ban. “Not everyone will agree,” he wrote last year, in a 700-word email to stakeholders. Sharapova has pulled out of Birmingham to look after her body Credit: Reuters The wild-card debate around Dan Evans is only likely to intensify after he pulled off another fine win in the Nottingham Open over world No 133 Sergiy Stakhovsky. Evans is thus through to the quarter-finals for the second straight week and will move comfortably inside the top 500 when the next set of rankings is published on Monday. His 7-5, 7-6 win was particularly notable because Stakhovsky is a fine grass-court player, a ­talented volleyer, who is best known for ending Roger Federer’s sequence of 36 straight grand-slam quarter-finals with a second-round Wimbledon win in 2013. On this form, Evans would seem to be worthy of an ­invitation into qualifying for Queen’s this weekend. To get there, though, he would have to lose his next match in ­Nottingham.
Each of next week’s grass-court events took a hit to its celebrity pulling power on Wednesday, as Rafael Nadal pulled out of the Fever-Tree Championships at Queen’s and ­Maria Sharapova withdrew from the Birmingham Classic. Nadal had already hinted that he might skip his planned Wimbledon warm-up, soon after lifting his 11th French Open title on Sunday. On Wednesday, he ­explained that, “I have spoken to my doctors and I need to listen to what my body is telling me.” Sharapova made a similar comment, saying that, “I need to take care of my body” after her own run to the quarter-finals at Roland Garros. Just as Nadal has now withdrawn from Queen’s for a third consecutive season, this is the second year running that Sharapova has failed to show up at Birmingham. Her absence is ironic in light of the moral contortions that Michael Downey, the previous Lawn Tennis Association chief executive, put himself through in order to justify handing her a two-year deal – complete with guaranteed wild cards – so soon ­after her return from a 15-month doping ban. “Not everyone will agree,” he wrote last year, in a 700-word email to stakeholders. Sharapova has pulled out of Birmingham to look after her body Credit: Reuters The wild-card debate around Dan Evans is only likely to intensify after he pulled off another fine win in the Nottingham Open over world No 133 Sergiy Stakhovsky. Evans is thus through to the quarter-finals for the second straight week and will move comfortably inside the top 500 when the next set of rankings is published on Monday. His 7-5, 7-6 win was particularly notable because Stakhovsky is a fine grass-court player, a ­talented volleyer, who is best known for ending Roger Federer’s sequence of 36 straight grand-slam quarter-finals with a second-round Wimbledon win in 2013. On this form, Evans would seem to be worthy of an ­invitation into qualifying for Queen’s this weekend. To get there, though, he would have to lose his next match in ­Nottingham.
Rafael Nadal pulls out of Queen's while Maria Sharapova withdraws from Birmingham Classic
Each of next week’s grass-court events took a hit to its celebrity pulling power on Wednesday, as Rafael Nadal pulled out of the Fever-Tree Championships at Queen’s and ­Maria Sharapova withdrew from the Birmingham Classic. Nadal had already hinted that he might skip his planned Wimbledon warm-up, soon after lifting his 11th French Open title on Sunday. On Wednesday, he ­explained that, “I have spoken to my doctors and I need to listen to what my body is telling me.” Sharapova made a similar comment, saying that, “I need to take care of my body” after her own run to the quarter-finals at Roland Garros. Just as Nadal has now withdrawn from Queen’s for a third consecutive season, this is the second year running that Sharapova has failed to show up at Birmingham. Her absence is ironic in light of the moral contortions that Michael Downey, the previous Lawn Tennis Association chief executive, put himself through in order to justify handing her a two-year deal – complete with guaranteed wild cards – so soon ­after her return from a 15-month doping ban. “Not everyone will agree,” he wrote last year, in a 700-word email to stakeholders. Sharapova has pulled out of Birmingham to look after her body Credit: Reuters The wild-card debate around Dan Evans is only likely to intensify after he pulled off another fine win in the Nottingham Open over world No 133 Sergiy Stakhovsky. Evans is thus through to the quarter-finals for the second straight week and will move comfortably inside the top 500 when the next set of rankings is published on Monday. His 7-5, 7-6 win was particularly notable because Stakhovsky is a fine grass-court player, a ­talented volleyer, who is best known for ending Roger Federer’s sequence of 36 straight grand-slam quarter-finals with a second-round Wimbledon win in 2013. On this form, Evans would seem to be worthy of an ­invitation into qualifying for Queen’s this weekend. To get there, though, he would have to lose his next match in ­Nottingham.
Resting: Maria Sharapova (AFP Photo/Eric FEFERBERG)
Resting: Maria Sharapova
Resting: Maria Sharapova (AFP Photo/Eric FEFERBERG)
World No 1 Simona Halep finally broke her grand-slam jinx at Roland Garros, producing an unforgettable comeback to burn past the reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens on the home straight. The fans in Paris had watched Halep come up just short of the title here twice before, and they have developed a warm relationship with her. Court Philippe Chatrier was rocking in the third set as Halep pulled away, producing some absurd recovery shots to exhaust the waning Stephens further. At the close of her 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win, Halep accepted a leg-up from a courtside official and climbed up to her player box, where she embraced the three men who have stood consistently at her side through her climb up the world rankings: physio Andrei Cristofor, fitness trainer Teo Cercel and coach Darren Cahill. As the Telegraph reported, in a pre-tournament interview with Halep: “I have people around me who are friends and I feel like they are there forever.” This comeback was surely all the sweeter because Halep was thoroughly outplayed in the opening set. Stephens was so smooth and so resourceful, mixing booming topspin with flatter, faster strikes in a way that made her look – for 40 minutes or so – virtually unbeatable. The apparent rout continued into the early stages of the second, as Stephens broke again to lead 6-3, 2-0. The scoreline then was curiously similar to the lead that Halep had held over Jelena Ostapenko here 12 months ago. Halep celebrates winning the French Open Credit: AP Halep wound up as the frustrated party that day, backing off at just the wrong moment and allowing the free-swinging Ostapenko to surge to a shock win. But she is never more dangerous than when she is trailing, because that is when she loosens up and starts playing like a woman with nothing to lose. “I thought ‘Everything is gone. I just have to relax,’” said Halep afterwards, grinning her way through her on-court interview, as she remembered the key moment. The switch was partly spiritual, as she tapped into her deepest wells of tenacity. But it was also tactical, as she decided to use the whole area of the court for the first time, darting forward to the net whenever Stephens was pushed into deep defence. Commentating for ITV, the former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli began yelling: “That’s the play! That’s the play!” whenever Halep put away a winning volley. There is a huge amount of warmth towards Halep around the sport, as she conducts herself with real class at all times. If Halep found her best self in her moment of crisis, Stephens began to show signs of weariness. The match was only an hour old but Halep was setting a demanding pace and giving fewer and fewer freebies away as the match wore on. No fewer than 55 rallies exceeded nine shots, more than a third of the total points, which is an unusually high figure. The average speed of Stephens’ forehand, which had been doing so much damage, dropped from 77mph in the first set to 70mph in the second. Halep came from a set and break down to end Stephens' 100 per cent record in finals Credit: AFP The third set might look like a non-event on the scorecard but some of the rallies were extraordinary. And none more so than the point Halep won to go a double break ahead at 4-0. This was a 16-shot extravaganza in which she had to dig out a couple of desperate retrievals from the back of the court, then sprint up to the net to dink back a drop-shot, and finally backpedal to make that most awkward of putaways, the backhand overhead. When she finally edged Stephens out in that one, the usually sphinx-like Cahill jumped up off his seat and punched the air in the most uncharacteristic manner. Stephens would win only eight more points from that moment, as Halep finally finished the job with an unreturned serve, dropped her racket and put her hands over her face. Considering what she has been through to reach this point, she was surprisingly restrained in her celebrations, although she spoke eloquently afterwards. “I felt your support,” said Halep told the crowd, as she spoke to Bartoli afterwards. “In the last game I felt that I could not breathe any more, so I just tried not to repeat the last year. I did everything I could. It’s amazing what is happening now. Honestly I can’t believe it. I have been dreaming of this moment since I started to play tennis. I’m really happy that it’s happened in Roland Garros in Paris, my special city.” Halep has loved playing here ever since she won the junior event in 2008. She also took the time out to namecheck her compatriot Virginia Ruzici, who won the French Open 40 years ago and was watching from the stands. Halep won the junior title in 2008 Credit: AFP Messages of congratulation were now flooding in on social media from rivals like Petra Kvitova and Johanna Konta. Later Martina Navratilova – who recently hinted that she will be returning to Wimbledon for the BBC this summer on improved terms – would come up with a neat summation. “It wasn’t a monkey off her back; this was an 800lb gorilla.” The upshot is that this was the seventh straight women’s grand slam with a different winner. The tour is certainly open at the moment, after a sequence that began with Angelique Kerber in New York two years ago and continued through Serena Williams, Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and now Halep. Stephens shakes Halep's hand after losing the final Credit: AFP The one thing we are still waiting for is for anyone to show that they can put a sequence of results together to match what Williams and some of her 2000s rivals – the likes of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin – achieved at their peak. Yet if a straightforward narrative is hard to pull out of this unpredictable string of results, the women keep on throwing up quality matches, while the men have not produced an outstanding major tournament since Melbourne last year. In final analysis, Halep’s heartwarming victory was another good-news story for the WTA tour. 4:31PM Halep talks It's emotional to talk as the winner. I've been waiting for this moment since I was 14. I wanted this trophy to be here in France. Many congrats to Sloane. You have done a great job after those injuries. I'm sure you'll play many more finals in the future. Good luck and take care of your body. I wish in the future to play another final here. It's my favourite one. Thank you and see you next year. 4:29PM Stephens speaks It's been an incredible couple of weeks. It's not the trophy I wanted but it's still beautiful so thank you guys. To Simona, congratulations on your first slam. There's no one else I'd rather lose to than the world No 1. 4:28PM Halep the champion The world No 1 strides on to the mini stage assembled on Philippe Chatrier to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in relief and excitement in equal measure. The national anthem of Romanian is played out while Halep embraces the trophy. 4:26PM Sanchez Vicario hands out the trophies Arantxa Sanchez Vicario has the honour of handing out the runners-up plate and Suzanne Lenglen Cup this afternoon 20 years after her last Roland Garros title. 4:23PM A first time champion at Wimbledon awaits? Tears! Honestly tears!! Congratulations @Simona_Halep .... as a former player to see this moment is heartwarming! Three in a row 1st time slam winners....Sloane, Woz and Simo. Women’s tennis is hot!!— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 4:18PM Halep embraces Cahill in the stands The French Open champion is hoisted into the stands on Philippe Chatrier to give coach Cahill a warm embrace and then cuddles her mum and dad. There isn't a more popular winner than Halep. She manages to find her way back on to the court and looks to the sunny skies in thanks. The monkey is finally off her back. Simonaaaaa! You did it. So happy for you. Enjoy every second. You deserve this moment so much ��❤️ #RG18— Petra Kvitova (@Petra_Kvitova) June 9, 2018 4:16PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 Stephens* Here we go then. Halep lets out a deep sigh at winning the first point. But then nervously strikes long when well placed. A timely ace, her first of the match, is just what the doctor and her psychologist ordered but Stephens reels her in again for 30-all. Halep waits an age for a big overhead clearance to land. Halep stays strong to thwack a smash home and brings up championship point. She takes it. Stephens slaps a service return into the net. Halep has finally, finally won her first grand slam. Well done Simona. Her coach Darren Cahill can't quite believe it. He puts his hands on his head. Halep can't comprehend it either, placing both hands covering her face briefly before soaking up the adulation. GAME, SET AND MATCH: HALEP WINS FRENCH OPEN WITH 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 VICTORY OVER STEPHENS. 4:11PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 5-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh dear, dear. Stephens' level has dropped massively as she hands a free point for Halep for 0-30. She digs deep, fighting back for 30-all and then wins a third straight point with a backhand into the corner. Halep won't allow Stephens of a free game this set and draws back to deuce. Stephens swings a volley into the corner to edge to game point and as the clock passes the two-hour mark, Stephens finally gets on the board this set. 4:04PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 5-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Too many errors from Stephens now as Halep keeping her foot on the gas. She holds to 15. Stephens faces an uphill battle to get back into proceedings Credit: AP 4:02PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 4-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens looking exacerbated now as a failed drop shot lands lamely at the net. The unforced errors are creeping up for the American while Halep's dogged style is taking the Romanian closer to a first title. The 10th seed isn't ready yet to give up the fight as she digs in with a cross court winner for 30-15. But Halep isn't giving her rival any free points and making her work for everything and the errors still come. Halep misreads a slower second serve to miss a chance to set up break point but then hits an unbelievable backhand winner cross court which gets the crowd on Philippe Chatrier purring again. We're back to deuce. Halep gets a slice of luck with a clip of the tape to throw Stephens at the net. The American reacts, gets her racket on the high ball but can't get her return in the court. Halep has another break point here. Stephens pushes Halep to all corners again and how does the Romanian even stay in this incredible point? Both players advance to net, Halep managing to get an overhead and finally finding space to push home the winner. HALEP BREAKS. 3:55PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 3-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens trying to gee herself up by slapping her thigh trailing 30-0. The physical pep talk has worked in the short term, winning the next two points. Halep is more aggressive on the next point and the low ball is difficult for Stephens to retrieve. And at game point another lengthy rally ensues and Stephens blinks first. 'That's a play', shouts Bartoli in the ITV studio again. We know which way Bartoli wants this final to play out. 36 64 30 �� Halep has kept her head. She has kept her aggression. She has not gone away. And now she is amazingly 12 points from the title!���� #RG18pic.twitter.com/ZvL2ZtDDvP— Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) June 9, 2018 3:50PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 2-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Superb ball-striking from both players again as Stephens just misses a forehand when she was making them regularly during the first set. Pressure now as Halep moves to 15-30 up but Stephens keeps calm this time to deliver a brilliant forehand winner cross court. That was a big point. And here's a bigger one now. Stephens can't make a first serve. She gets a second one in but then throws in a sloppy forehand. Her level has massively dropped. Halep, break point now. She takes it. A punched deep forehand is too much for Stephens to get back. The momentum is all with Halep. HALEP BREAKS. 3:45PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 1-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Both players left the court at the end of the second set and we're into unchartered territory now as all seven of their head-to-heads haven't gone the distance before. All three of Halep's last grand slam finals went into a decider. At the start of the third and that break in action has worked to Stephens' advantage as she moves to 0-30. A brilliant backhand winner down the line draws Halep back to 30-all and nerves get the better of Stephens on the next point as she strikes long. Despite great defensive play from the 10th seed, Halep stays strong to see out the game. Sloane Stephens’ adjustment steps have slowed— bad sign when your opponent in the third set is Simona Halep. What a match @rolandgarros— Gerry Marzorati (@marzoTennis) June 9, 2018 3:36PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep stays positive, switching play from corner to corner and biding her time from the baseline. She gets a let off when Halep makes one stretch out wide and looks on as Stephens sends a forehand into the tramlines for 15-30. Stephens clenches her fist as a Halep groundstroke lands long. But she can't back it up as Halep's power and pace proves too hard to deal with. Halep brings up set point. And she takes it as Stephens hits into the tramlines. HALEP WINS SECOND SET TO LEVEL THE MATCH. 3:31PM Halep 3-6, 5-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep throws Stephens off balance by taking a forehand early and catching the American out on the baseline. Stephens stays strong during the next point, firing deep, so deep at the lines and piling further pressure on Halep at 30-all. Halep takes advantage as a ball rears up off the clay and takes the pace off Stephens' reply. Halep is on the short ball in a flash, striking a volley into the corner. Halep moves Stephens side-to-side before unleashing the winner and crucially Halep edges back in front this set. Halep battles against Stephens Credit: AFP 3:27PM Halep* 3-6, 4-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep looks to her corner with her arms extended out wide at missing one groundstroke. Stephens sends down her first ace of the match to establish a 30-0 advantage and then watches as Halep pushes long. That last game might be playing on the world No 1's mind. Stephens misses two game points, the second missing the line with a backhand. But she outlasts Halep during the next rally and we're back level for the set. 3:22PM Halep 3-6, 4-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens has woken back into action. A floating forehand on the line takes her to three break points and when Halep pushes long, we're back on serve this set. Halep will be kicking herself. That was lost far too quickly. STEPHENS BREAKS. 3:20PM Halep* 3-6, 4-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens stops the rot as she watches a Halep forehand land wide. The world No 1 stays focused on Stephens' backhand, whipping forehands out of the American's reach. Stephens digs deep for 30-all but then floats a tired groundstroke into the middle to hand Halep another break point. Another unforced error from Stephens hands Halep a second break this set. How quickly this match has turned. HALEP BREAKS. 3:15PM Halep 3-6, 3-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens' concentration levels have taken a hit. The momentum has shifted, Halep winning 10 of their last 11 points. Stephens' range is off now, a couple of unforced errors allowing Halep of edging ahead this set. Too soon? Wikipedia already has Sloane winning: https://t.co/yLIoTSBndh— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 9, 2018 3:12PM Halep* 3-6, 2-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Marion Bartoli on the ITV commentary is struggling with impartiality this afternoon. 'Go, go, go, go, go' she cries in encouragement to Halep to rush the net. The Romanian's revival gathers pace moving to 0-30 and drawing the American into an error. Now she has three break points this game to draw level this set. And she makes it as Stephens drags a forehand into the tramlines. HALEP BREAKS. 3:08PM Halep 3-6, 1-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens gives one mark a serious look as Halep edges to 30-15 and is finally starting to hurt the American will some deep hitting and solid net play. The Romanian's best chance is to cut short the points and rush the net where possible. A forehand down the line sets Halep up for moving into court and she duly dispatches the volley. Great play Halep. Halep keeps fighting against Stephens Credit: Getty Images 3:05PM Halep* 3-6, 0-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A drop in concentration now from Stephens as Halep moves to 0-30. Stephens composes herself passing Halep at the net and then getting a bit of fortune with a mishit forehand that lands flush on the line. Halep's head drops. From 30-0 down, Stephens completes the comeback with four straight points. That will hurt Halep. This performance from Sloane Stephens in a Slam final is the equal of those from all-time greats like Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova and Rafael Nadal. That good.— David Law (@DavidLawTennis) June 9, 2018 3:01PM Halep 3-6, 0-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep will be praying that Stephens' level drops soon. But it isn't. The American continues to work her magic, spraying unbelievable winners. One backhand down the line brings up two break points. She misses the first with a backhand error. Halep delivers a crucial first serve to blot the second. But Stephens has a third bite of the cherry now. Halep whips a forehand winner down the line to keep Stephens waiting. The American doesn't mind waiting. She's the patient kind. She demonstrates her ability to draw winners from all acute angles by setting up break point No 4 and this time she cheekily goes for a high ball as Halep moves into the net. The Romanian gets her racket to the ball but it flies wide. Stephens is playing unbelievable tennis. Why now? Halep must be thinking. Why now. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:53PM Halep* 3-6 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens' footwork behind the baseline and effortlessness moving side-to-side is mesmorising. Halep is finding the corners, but Stephens is retrieving everything thrown at her and asking further questions of Halep. One punching forehand flashes cross court at a zippy 90 mph for 30-15 but she blinks first during the next lengthy rally. Now she is breathing heavily as she lines up for her next service rotation. Halep toys with Stephens as another rally ensues, chasing down a drop shot and delivering her own drop which Stephens can't retrieve. It's a first break point for Halep. Anxiousness appears to get the better of her. She stands rigid in disbelief at missing that chance. Stephens composes herself to get back on track with decent serving to bring up set point. She takes it as her power is again too much for the world No 1. STEPHENS WINS THE FIRST SET 6-3 2:47PM Halep 3-5 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep working hard for every point and building some rhythm on her serve now. A strong hold to 30, the world No 1 steps into a short return to deliver her own forehand winner. More cries of 'Si-mon-a' ring round Chatrier. Stephens will be serving for the set. 2:43PM Halep* 2-5 Stephens (*denotes next server) A poorly-executed drop shot from Stephens coupled with sound defensive play behind the baseline work Halep to 15-30. Stephens runs round a backhand to strike a powerful forehand and deceives the world No 1 who anticipated Stephens going down the line at game point, only to be watch Stephens strike a forehand winner cross court. @SloaneStephens power AND her topspin is hurting Simo ... their movement is incredible but Sloane’s power is the difference and will be throughout. Only chance Simo has is if Sloane gets tight.— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 Stephens in fantastic form at the start of the opening set Credit: Reuters 2:38PM Halep 2-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Wow. Just when Halep looks to be in control of a rally, Stephens finds a winner at such a cute angle. It draws the American to 30-all and keeps the heat on Halep. The world No 1 isn't playing badly, but Stephens is hitting the lines quite perfectly so far. Halep makes an important hold when Stephens makes an uncharacteristic unforced error. 2:34PM Halep* 1-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh. My. Word! Halep is quite brilliant, brilliant terrier. She makes two ridiculous gets out wide which she has no right to retrieve to send everything back but then strikes an unforced error into the net. She stares down the net in disbelief. At 40-15 Halep fires a winner down the line and looks if to say 'is this what I have to do just to win a point?' Stephens, in true smoking a cigar, feet up style, gets over the night to cement the break. Women's final so far = (fire emoji)(fire emoji)(fire emoji).#RG18— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 9, 2018 2:29PM Halep 1-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Some fantastic tennis being played by both women now, working each other from side to side and creating the space to go for the kill. Halep moves into the court for the first time, smashing a sublime overhead deep into the corner for 30-all. But Stephens has some zip on a second service return to throw Halep at the baseline. It brings up a first break point for Stephens. And she makes it. Stephens does brilliantly to switch the play from down the line to cross court and it forces Halep to strike the middle. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:23PM Halep* 1-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A couple of long forehands from Halep allow Stephens to progress to 40-15. But the swirling wind is causing problems for both players and the American pushes one groundstroke behind the line to allow Halep to hang around in the game. The 10th seed stays on the front foot during the next rally and draws another error from Halep's forehand. It remains on serve. 2:19PM Halep 1-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Beautiful ball-striking from Stephens as the American strikes a clean forehand winner down the line after moving Halep at the baseline to create an opening. It's effortless from Stephens as she draws Halep wide to draw level at 30-all. Halep takes the crucial next point, relieved as Stephens' reply flies off the top of her racket. A cross court exchange during the next rally of 14 shots ends when Halep strikes into the tape. Cries of 'Simona' ring round at deuce. Stephens can't jump on a slower second serve but Halep finally holds when she outlasts Stephens during a brutal baseline duel. 2:13PM Halep* 0-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens opens up the final, watches a couple of service returns land long for 30-0. Halep drags a backhand into the tramlines but then gets a first point on the board when Stephens makes an unforced error. Stephens takes a comfortable hold with a backhand winner down the line. The American looks calm and focused early on as expected. 2:03PM Here they come Stephens, with headphones nestled in her ears, heads out to the Philippe Chatrier Court first. Halep follows and unsurprisingly draws a louder cheer from the crowd. Here she is! What Simona and Sloane are playing for today...#RG18pic.twitter.com/5Xq1GGbICc— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2018 1:56PM Getting to know Stephens Stephens' aloof and seemingly can't be bothered attitude hasn't won her too many additional followers and supporters in Paris. Our tennis correspondent Simon Briggs tweeted after Stephens' semi-final win over good friend Madison Keys that she looked like she would rather be "flossing her teeth" than giving her on-court interview. Her lack of French hasn't helped with making friends either. While many of the top level players have gone to great lengths to speak the local language at Roland Garros, Stephens has only uttered a tepid 'Merci Paris, je t'aime' in post-match discussions. Former player and American broadcaster Mary Carillo spent much time with Stephens last summer while working together at the Tennis Channel in the US. Carillo has offered a great insight into what Stephens is really like. She's not just the laid-back, unimpressed and unbothered individual she displays on the court. 1:39PM Halep's supporters Halep fans getting hyped outside Chatrier less an hour before the Women’s Final @rolandgarros ���� pic.twitter.com/uglLMFcyIl— Steve Weissman (@Steve_Weissman) June 9, 2018 1:33PM How will Halep cope with the pressure? Halep and Stephens have similar styles. Both glide around the back of the court, have an abundance of stamina and can switch from defence into attack. The biggest question mark hanging over Halep is the scar tissue of those defeats. When she came from a set down to beat Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals, Halep pointed her finger at her temple. She still has moments of anxiety and self doubt, but by and large she is starting to fix some of her self-inflicted issues. "She deals much better with pressure," 1978 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici who is also Halep's manager and the only woman from Romania to win a major. "The fact that she became No 1 has given her a different dimension, a different stature. She really deals with things better. Psychologically, she's also much better. ... And now she wants to win a Grand Slam. And now she says it. "Before, she didn't dare say it. Now she says it: 'I want to win a Grand Slam.'" Simona Halep, head in the game#RG18#Gettypic.twitter.com/70PQx2eI27— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 6, 2018 1:16PM Flashback to 2008 Halep shouldn't concern herself with the three grand slam finals lost but look back on a happy time when she was lifting the winners' trophy. Ten years ago, as ninth seed Halep won the junior girls' title beating compatriot Elena Bogdan in three sets. If the world No 1 prevails today, she would become the sixth player to win the women's singles title in Paris after winning the girls' title. The other five, you ask? Francoise Durr, Mima Jausovec, Hana Mandlikova, Jennifer Capriati and Justine Henin. Halep won the girls' title in Paris back in 2008 Credit: Getty Images 12:38PM Stephens' impeccable finals record Halep won't need reminding of Stephens' record in tournament finals. The American has proved herself a big-game player, most prominently during her charge to last year's US Open final where she became an unlikely champion so soon after returning from an 11-month injury lay-off. The 25-year-old's victory in Miami back in early April, was her sixth straight win from six finals. Of her impeccable form in finals, Stephens said in the lead up to today's showdown: "There is no formula. I didn't, like, try to do it. I'm not trying to break a record. It's just how it's happened for me." Halep has a mixed bag of results when it comes to finals - albeit competing in a far higher number than her rival. Stephens has won all six of her tournament finals Credit: Getty Images The Romanian is 16-14 overall but her experience hasn't helped her get over the line in the last 12 months. Halep has lost finals in Paris, Cincinnati, Beijing, Melbourne and Rome. Her only success was a smaller tournament in Shenzhen at the start of the year. Halep's 'always the bridesmaid never the bride' story makes her a favourite with neutral fans who are desperate to see the wounded 26-year-old put some painful defeats behind her and write a new chapter of positivity and success moving forward. 10:45AM And then there were two... Welcome all to coverage of the women's final at Roland Garros where Simona Halep looks to fulfil a career ambition of ending her grand slam drought by overcoming last year's US Open champion Sloane Stephens. Halep is well versed in the occasion of reaching the latter stages of a major, especially in Paris where she has won through to the final two other times in 2014 and last year, only to suffer defeat to Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko. This afternoon she must defy the brilliance and athleticism of American Stephens, who will be competing in her first final at Roland Garros, in order to get her hands on the Suzanne Lenglen cup. While the crowd are likely to get behind the world No 1 Halep, Stephens' nerveless approach to her game could prove a tough obstacle to clear. The Romanian has a superior head-to-head advantage, winning five of their seven battles - including winning all four of their last encounters. In fact Halep saw off the 10th seed Stephens during her run to the French Open final in 2014. If today's match goes to a third set, it will be the first time a decider has been required to determine the outcome of their battles. Who will you be supporting this afternoon and how do you see the final playing out? Vote in the poll below and send your thoughts to me at vicki.hodges@telegraph.co.uk
Simona Halep fights back from set and break down to end grand slam drought in Paris
World No 1 Simona Halep finally broke her grand-slam jinx at Roland Garros, producing an unforgettable comeback to burn past the reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens on the home straight. The fans in Paris had watched Halep come up just short of the title here twice before, and they have developed a warm relationship with her. Court Philippe Chatrier was rocking in the third set as Halep pulled away, producing some absurd recovery shots to exhaust the waning Stephens further. At the close of her 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win, Halep accepted a leg-up from a courtside official and climbed up to her player box, where she embraced the three men who have stood consistently at her side through her climb up the world rankings: physio Andrei Cristofor, fitness trainer Teo Cercel and coach Darren Cahill. As the Telegraph reported, in a pre-tournament interview with Halep: “I have people around me who are friends and I feel like they are there forever.” This comeback was surely all the sweeter because Halep was thoroughly outplayed in the opening set. Stephens was so smooth and so resourceful, mixing booming topspin with flatter, faster strikes in a way that made her look – for 40 minutes or so – virtually unbeatable. The apparent rout continued into the early stages of the second, as Stephens broke again to lead 6-3, 2-0. The scoreline then was curiously similar to the lead that Halep had held over Jelena Ostapenko here 12 months ago. Halep celebrates winning the French Open Credit: AP Halep wound up as the frustrated party that day, backing off at just the wrong moment and allowing the free-swinging Ostapenko to surge to a shock win. But she is never more dangerous than when she is trailing, because that is when she loosens up and starts playing like a woman with nothing to lose. “I thought ‘Everything is gone. I just have to relax,’” said Halep afterwards, grinning her way through her on-court interview, as she remembered the key moment. The switch was partly spiritual, as she tapped into her deepest wells of tenacity. But it was also tactical, as she decided to use the whole area of the court for the first time, darting forward to the net whenever Stephens was pushed into deep defence. Commentating for ITV, the former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli began yelling: “That’s the play! That’s the play!” whenever Halep put away a winning volley. There is a huge amount of warmth towards Halep around the sport, as she conducts herself with real class at all times. If Halep found her best self in her moment of crisis, Stephens began to show signs of weariness. The match was only an hour old but Halep was setting a demanding pace and giving fewer and fewer freebies away as the match wore on. No fewer than 55 rallies exceeded nine shots, more than a third of the total points, which is an unusually high figure. The average speed of Stephens’ forehand, which had been doing so much damage, dropped from 77mph in the first set to 70mph in the second. Halep came from a set and break down to end Stephens' 100 per cent record in finals Credit: AFP The third set might look like a non-event on the scorecard but some of the rallies were extraordinary. And none more so than the point Halep won to go a double break ahead at 4-0. This was a 16-shot extravaganza in which she had to dig out a couple of desperate retrievals from the back of the court, then sprint up to the net to dink back a drop-shot, and finally backpedal to make that most awkward of putaways, the backhand overhead. When she finally edged Stephens out in that one, the usually sphinx-like Cahill jumped up off his seat and punched the air in the most uncharacteristic manner. Stephens would win only eight more points from that moment, as Halep finally finished the job with an unreturned serve, dropped her racket and put her hands over her face. Considering what she has been through to reach this point, she was surprisingly restrained in her celebrations, although she spoke eloquently afterwards. “I felt your support,” said Halep told the crowd, as she spoke to Bartoli afterwards. “In the last game I felt that I could not breathe any more, so I just tried not to repeat the last year. I did everything I could. It’s amazing what is happening now. Honestly I can’t believe it. I have been dreaming of this moment since I started to play tennis. I’m really happy that it’s happened in Roland Garros in Paris, my special city.” Halep has loved playing here ever since she won the junior event in 2008. She also took the time out to namecheck her compatriot Virginia Ruzici, who won the French Open 40 years ago and was watching from the stands. Halep won the junior title in 2008 Credit: AFP Messages of congratulation were now flooding in on social media from rivals like Petra Kvitova and Johanna Konta. Later Martina Navratilova – who recently hinted that she will be returning to Wimbledon for the BBC this summer on improved terms – would come up with a neat summation. “It wasn’t a monkey off her back; this was an 800lb gorilla.” The upshot is that this was the seventh straight women’s grand slam with a different winner. The tour is certainly open at the moment, after a sequence that began with Angelique Kerber in New York two years ago and continued through Serena Williams, Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and now Halep. Stephens shakes Halep's hand after losing the final Credit: AFP The one thing we are still waiting for is for anyone to show that they can put a sequence of results together to match what Williams and some of her 2000s rivals – the likes of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin – achieved at their peak. Yet if a straightforward narrative is hard to pull out of this unpredictable string of results, the women keep on throwing up quality matches, while the men have not produced an outstanding major tournament since Melbourne last year. In final analysis, Halep’s heartwarming victory was another good-news story for the WTA tour. 4:31PM Halep talks It's emotional to talk as the winner. I've been waiting for this moment since I was 14. I wanted this trophy to be here in France. Many congrats to Sloane. You have done a great job after those injuries. I'm sure you'll play many more finals in the future. Good luck and take care of your body. I wish in the future to play another final here. It's my favourite one. Thank you and see you next year. 4:29PM Stephens speaks It's been an incredible couple of weeks. It's not the trophy I wanted but it's still beautiful so thank you guys. To Simona, congratulations on your first slam. There's no one else I'd rather lose to than the world No 1. 4:28PM Halep the champion The world No 1 strides on to the mini stage assembled on Philippe Chatrier to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in relief and excitement in equal measure. The national anthem of Romanian is played out while Halep embraces the trophy. 4:26PM Sanchez Vicario hands out the trophies Arantxa Sanchez Vicario has the honour of handing out the runners-up plate and Suzanne Lenglen Cup this afternoon 20 years after her last Roland Garros title. 4:23PM A first time champion at Wimbledon awaits? Tears! Honestly tears!! Congratulations @Simona_Halep .... as a former player to see this moment is heartwarming! Three in a row 1st time slam winners....Sloane, Woz and Simo. Women’s tennis is hot!!— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 4:18PM Halep embraces Cahill in the stands The French Open champion is hoisted into the stands on Philippe Chatrier to give coach Cahill a warm embrace and then cuddles her mum and dad. There isn't a more popular winner than Halep. She manages to find her way back on to the court and looks to the sunny skies in thanks. The monkey is finally off her back. Simonaaaaa! You did it. So happy for you. Enjoy every second. You deserve this moment so much ��❤️ #RG18— Petra Kvitova (@Petra_Kvitova) June 9, 2018 4:16PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 Stephens* Here we go then. Halep lets out a deep sigh at winning the first point. But then nervously strikes long when well placed. A timely ace, her first of the match, is just what the doctor and her psychologist ordered but Stephens reels her in again for 30-all. Halep waits an age for a big overhead clearance to land. Halep stays strong to thwack a smash home and brings up championship point. She takes it. Stephens slaps a service return into the net. Halep has finally, finally won her first grand slam. Well done Simona. Her coach Darren Cahill can't quite believe it. He puts his hands on his head. Halep can't comprehend it either, placing both hands covering her face briefly before soaking up the adulation. GAME, SET AND MATCH: HALEP WINS FRENCH OPEN WITH 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 VICTORY OVER STEPHENS. 4:11PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 5-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh dear, dear. Stephens' level has dropped massively as she hands a free point for Halep for 0-30. She digs deep, fighting back for 30-all and then wins a third straight point with a backhand into the corner. Halep won't allow Stephens of a free game this set and draws back to deuce. Stephens swings a volley into the corner to edge to game point and as the clock passes the two-hour mark, Stephens finally gets on the board this set. 4:04PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 5-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Too many errors from Stephens now as Halep keeping her foot on the gas. She holds to 15. Stephens faces an uphill battle to get back into proceedings Credit: AP 4:02PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 4-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens looking exacerbated now as a failed drop shot lands lamely at the net. The unforced errors are creeping up for the American while Halep's dogged style is taking the Romanian closer to a first title. The 10th seed isn't ready yet to give up the fight as she digs in with a cross court winner for 30-15. But Halep isn't giving her rival any free points and making her work for everything and the errors still come. Halep misreads a slower second serve to miss a chance to set up break point but then hits an unbelievable backhand winner cross court which gets the crowd on Philippe Chatrier purring again. We're back to deuce. Halep gets a slice of luck with a clip of the tape to throw Stephens at the net. The American reacts, gets her racket on the high ball but can't get her return in the court. Halep has another break point here. Stephens pushes Halep to all corners again and how does the Romanian even stay in this incredible point? Both players advance to net, Halep managing to get an overhead and finally finding space to push home the winner. HALEP BREAKS. 3:55PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 3-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens trying to gee herself up by slapping her thigh trailing 30-0. The physical pep talk has worked in the short term, winning the next two points. Halep is more aggressive on the next point and the low ball is difficult for Stephens to retrieve. And at game point another lengthy rally ensues and Stephens blinks first. 'That's a play', shouts Bartoli in the ITV studio again. We know which way Bartoli wants this final to play out. 36 64 30 �� Halep has kept her head. She has kept her aggression. She has not gone away. And now she is amazingly 12 points from the title!���� #RG18pic.twitter.com/ZvL2ZtDDvP— Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) June 9, 2018 3:50PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 2-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Superb ball-striking from both players again as Stephens just misses a forehand when she was making them regularly during the first set. Pressure now as Halep moves to 15-30 up but Stephens keeps calm this time to deliver a brilliant forehand winner cross court. That was a big point. And here's a bigger one now. Stephens can't make a first serve. She gets a second one in but then throws in a sloppy forehand. Her level has massively dropped. Halep, break point now. She takes it. A punched deep forehand is too much for Stephens to get back. The momentum is all with Halep. HALEP BREAKS. 3:45PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 1-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Both players left the court at the end of the second set and we're into unchartered territory now as all seven of their head-to-heads haven't gone the distance before. All three of Halep's last grand slam finals went into a decider. At the start of the third and that break in action has worked to Stephens' advantage as she moves to 0-30. A brilliant backhand winner down the line draws Halep back to 30-all and nerves get the better of Stephens on the next point as she strikes long. Despite great defensive play from the 10th seed, Halep stays strong to see out the game. Sloane Stephens’ adjustment steps have slowed— bad sign when your opponent in the third set is Simona Halep. What a match @rolandgarros— Gerry Marzorati (@marzoTennis) June 9, 2018 3:36PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep stays positive, switching play from corner to corner and biding her time from the baseline. She gets a let off when Halep makes one stretch out wide and looks on as Stephens sends a forehand into the tramlines for 15-30. Stephens clenches her fist as a Halep groundstroke lands long. But she can't back it up as Halep's power and pace proves too hard to deal with. Halep brings up set point. And she takes it as Stephens hits into the tramlines. HALEP WINS SECOND SET TO LEVEL THE MATCH. 3:31PM Halep 3-6, 5-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep throws Stephens off balance by taking a forehand early and catching the American out on the baseline. Stephens stays strong during the next point, firing deep, so deep at the lines and piling further pressure on Halep at 30-all. Halep takes advantage as a ball rears up off the clay and takes the pace off Stephens' reply. Halep is on the short ball in a flash, striking a volley into the corner. Halep moves Stephens side-to-side before unleashing the winner and crucially Halep edges back in front this set. Halep battles against Stephens Credit: AFP 3:27PM Halep* 3-6, 4-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep looks to her corner with her arms extended out wide at missing one groundstroke. Stephens sends down her first ace of the match to establish a 30-0 advantage and then watches as Halep pushes long. That last game might be playing on the world No 1's mind. Stephens misses two game points, the second missing the line with a backhand. But she outlasts Halep during the next rally and we're back level for the set. 3:22PM Halep 3-6, 4-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens has woken back into action. A floating forehand on the line takes her to three break points and when Halep pushes long, we're back on serve this set. Halep will be kicking herself. That was lost far too quickly. STEPHENS BREAKS. 3:20PM Halep* 3-6, 4-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens stops the rot as she watches a Halep forehand land wide. The world No 1 stays focused on Stephens' backhand, whipping forehands out of the American's reach. Stephens digs deep for 30-all but then floats a tired groundstroke into the middle to hand Halep another break point. Another unforced error from Stephens hands Halep a second break this set. How quickly this match has turned. HALEP BREAKS. 3:15PM Halep 3-6, 3-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens' concentration levels have taken a hit. The momentum has shifted, Halep winning 10 of their last 11 points. Stephens' range is off now, a couple of unforced errors allowing Halep of edging ahead this set. Too soon? Wikipedia already has Sloane winning: https://t.co/yLIoTSBndh— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 9, 2018 3:12PM Halep* 3-6, 2-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Marion Bartoli on the ITV commentary is struggling with impartiality this afternoon. 'Go, go, go, go, go' she cries in encouragement to Halep to rush the net. The Romanian's revival gathers pace moving to 0-30 and drawing the American into an error. Now she has three break points this game to draw level this set. And she makes it as Stephens drags a forehand into the tramlines. HALEP BREAKS. 3:08PM Halep 3-6, 1-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens gives one mark a serious look as Halep edges to 30-15 and is finally starting to hurt the American will some deep hitting and solid net play. The Romanian's best chance is to cut short the points and rush the net where possible. A forehand down the line sets Halep up for moving into court and she duly dispatches the volley. Great play Halep. Halep keeps fighting against Stephens Credit: Getty Images 3:05PM Halep* 3-6, 0-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A drop in concentration now from Stephens as Halep moves to 0-30. Stephens composes herself passing Halep at the net and then getting a bit of fortune with a mishit forehand that lands flush on the line. Halep's head drops. From 30-0 down, Stephens completes the comeback with four straight points. That will hurt Halep. This performance from Sloane Stephens in a Slam final is the equal of those from all-time greats like Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova and Rafael Nadal. That good.— David Law (@DavidLawTennis) June 9, 2018 3:01PM Halep 3-6, 0-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep will be praying that Stephens' level drops soon. But it isn't. The American continues to work her magic, spraying unbelievable winners. One backhand down the line brings up two break points. She misses the first with a backhand error. Halep delivers a crucial first serve to blot the second. But Stephens has a third bite of the cherry now. Halep whips a forehand winner down the line to keep Stephens waiting. The American doesn't mind waiting. She's the patient kind. She demonstrates her ability to draw winners from all acute angles by setting up break point No 4 and this time she cheekily goes for a high ball as Halep moves into the net. The Romanian gets her racket to the ball but it flies wide. Stephens is playing unbelievable tennis. Why now? Halep must be thinking. Why now. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:53PM Halep* 3-6 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens' footwork behind the baseline and effortlessness moving side-to-side is mesmorising. Halep is finding the corners, but Stephens is retrieving everything thrown at her and asking further questions of Halep. One punching forehand flashes cross court at a zippy 90 mph for 30-15 but she blinks first during the next lengthy rally. Now she is breathing heavily as she lines up for her next service rotation. Halep toys with Stephens as another rally ensues, chasing down a drop shot and delivering her own drop which Stephens can't retrieve. It's a first break point for Halep. Anxiousness appears to get the better of her. She stands rigid in disbelief at missing that chance. Stephens composes herself to get back on track with decent serving to bring up set point. She takes it as her power is again too much for the world No 1. STEPHENS WINS THE FIRST SET 6-3 2:47PM Halep 3-5 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep working hard for every point and building some rhythm on her serve now. A strong hold to 30, the world No 1 steps into a short return to deliver her own forehand winner. More cries of 'Si-mon-a' ring round Chatrier. Stephens will be serving for the set. 2:43PM Halep* 2-5 Stephens (*denotes next server) A poorly-executed drop shot from Stephens coupled with sound defensive play behind the baseline work Halep to 15-30. Stephens runs round a backhand to strike a powerful forehand and deceives the world No 1 who anticipated Stephens going down the line at game point, only to be watch Stephens strike a forehand winner cross court. @SloaneStephens power AND her topspin is hurting Simo ... their movement is incredible but Sloane’s power is the difference and will be throughout. Only chance Simo has is if Sloane gets tight.— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 Stephens in fantastic form at the start of the opening set Credit: Reuters 2:38PM Halep 2-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Wow. Just when Halep looks to be in control of a rally, Stephens finds a winner at such a cute angle. It draws the American to 30-all and keeps the heat on Halep. The world No 1 isn't playing badly, but Stephens is hitting the lines quite perfectly so far. Halep makes an important hold when Stephens makes an uncharacteristic unforced error. 2:34PM Halep* 1-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh. My. Word! Halep is quite brilliant, brilliant terrier. She makes two ridiculous gets out wide which she has no right to retrieve to send everything back but then strikes an unforced error into the net. She stares down the net in disbelief. At 40-15 Halep fires a winner down the line and looks if to say 'is this what I have to do just to win a point?' Stephens, in true smoking a cigar, feet up style, gets over the night to cement the break. Women's final so far = (fire emoji)(fire emoji)(fire emoji).#RG18— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 9, 2018 2:29PM Halep 1-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Some fantastic tennis being played by both women now, working each other from side to side and creating the space to go for the kill. Halep moves into the court for the first time, smashing a sublime overhead deep into the corner for 30-all. But Stephens has some zip on a second service return to throw Halep at the baseline. It brings up a first break point for Stephens. And she makes it. Stephens does brilliantly to switch the play from down the line to cross court and it forces Halep to strike the middle. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:23PM Halep* 1-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A couple of long forehands from Halep allow Stephens to progress to 40-15. But the swirling wind is causing problems for both players and the American pushes one groundstroke behind the line to allow Halep to hang around in the game. The 10th seed stays on the front foot during the next rally and draws another error from Halep's forehand. It remains on serve. 2:19PM Halep 1-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Beautiful ball-striking from Stephens as the American strikes a clean forehand winner down the line after moving Halep at the baseline to create an opening. It's effortless from Stephens as she draws Halep wide to draw level at 30-all. Halep takes the crucial next point, relieved as Stephens' reply flies off the top of her racket. A cross court exchange during the next rally of 14 shots ends when Halep strikes into the tape. Cries of 'Simona' ring round at deuce. Stephens can't jump on a slower second serve but Halep finally holds when she outlasts Stephens during a brutal baseline duel. 2:13PM Halep* 0-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens opens up the final, watches a couple of service returns land long for 30-0. Halep drags a backhand into the tramlines but then gets a first point on the board when Stephens makes an unforced error. Stephens takes a comfortable hold with a backhand winner down the line. The American looks calm and focused early on as expected. 2:03PM Here they come Stephens, with headphones nestled in her ears, heads out to the Philippe Chatrier Court first. Halep follows and unsurprisingly draws a louder cheer from the crowd. Here she is! What Simona and Sloane are playing for today...#RG18pic.twitter.com/5Xq1GGbICc— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2018 1:56PM Getting to know Stephens Stephens' aloof and seemingly can't be bothered attitude hasn't won her too many additional followers and supporters in Paris. Our tennis correspondent Simon Briggs tweeted after Stephens' semi-final win over good friend Madison Keys that she looked like she would rather be "flossing her teeth" than giving her on-court interview. Her lack of French hasn't helped with making friends either. While many of the top level players have gone to great lengths to speak the local language at Roland Garros, Stephens has only uttered a tepid 'Merci Paris, je t'aime' in post-match discussions. Former player and American broadcaster Mary Carillo spent much time with Stephens last summer while working together at the Tennis Channel in the US. Carillo has offered a great insight into what Stephens is really like. She's not just the laid-back, unimpressed and unbothered individual she displays on the court. 1:39PM Halep's supporters Halep fans getting hyped outside Chatrier less an hour before the Women’s Final @rolandgarros ���� pic.twitter.com/uglLMFcyIl— Steve Weissman (@Steve_Weissman) June 9, 2018 1:33PM How will Halep cope with the pressure? Halep and Stephens have similar styles. Both glide around the back of the court, have an abundance of stamina and can switch from defence into attack. The biggest question mark hanging over Halep is the scar tissue of those defeats. When she came from a set down to beat Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals, Halep pointed her finger at her temple. She still has moments of anxiety and self doubt, but by and large she is starting to fix some of her self-inflicted issues. "She deals much better with pressure," 1978 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici who is also Halep's manager and the only woman from Romania to win a major. "The fact that she became No 1 has given her a different dimension, a different stature. She really deals with things better. Psychologically, she's also much better. ... And now she wants to win a Grand Slam. And now she says it. "Before, she didn't dare say it. Now she says it: 'I want to win a Grand Slam.'" Simona Halep, head in the game#RG18#Gettypic.twitter.com/70PQx2eI27— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 6, 2018 1:16PM Flashback to 2008 Halep shouldn't concern herself with the three grand slam finals lost but look back on a happy time when she was lifting the winners' trophy. Ten years ago, as ninth seed Halep won the junior girls' title beating compatriot Elena Bogdan in three sets. If the world No 1 prevails today, she would become the sixth player to win the women's singles title in Paris after winning the girls' title. The other five, you ask? Francoise Durr, Mima Jausovec, Hana Mandlikova, Jennifer Capriati and Justine Henin. Halep won the girls' title in Paris back in 2008 Credit: Getty Images 12:38PM Stephens' impeccable finals record Halep won't need reminding of Stephens' record in tournament finals. The American has proved herself a big-game player, most prominently during her charge to last year's US Open final where she became an unlikely champion so soon after returning from an 11-month injury lay-off. The 25-year-old's victory in Miami back in early April, was her sixth straight win from six finals. Of her impeccable form in finals, Stephens said in the lead up to today's showdown: "There is no formula. I didn't, like, try to do it. I'm not trying to break a record. It's just how it's happened for me." Halep has a mixed bag of results when it comes to finals - albeit competing in a far higher number than her rival. Stephens has won all six of her tournament finals Credit: Getty Images The Romanian is 16-14 overall but her experience hasn't helped her get over the line in the last 12 months. Halep has lost finals in Paris, Cincinnati, Beijing, Melbourne and Rome. Her only success was a smaller tournament in Shenzhen at the start of the year. Halep's 'always the bridesmaid never the bride' story makes her a favourite with neutral fans who are desperate to see the wounded 26-year-old put some painful defeats behind her and write a new chapter of positivity and success moving forward. 10:45AM And then there were two... Welcome all to coverage of the women's final at Roland Garros where Simona Halep looks to fulfil a career ambition of ending her grand slam drought by overcoming last year's US Open champion Sloane Stephens. Halep is well versed in the occasion of reaching the latter stages of a major, especially in Paris where she has won through to the final two other times in 2014 and last year, only to suffer defeat to Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko. This afternoon she must defy the brilliance and athleticism of American Stephens, who will be competing in her first final at Roland Garros, in order to get her hands on the Suzanne Lenglen cup. While the crowd are likely to get behind the world No 1 Halep, Stephens' nerveless approach to her game could prove a tough obstacle to clear. The Romanian has a superior head-to-head advantage, winning five of their seven battles - including winning all four of their last encounters. In fact Halep saw off the 10th seed Stephens during her run to the French Open final in 2014. If today's match goes to a third set, it will be the first time a decider has been required to determine the outcome of their battles. Who will you be supporting this afternoon and how do you see the final playing out? Vote in the poll below and send your thoughts to me at vicki.hodges@telegraph.co.uk
World No 1 Simona Halep finally broke her grand-slam jinx at Roland Garros, producing an unforgettable comeback to burn past the reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens on the home straight. The fans in Paris had watched Halep come up just short of the title here twice before, and they have developed a warm relationship with her. Court Philippe Chatrier was rocking in the third set as Halep pulled away, producing some absurd recovery shots to exhaust the waning Stephens further. At the close of her 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win, Halep accepted a leg-up from a courtside official and climbed up to her player box, where she embraced the three men who have stood consistently at her side through her climb up the world rankings: physio Andrei Cristofor, fitness trainer Teo Cercel and coach Darren Cahill. As the Telegraph reported, in a pre-tournament interview with Halep: “I have people around me who are friends and I feel like they are there forever.” This comeback was surely all the sweeter because Halep was thoroughly outplayed in the opening set. Stephens was so smooth and so resourceful, mixing booming topspin with flatter, faster strikes in a way that made her look – for 40 minutes or so – virtually unbeatable. The apparent rout continued into the early stages of the second, as Stephens broke again to lead 6-3, 2-0. The scoreline then was curiously similar to the lead that Halep had held over Jelena Ostapenko here 12 months ago. Halep celebrates winning the French Open Credit: AP Halep wound up as the frustrated party that day, backing off at just the wrong moment and allowing the free-swinging Ostapenko to surge to a shock win. But she is never more dangerous than when she is trailing, because that is when she loosens up and starts playing like a woman with nothing to lose. “I thought ‘Everything is gone. I just have to relax,’” said Halep afterwards, grinning her way through her on-court interview, as she remembered the key moment. The switch was partly spiritual, as she tapped into her deepest wells of tenacity. But it was also tactical, as she decided to use the whole area of the court for the first time, darting forward to the net whenever Stephens was pushed into deep defence. Commentating for ITV, the former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli began yelling: “That’s the play! That’s the play!” whenever Halep put away a winning volley. There is a huge amount of warmth towards Halep around the sport, as she conducts herself with real class at all times. If Halep found her best self in her moment of crisis, Stephens began to show signs of weariness. The match was only an hour old but Halep was setting a demanding pace and giving fewer and fewer freebies away as the match wore on. No fewer than 55 rallies exceeded nine shots, more than a third of the total points, which is an unusually high figure. The average speed of Stephens’ forehand, which had been doing so much damage, dropped from 77mph in the first set to 70mph in the second. Halep came from a set and break down to end Stephens' 100 per cent record in finals Credit: AFP The third set might look like a non-event on the scorecard but some of the rallies were extraordinary. And none more so than the point Halep won to go a double break ahead at 4-0. This was a 16-shot extravaganza in which she had to dig out a couple of desperate retrievals from the back of the court, then sprint up to the net to dink back a drop-shot, and finally backpedal to make that most awkward of putaways, the backhand overhead. When she finally edged Stephens out in that one, the usually sphinx-like Cahill jumped up off his seat and punched the air in the most uncharacteristic manner. Stephens would win only eight more points from that moment, as Halep finally finished the job with an unreturned serve, dropped her racket and put her hands over her face. Considering what she has been through to reach this point, she was surprisingly restrained in her celebrations, although she spoke eloquently afterwards. “I felt your support,” said Halep told the crowd, as she spoke to Bartoli afterwards. “In the last game I felt that I could not breathe any more, so I just tried not to repeat the last year. I did everything I could. It’s amazing what is happening now. Honestly I can’t believe it. I have been dreaming of this moment since I started to play tennis. I’m really happy that it’s happened in Roland Garros in Paris, my special city.” Halep has loved playing here ever since she won the junior event in 2008. She also took the time out to namecheck her compatriot Virginia Ruzici, who won the French Open 40 years ago and was watching from the stands. Halep won the junior title in 2008 Credit: AFP Messages of congratulation were now flooding in on social media from rivals like Petra Kvitova and Johanna Konta. Later Martina Navratilova – who recently hinted that she will be returning to Wimbledon for the BBC this summer on improved terms – would come up with a neat summation. “It wasn’t a monkey off her back; this was an 800lb gorilla.” The upshot is that this was the seventh straight women’s grand slam with a different winner. The tour is certainly open at the moment, after a sequence that began with Angelique Kerber in New York two years ago and continued through Serena Williams, Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and now Halep. Stephens shakes Halep's hand after losing the final Credit: AFP The one thing we are still waiting for is for anyone to show that they can put a sequence of results together to match what Williams and some of her 2000s rivals – the likes of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin – achieved at their peak. Yet if a straightforward narrative is hard to pull out of this unpredictable string of results, the women keep on throwing up quality matches, while the men have not produced an outstanding major tournament since Melbourne last year. In final analysis, Halep’s heartwarming victory was another good-news story for the WTA tour. 4:31PM Halep talks It's emotional to talk as the winner. I've been waiting for this moment since I was 14. I wanted this trophy to be here in France. Many congrats to Sloane. You have done a great job after those injuries. I'm sure you'll play many more finals in the future. Good luck and take care of your body. I wish in the future to play another final here. It's my favourite one. Thank you and see you next year. 4:29PM Stephens speaks It's been an incredible couple of weeks. It's not the trophy I wanted but it's still beautiful so thank you guys. To Simona, congratulations on your first slam. There's no one else I'd rather lose to than the world No 1. 4:28PM Halep the champion The world No 1 strides on to the mini stage assembled on Philippe Chatrier to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in relief and excitement in equal measure. The national anthem of Romanian is played out while Halep embraces the trophy. 4:26PM Sanchez Vicario hands out the trophies Arantxa Sanchez Vicario has the honour of handing out the runners-up plate and Suzanne Lenglen Cup this afternoon 20 years after her last Roland Garros title. 4:23PM A first time champion at Wimbledon awaits? Tears! Honestly tears!! Congratulations @Simona_Halep .... as a former player to see this moment is heartwarming! Three in a row 1st time slam winners....Sloane, Woz and Simo. Women’s tennis is hot!!— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 4:18PM Halep embraces Cahill in the stands The French Open champion is hoisted into the stands on Philippe Chatrier to give coach Cahill a warm embrace and then cuddles her mum and dad. There isn't a more popular winner than Halep. She manages to find her way back on to the court and looks to the sunny skies in thanks. The monkey is finally off her back. Simonaaaaa! You did it. So happy for you. Enjoy every second. You deserve this moment so much ��❤️ #RG18— Petra Kvitova (@Petra_Kvitova) June 9, 2018 4:16PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 Stephens* Here we go then. Halep lets out a deep sigh at winning the first point. But then nervously strikes long when well placed. A timely ace, her first of the match, is just what the doctor and her psychologist ordered but Stephens reels her in again for 30-all. Halep waits an age for a big overhead clearance to land. Halep stays strong to thwack a smash home and brings up championship point. She takes it. Stephens slaps a service return into the net. Halep has finally, finally won her first grand slam. Well done Simona. Her coach Darren Cahill can't quite believe it. He puts his hands on his head. Halep can't comprehend it either, placing both hands covering her face briefly before soaking up the adulation. GAME, SET AND MATCH: HALEP WINS FRENCH OPEN WITH 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 VICTORY OVER STEPHENS. 4:11PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 5-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh dear, dear. Stephens' level has dropped massively as she hands a free point for Halep for 0-30. She digs deep, fighting back for 30-all and then wins a third straight point with a backhand into the corner. Halep won't allow Stephens of a free game this set and draws back to deuce. Stephens swings a volley into the corner to edge to game point and as the clock passes the two-hour mark, Stephens finally gets on the board this set. 4:04PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 5-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Too many errors from Stephens now as Halep keeping her foot on the gas. She holds to 15. Stephens faces an uphill battle to get back into proceedings Credit: AP 4:02PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 4-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens looking exacerbated now as a failed drop shot lands lamely at the net. The unforced errors are creeping up for the American while Halep's dogged style is taking the Romanian closer to a first title. The 10th seed isn't ready yet to give up the fight as she digs in with a cross court winner for 30-15. But Halep isn't giving her rival any free points and making her work for everything and the errors still come. Halep misreads a slower second serve to miss a chance to set up break point but then hits an unbelievable backhand winner cross court which gets the crowd on Philippe Chatrier purring again. We're back to deuce. Halep gets a slice of luck with a clip of the tape to throw Stephens at the net. The American reacts, gets her racket on the high ball but can't get her return in the court. Halep has another break point here. Stephens pushes Halep to all corners again and how does the Romanian even stay in this incredible point? Both players advance to net, Halep managing to get an overhead and finally finding space to push home the winner. HALEP BREAKS. 3:55PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 3-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens trying to gee herself up by slapping her thigh trailing 30-0. The physical pep talk has worked in the short term, winning the next two points. Halep is more aggressive on the next point and the low ball is difficult for Stephens to retrieve. And at game point another lengthy rally ensues and Stephens blinks first. 'That's a play', shouts Bartoli in the ITV studio again. We know which way Bartoli wants this final to play out. 36 64 30 �� Halep has kept her head. She has kept her aggression. She has not gone away. And now she is amazingly 12 points from the title!���� #RG18pic.twitter.com/ZvL2ZtDDvP— Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) June 9, 2018 3:50PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 2-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Superb ball-striking from both players again as Stephens just misses a forehand when she was making them regularly during the first set. Pressure now as Halep moves to 15-30 up but Stephens keeps calm this time to deliver a brilliant forehand winner cross court. That was a big point. And here's a bigger one now. Stephens can't make a first serve. She gets a second one in but then throws in a sloppy forehand. Her level has massively dropped. Halep, break point now. She takes it. A punched deep forehand is too much for Stephens to get back. The momentum is all with Halep. HALEP BREAKS. 3:45PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 1-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Both players left the court at the end of the second set and we're into unchartered territory now as all seven of their head-to-heads haven't gone the distance before. All three of Halep's last grand slam finals went into a decider. At the start of the third and that break in action has worked to Stephens' advantage as she moves to 0-30. A brilliant backhand winner down the line draws Halep back to 30-all and nerves get the better of Stephens on the next point as she strikes long. Despite great defensive play from the 10th seed, Halep stays strong to see out the game. Sloane Stephens’ adjustment steps have slowed— bad sign when your opponent in the third set is Simona Halep. What a match @rolandgarros— Gerry Marzorati (@marzoTennis) June 9, 2018 3:36PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep stays positive, switching play from corner to corner and biding her time from the baseline. She gets a let off when Halep makes one stretch out wide and looks on as Stephens sends a forehand into the tramlines for 15-30. Stephens clenches her fist as a Halep groundstroke lands long. But she can't back it up as Halep's power and pace proves too hard to deal with. Halep brings up set point. And she takes it as Stephens hits into the tramlines. HALEP WINS SECOND SET TO LEVEL THE MATCH. 3:31PM Halep 3-6, 5-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep throws Stephens off balance by taking a forehand early and catching the American out on the baseline. Stephens stays strong during the next point, firing deep, so deep at the lines and piling further pressure on Halep at 30-all. Halep takes advantage as a ball rears up off the clay and takes the pace off Stephens' reply. Halep is on the short ball in a flash, striking a volley into the corner. Halep moves Stephens side-to-side before unleashing the winner and crucially Halep edges back in front this set. Halep battles against Stephens Credit: AFP 3:27PM Halep* 3-6, 4-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep looks to her corner with her arms extended out wide at missing one groundstroke. Stephens sends down her first ace of the match to establish a 30-0 advantage and then watches as Halep pushes long. That last game might be playing on the world No 1's mind. Stephens misses two game points, the second missing the line with a backhand. But she outlasts Halep during the next rally and we're back level for the set. 3:22PM Halep 3-6, 4-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens has woken back into action. A floating forehand on the line takes her to three break points and when Halep pushes long, we're back on serve this set. Halep will be kicking herself. That was lost far too quickly. STEPHENS BREAKS. 3:20PM Halep* 3-6, 4-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens stops the rot as she watches a Halep forehand land wide. The world No 1 stays focused on Stephens' backhand, whipping forehands out of the American's reach. Stephens digs deep for 30-all but then floats a tired groundstroke into the middle to hand Halep another break point. Another unforced error from Stephens hands Halep a second break this set. How quickly this match has turned. HALEP BREAKS. 3:15PM Halep 3-6, 3-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens' concentration levels have taken a hit. The momentum has shifted, Halep winning 10 of their last 11 points. Stephens' range is off now, a couple of unforced errors allowing Halep of edging ahead this set. Too soon? Wikipedia already has Sloane winning: https://t.co/yLIoTSBndh— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 9, 2018 3:12PM Halep* 3-6, 2-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Marion Bartoli on the ITV commentary is struggling with impartiality this afternoon. 'Go, go, go, go, go' she cries in encouragement to Halep to rush the net. The Romanian's revival gathers pace moving to 0-30 and drawing the American into an error. Now she has three break points this game to draw level this set. And she makes it as Stephens drags a forehand into the tramlines. HALEP BREAKS. 3:08PM Halep 3-6, 1-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens gives one mark a serious look as Halep edges to 30-15 and is finally starting to hurt the American will some deep hitting and solid net play. The Romanian's best chance is to cut short the points and rush the net where possible. A forehand down the line sets Halep up for moving into court and she duly dispatches the volley. Great play Halep. Halep keeps fighting against Stephens Credit: Getty Images 3:05PM Halep* 3-6, 0-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A drop in concentration now from Stephens as Halep moves to 0-30. Stephens composes herself passing Halep at the net and then getting a bit of fortune with a mishit forehand that lands flush on the line. Halep's head drops. From 30-0 down, Stephens completes the comeback with four straight points. That will hurt Halep. This performance from Sloane Stephens in a Slam final is the equal of those from all-time greats like Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova and Rafael Nadal. That good.— David Law (@DavidLawTennis) June 9, 2018 3:01PM Halep 3-6, 0-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep will be praying that Stephens' level drops soon. But it isn't. The American continues to work her magic, spraying unbelievable winners. One backhand down the line brings up two break points. She misses the first with a backhand error. Halep delivers a crucial first serve to blot the second. But Stephens has a third bite of the cherry now. Halep whips a forehand winner down the line to keep Stephens waiting. The American doesn't mind waiting. She's the patient kind. She demonstrates her ability to draw winners from all acute angles by setting up break point No 4 and this time she cheekily goes for a high ball as Halep moves into the net. The Romanian gets her racket to the ball but it flies wide. Stephens is playing unbelievable tennis. Why now? Halep must be thinking. Why now. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:53PM Halep* 3-6 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens' footwork behind the baseline and effortlessness moving side-to-side is mesmorising. Halep is finding the corners, but Stephens is retrieving everything thrown at her and asking further questions of Halep. One punching forehand flashes cross court at a zippy 90 mph for 30-15 but she blinks first during the next lengthy rally. Now she is breathing heavily as she lines up for her next service rotation. Halep toys with Stephens as another rally ensues, chasing down a drop shot and delivering her own drop which Stephens can't retrieve. It's a first break point for Halep. Anxiousness appears to get the better of her. She stands rigid in disbelief at missing that chance. Stephens composes herself to get back on track with decent serving to bring up set point. She takes it as her power is again too much for the world No 1. STEPHENS WINS THE FIRST SET 6-3 2:47PM Halep 3-5 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep working hard for every point and building some rhythm on her serve now. A strong hold to 30, the world No 1 steps into a short return to deliver her own forehand winner. More cries of 'Si-mon-a' ring round Chatrier. Stephens will be serving for the set. 2:43PM Halep* 2-5 Stephens (*denotes next server) A poorly-executed drop shot from Stephens coupled with sound defensive play behind the baseline work Halep to 15-30. Stephens runs round a backhand to strike a powerful forehand and deceives the world No 1 who anticipated Stephens going down the line at game point, only to be watch Stephens strike a forehand winner cross court. @SloaneStephens power AND her topspin is hurting Simo ... their movement is incredible but Sloane’s power is the difference and will be throughout. Only chance Simo has is if Sloane gets tight.— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 Stephens in fantastic form at the start of the opening set Credit: Reuters 2:38PM Halep 2-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Wow. Just when Halep looks to be in control of a rally, Stephens finds a winner at such a cute angle. It draws the American to 30-all and keeps the heat on Halep. The world No 1 isn't playing badly, but Stephens is hitting the lines quite perfectly so far. Halep makes an important hold when Stephens makes an uncharacteristic unforced error. 2:34PM Halep* 1-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh. My. Word! Halep is quite brilliant, brilliant terrier. She makes two ridiculous gets out wide which she has no right to retrieve to send everything back but then strikes an unforced error into the net. She stares down the net in disbelief. At 40-15 Halep fires a winner down the line and looks if to say 'is this what I have to do just to win a point?' Stephens, in true smoking a cigar, feet up style, gets over the night to cement the break. Women's final so far = (fire emoji)(fire emoji)(fire emoji).#RG18— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 9, 2018 2:29PM Halep 1-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Some fantastic tennis being played by both women now, working each other from side to side and creating the space to go for the kill. Halep moves into the court for the first time, smashing a sublime overhead deep into the corner for 30-all. But Stephens has some zip on a second service return to throw Halep at the baseline. It brings up a first break point for Stephens. And she makes it. Stephens does brilliantly to switch the play from down the line to cross court and it forces Halep to strike the middle. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:23PM Halep* 1-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A couple of long forehands from Halep allow Stephens to progress to 40-15. But the swirling wind is causing problems for both players and the American pushes one groundstroke behind the line to allow Halep to hang around in the game. The 10th seed stays on the front foot during the next rally and draws another error from Halep's forehand. It remains on serve. 2:19PM Halep 1-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Beautiful ball-striking from Stephens as the American strikes a clean forehand winner down the line after moving Halep at the baseline to create an opening. It's effortless from Stephens as she draws Halep wide to draw level at 30-all. Halep takes the crucial next point, relieved as Stephens' reply flies off the top of her racket. A cross court exchange during the next rally of 14 shots ends when Halep strikes into the tape. Cries of 'Simona' ring round at deuce. Stephens can't jump on a slower second serve but Halep finally holds when she outlasts Stephens during a brutal baseline duel. 2:13PM Halep* 0-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens opens up the final, watches a couple of service returns land long for 30-0. Halep drags a backhand into the tramlines but then gets a first point on the board when Stephens makes an unforced error. Stephens takes a comfortable hold with a backhand winner down the line. The American looks calm and focused early on as expected. 2:03PM Here they come Stephens, with headphones nestled in her ears, heads out to the Philippe Chatrier Court first. Halep follows and unsurprisingly draws a louder cheer from the crowd. Here she is! What Simona and Sloane are playing for today...#RG18pic.twitter.com/5Xq1GGbICc— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2018 1:56PM Getting to know Stephens Stephens' aloof and seemingly can't be bothered attitude hasn't won her too many additional followers and supporters in Paris. Our tennis correspondent Simon Briggs tweeted after Stephens' semi-final win over good friend Madison Keys that she looked like she would rather be "flossing her teeth" than giving her on-court interview. Her lack of French hasn't helped with making friends either. While many of the top level players have gone to great lengths to speak the local language at Roland Garros, Stephens has only uttered a tepid 'Merci Paris, je t'aime' in post-match discussions. Former player and American broadcaster Mary Carillo spent much time with Stephens last summer while working together at the Tennis Channel in the US. Carillo has offered a great insight into what Stephens is really like. She's not just the laid-back, unimpressed and unbothered individual she displays on the court. 1:39PM Halep's supporters Halep fans getting hyped outside Chatrier less an hour before the Women’s Final @rolandgarros ���� pic.twitter.com/uglLMFcyIl— Steve Weissman (@Steve_Weissman) June 9, 2018 1:33PM How will Halep cope with the pressure? Halep and Stephens have similar styles. Both glide around the back of the court, have an abundance of stamina and can switch from defence into attack. The biggest question mark hanging over Halep is the scar tissue of those defeats. When she came from a set down to beat Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals, Halep pointed her finger at her temple. She still has moments of anxiety and self doubt, but by and large she is starting to fix some of her self-inflicted issues. "She deals much better with pressure," 1978 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici who is also Halep's manager and the only woman from Romania to win a major. "The fact that she became No 1 has given her a different dimension, a different stature. She really deals with things better. Psychologically, she's also much better. ... And now she wants to win a Grand Slam. And now she says it. "Before, she didn't dare say it. Now she says it: 'I want to win a Grand Slam.'" Simona Halep, head in the game#RG18#Gettypic.twitter.com/70PQx2eI27— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 6, 2018 1:16PM Flashback to 2008 Halep shouldn't concern herself with the three grand slam finals lost but look back on a happy time when she was lifting the winners' trophy. Ten years ago, as ninth seed Halep won the junior girls' title beating compatriot Elena Bogdan in three sets. If the world No 1 prevails today, she would become the sixth player to win the women's singles title in Paris after winning the girls' title. The other five, you ask? Francoise Durr, Mima Jausovec, Hana Mandlikova, Jennifer Capriati and Justine Henin. Halep won the girls' title in Paris back in 2008 Credit: Getty Images 12:38PM Stephens' impeccable finals record Halep won't need reminding of Stephens' record in tournament finals. The American has proved herself a big-game player, most prominently during her charge to last year's US Open final where she became an unlikely champion so soon after returning from an 11-month injury lay-off. The 25-year-old's victory in Miami back in early April, was her sixth straight win from six finals. Of her impeccable form in finals, Stephens said in the lead up to today's showdown: "There is no formula. I didn't, like, try to do it. I'm not trying to break a record. It's just how it's happened for me." Halep has a mixed bag of results when it comes to finals - albeit competing in a far higher number than her rival. Stephens has won all six of her tournament finals Credit: Getty Images The Romanian is 16-14 overall but her experience hasn't helped her get over the line in the last 12 months. Halep has lost finals in Paris, Cincinnati, Beijing, Melbourne and Rome. Her only success was a smaller tournament in Shenzhen at the start of the year. Halep's 'always the bridesmaid never the bride' story makes her a favourite with neutral fans who are desperate to see the wounded 26-year-old put some painful defeats behind her and write a new chapter of positivity and success moving forward. 10:45AM And then there were two... Welcome all to coverage of the women's final at Roland Garros where Simona Halep looks to fulfil a career ambition of ending her grand slam drought by overcoming last year's US Open champion Sloane Stephens. Halep is well versed in the occasion of reaching the latter stages of a major, especially in Paris where she has won through to the final two other times in 2014 and last year, only to suffer defeat to Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko. This afternoon she must defy the brilliance and athleticism of American Stephens, who will be competing in her first final at Roland Garros, in order to get her hands on the Suzanne Lenglen cup. While the crowd are likely to get behind the world No 1 Halep, Stephens' nerveless approach to her game could prove a tough obstacle to clear. The Romanian has a superior head-to-head advantage, winning five of their seven battles - including winning all four of their last encounters. In fact Halep saw off the 10th seed Stephens during her run to the French Open final in 2014. If today's match goes to a third set, it will be the first time a decider has been required to determine the outcome of their battles. Who will you be supporting this afternoon and how do you see the final playing out? Vote in the poll below and send your thoughts to me at vicki.hodges@telegraph.co.uk
Simona Halep fights back from set and break down to end grand slam drought in Paris
World No 1 Simona Halep finally broke her grand-slam jinx at Roland Garros, producing an unforgettable comeback to burn past the reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens on the home straight. The fans in Paris had watched Halep come up just short of the title here twice before, and they have developed a warm relationship with her. Court Philippe Chatrier was rocking in the third set as Halep pulled away, producing some absurd recovery shots to exhaust the waning Stephens further. At the close of her 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win, Halep accepted a leg-up from a courtside official and climbed up to her player box, where she embraced the three men who have stood consistently at her side through her climb up the world rankings: physio Andrei Cristofor, fitness trainer Teo Cercel and coach Darren Cahill. As the Telegraph reported, in a pre-tournament interview with Halep: “I have people around me who are friends and I feel like they are there forever.” This comeback was surely all the sweeter because Halep was thoroughly outplayed in the opening set. Stephens was so smooth and so resourceful, mixing booming topspin with flatter, faster strikes in a way that made her look – for 40 minutes or so – virtually unbeatable. The apparent rout continued into the early stages of the second, as Stephens broke again to lead 6-3, 2-0. The scoreline then was curiously similar to the lead that Halep had held over Jelena Ostapenko here 12 months ago. Halep celebrates winning the French Open Credit: AP Halep wound up as the frustrated party that day, backing off at just the wrong moment and allowing the free-swinging Ostapenko to surge to a shock win. But she is never more dangerous than when she is trailing, because that is when she loosens up and starts playing like a woman with nothing to lose. “I thought ‘Everything is gone. I just have to relax,’” said Halep afterwards, grinning her way through her on-court interview, as she remembered the key moment. The switch was partly spiritual, as she tapped into her deepest wells of tenacity. But it was also tactical, as she decided to use the whole area of the court for the first time, darting forward to the net whenever Stephens was pushed into deep defence. Commentating for ITV, the former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli began yelling: “That’s the play! That’s the play!” whenever Halep put away a winning volley. There is a huge amount of warmth towards Halep around the sport, as she conducts herself with real class at all times. If Halep found her best self in her moment of crisis, Stephens began to show signs of weariness. The match was only an hour old but Halep was setting a demanding pace and giving fewer and fewer freebies away as the match wore on. No fewer than 55 rallies exceeded nine shots, more than a third of the total points, which is an unusually high figure. The average speed of Stephens’ forehand, which had been doing so much damage, dropped from 77mph in the first set to 70mph in the second. Halep came from a set and break down to end Stephens' 100 per cent record in finals Credit: AFP The third set might look like a non-event on the scorecard but some of the rallies were extraordinary. And none more so than the point Halep won to go a double break ahead at 4-0. This was a 16-shot extravaganza in which she had to dig out a couple of desperate retrievals from the back of the court, then sprint up to the net to dink back a drop-shot, and finally backpedal to make that most awkward of putaways, the backhand overhead. When she finally edged Stephens out in that one, the usually sphinx-like Cahill jumped up off his seat and punched the air in the most uncharacteristic manner. Stephens would win only eight more points from that moment, as Halep finally finished the job with an unreturned serve, dropped her racket and put her hands over her face. Considering what she has been through to reach this point, she was surprisingly restrained in her celebrations, although she spoke eloquently afterwards. “I felt your support,” said Halep told the crowd, as she spoke to Bartoli afterwards. “In the last game I felt that I could not breathe any more, so I just tried not to repeat the last year. I did everything I could. It’s amazing what is happening now. Honestly I can’t believe it. I have been dreaming of this moment since I started to play tennis. I’m really happy that it’s happened in Roland Garros in Paris, my special city.” Halep has loved playing here ever since she won the junior event in 2008. She also took the time out to namecheck her compatriot Virginia Ruzici, who won the French Open 40 years ago and was watching from the stands. Halep won the junior title in 2008 Credit: AFP Messages of congratulation were now flooding in on social media from rivals like Petra Kvitova and Johanna Konta. Later Martina Navratilova – who recently hinted that she will be returning to Wimbledon for the BBC this summer on improved terms – would come up with a neat summation. “It wasn’t a monkey off her back; this was an 800lb gorilla.” The upshot is that this was the seventh straight women’s grand slam with a different winner. The tour is certainly open at the moment, after a sequence that began with Angelique Kerber in New York two years ago and continued through Serena Williams, Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and now Halep. Stephens shakes Halep's hand after losing the final Credit: AFP The one thing we are still waiting for is for anyone to show that they can put a sequence of results together to match what Williams and some of her 2000s rivals – the likes of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin – achieved at their peak. Yet if a straightforward narrative is hard to pull out of this unpredictable string of results, the women keep on throwing up quality matches, while the men have not produced an outstanding major tournament since Melbourne last year. In final analysis, Halep’s heartwarming victory was another good-news story for the WTA tour. 4:31PM Halep talks It's emotional to talk as the winner. I've been waiting for this moment since I was 14. I wanted this trophy to be here in France. Many congrats to Sloane. You have done a great job after those injuries. I'm sure you'll play many more finals in the future. Good luck and take care of your body. I wish in the future to play another final here. It's my favourite one. Thank you and see you next year. 4:29PM Stephens speaks It's been an incredible couple of weeks. It's not the trophy I wanted but it's still beautiful so thank you guys. To Simona, congratulations on your first slam. There's no one else I'd rather lose to than the world No 1. 4:28PM Halep the champion The world No 1 strides on to the mini stage assembled on Philippe Chatrier to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in relief and excitement in equal measure. The national anthem of Romanian is played out while Halep embraces the trophy. 4:26PM Sanchez Vicario hands out the trophies Arantxa Sanchez Vicario has the honour of handing out the runners-up plate and Suzanne Lenglen Cup this afternoon 20 years after her last Roland Garros title. 4:23PM A first time champion at Wimbledon awaits? Tears! Honestly tears!! Congratulations @Simona_Halep .... as a former player to see this moment is heartwarming! Three in a row 1st time slam winners....Sloane, Woz and Simo. Women’s tennis is hot!!— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 4:18PM Halep embraces Cahill in the stands The French Open champion is hoisted into the stands on Philippe Chatrier to give coach Cahill a warm embrace and then cuddles her mum and dad. There isn't a more popular winner than Halep. She manages to find her way back on to the court and looks to the sunny skies in thanks. The monkey is finally off her back. Simonaaaaa! You did it. So happy for you. Enjoy every second. You deserve this moment so much ��❤️ #RG18— Petra Kvitova (@Petra_Kvitova) June 9, 2018 4:16PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 Stephens* Here we go then. Halep lets out a deep sigh at winning the first point. But then nervously strikes long when well placed. A timely ace, her first of the match, is just what the doctor and her psychologist ordered but Stephens reels her in again for 30-all. Halep waits an age for a big overhead clearance to land. Halep stays strong to thwack a smash home and brings up championship point. She takes it. Stephens slaps a service return into the net. Halep has finally, finally won her first grand slam. Well done Simona. Her coach Darren Cahill can't quite believe it. He puts his hands on his head. Halep can't comprehend it either, placing both hands covering her face briefly before soaking up the adulation. GAME, SET AND MATCH: HALEP WINS FRENCH OPEN WITH 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 VICTORY OVER STEPHENS. 4:11PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 5-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh dear, dear. Stephens' level has dropped massively as she hands a free point for Halep for 0-30. She digs deep, fighting back for 30-all and then wins a third straight point with a backhand into the corner. Halep won't allow Stephens of a free game this set and draws back to deuce. Stephens swings a volley into the corner to edge to game point and as the clock passes the two-hour mark, Stephens finally gets on the board this set. 4:04PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 5-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Too many errors from Stephens now as Halep keeping her foot on the gas. She holds to 15. Stephens faces an uphill battle to get back into proceedings Credit: AP 4:02PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 4-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens looking exacerbated now as a failed drop shot lands lamely at the net. The unforced errors are creeping up for the American while Halep's dogged style is taking the Romanian closer to a first title. The 10th seed isn't ready yet to give up the fight as she digs in with a cross court winner for 30-15. But Halep isn't giving her rival any free points and making her work for everything and the errors still come. Halep misreads a slower second serve to miss a chance to set up break point but then hits an unbelievable backhand winner cross court which gets the crowd on Philippe Chatrier purring again. We're back to deuce. Halep gets a slice of luck with a clip of the tape to throw Stephens at the net. The American reacts, gets her racket on the high ball but can't get her return in the court. Halep has another break point here. Stephens pushes Halep to all corners again and how does the Romanian even stay in this incredible point? Both players advance to net, Halep managing to get an overhead and finally finding space to push home the winner. HALEP BREAKS. 3:55PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 3-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens trying to gee herself up by slapping her thigh trailing 30-0. The physical pep talk has worked in the short term, winning the next two points. Halep is more aggressive on the next point and the low ball is difficult for Stephens to retrieve. And at game point another lengthy rally ensues and Stephens blinks first. 'That's a play', shouts Bartoli in the ITV studio again. We know which way Bartoli wants this final to play out. 36 64 30 �� Halep has kept her head. She has kept her aggression. She has not gone away. And now she is amazingly 12 points from the title!���� #RG18pic.twitter.com/ZvL2ZtDDvP— Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) June 9, 2018 3:50PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 2-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Superb ball-striking from both players again as Stephens just misses a forehand when she was making them regularly during the first set. Pressure now as Halep moves to 15-30 up but Stephens keeps calm this time to deliver a brilliant forehand winner cross court. That was a big point. And here's a bigger one now. Stephens can't make a first serve. She gets a second one in but then throws in a sloppy forehand. Her level has massively dropped. Halep, break point now. She takes it. A punched deep forehand is too much for Stephens to get back. The momentum is all with Halep. HALEP BREAKS. 3:45PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 1-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Both players left the court at the end of the second set and we're into unchartered territory now as all seven of their head-to-heads haven't gone the distance before. All three of Halep's last grand slam finals went into a decider. At the start of the third and that break in action has worked to Stephens' advantage as she moves to 0-30. A brilliant backhand winner down the line draws Halep back to 30-all and nerves get the better of Stephens on the next point as she strikes long. Despite great defensive play from the 10th seed, Halep stays strong to see out the game. Sloane Stephens’ adjustment steps have slowed— bad sign when your opponent in the third set is Simona Halep. What a match @rolandgarros— Gerry Marzorati (@marzoTennis) June 9, 2018 3:36PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep stays positive, switching play from corner to corner and biding her time from the baseline. She gets a let off when Halep makes one stretch out wide and looks on as Stephens sends a forehand into the tramlines for 15-30. Stephens clenches her fist as a Halep groundstroke lands long. But she can't back it up as Halep's power and pace proves too hard to deal with. Halep brings up set point. And she takes it as Stephens hits into the tramlines. HALEP WINS SECOND SET TO LEVEL THE MATCH. 3:31PM Halep 3-6, 5-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep throws Stephens off balance by taking a forehand early and catching the American out on the baseline. Stephens stays strong during the next point, firing deep, so deep at the lines and piling further pressure on Halep at 30-all. Halep takes advantage as a ball rears up off the clay and takes the pace off Stephens' reply. Halep is on the short ball in a flash, striking a volley into the corner. Halep moves Stephens side-to-side before unleashing the winner and crucially Halep edges back in front this set. Halep battles against Stephens Credit: AFP 3:27PM Halep* 3-6, 4-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep looks to her corner with her arms extended out wide at missing one groundstroke. Stephens sends down her first ace of the match to establish a 30-0 advantage and then watches as Halep pushes long. That last game might be playing on the world No 1's mind. Stephens misses two game points, the second missing the line with a backhand. But she outlasts Halep during the next rally and we're back level for the set. 3:22PM Halep 3-6, 4-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens has woken back into action. A floating forehand on the line takes her to three break points and when Halep pushes long, we're back on serve this set. Halep will be kicking herself. That was lost far too quickly. STEPHENS BREAKS. 3:20PM Halep* 3-6, 4-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens stops the rot as she watches a Halep forehand land wide. The world No 1 stays focused on Stephens' backhand, whipping forehands out of the American's reach. Stephens digs deep for 30-all but then floats a tired groundstroke into the middle to hand Halep another break point. Another unforced error from Stephens hands Halep a second break this set. How quickly this match has turned. HALEP BREAKS. 3:15PM Halep 3-6, 3-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens' concentration levels have taken a hit. The momentum has shifted, Halep winning 10 of their last 11 points. Stephens' range is off now, a couple of unforced errors allowing Halep of edging ahead this set. Too soon? Wikipedia already has Sloane winning: https://t.co/yLIoTSBndh— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 9, 2018 3:12PM Halep* 3-6, 2-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Marion Bartoli on the ITV commentary is struggling with impartiality this afternoon. 'Go, go, go, go, go' she cries in encouragement to Halep to rush the net. The Romanian's revival gathers pace moving to 0-30 and drawing the American into an error. Now she has three break points this game to draw level this set. And she makes it as Stephens drags a forehand into the tramlines. HALEP BREAKS. 3:08PM Halep 3-6, 1-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens gives one mark a serious look as Halep edges to 30-15 and is finally starting to hurt the American will some deep hitting and solid net play. The Romanian's best chance is to cut short the points and rush the net where possible. A forehand down the line sets Halep up for moving into court and she duly dispatches the volley. Great play Halep. Halep keeps fighting against Stephens Credit: Getty Images 3:05PM Halep* 3-6, 0-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A drop in concentration now from Stephens as Halep moves to 0-30. Stephens composes herself passing Halep at the net and then getting a bit of fortune with a mishit forehand that lands flush on the line. Halep's head drops. From 30-0 down, Stephens completes the comeback with four straight points. That will hurt Halep. This performance from Sloane Stephens in a Slam final is the equal of those from all-time greats like Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova and Rafael Nadal. That good.— David Law (@DavidLawTennis) June 9, 2018 3:01PM Halep 3-6, 0-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep will be praying that Stephens' level drops soon. But it isn't. The American continues to work her magic, spraying unbelievable winners. One backhand down the line brings up two break points. She misses the first with a backhand error. Halep delivers a crucial first serve to blot the second. But Stephens has a third bite of the cherry now. Halep whips a forehand winner down the line to keep Stephens waiting. The American doesn't mind waiting. She's the patient kind. She demonstrates her ability to draw winners from all acute angles by setting up break point No 4 and this time she cheekily goes for a high ball as Halep moves into the net. The Romanian gets her racket to the ball but it flies wide. Stephens is playing unbelievable tennis. Why now? Halep must be thinking. Why now. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:53PM Halep* 3-6 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens' footwork behind the baseline and effortlessness moving side-to-side is mesmorising. Halep is finding the corners, but Stephens is retrieving everything thrown at her and asking further questions of Halep. One punching forehand flashes cross court at a zippy 90 mph for 30-15 but she blinks first during the next lengthy rally. Now she is breathing heavily as she lines up for her next service rotation. Halep toys with Stephens as another rally ensues, chasing down a drop shot and delivering her own drop which Stephens can't retrieve. It's a first break point for Halep. Anxiousness appears to get the better of her. She stands rigid in disbelief at missing that chance. Stephens composes herself to get back on track with decent serving to bring up set point. She takes it as her power is again too much for the world No 1. STEPHENS WINS THE FIRST SET 6-3 2:47PM Halep 3-5 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep working hard for every point and building some rhythm on her serve now. A strong hold to 30, the world No 1 steps into a short return to deliver her own forehand winner. More cries of 'Si-mon-a' ring round Chatrier. Stephens will be serving for the set. 2:43PM Halep* 2-5 Stephens (*denotes next server) A poorly-executed drop shot from Stephens coupled with sound defensive play behind the baseline work Halep to 15-30. Stephens runs round a backhand to strike a powerful forehand and deceives the world No 1 who anticipated Stephens going down the line at game point, only to be watch Stephens strike a forehand winner cross court. @SloaneStephens power AND her topspin is hurting Simo ... their movement is incredible but Sloane’s power is the difference and will be throughout. Only chance Simo has is if Sloane gets tight.— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 Stephens in fantastic form at the start of the opening set Credit: Reuters 2:38PM Halep 2-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Wow. Just when Halep looks to be in control of a rally, Stephens finds a winner at such a cute angle. It draws the American to 30-all and keeps the heat on Halep. The world No 1 isn't playing badly, but Stephens is hitting the lines quite perfectly so far. Halep makes an important hold when Stephens makes an uncharacteristic unforced error. 2:34PM Halep* 1-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh. My. Word! Halep is quite brilliant, brilliant terrier. She makes two ridiculous gets out wide which she has no right to retrieve to send everything back but then strikes an unforced error into the net. She stares down the net in disbelief. At 40-15 Halep fires a winner down the line and looks if to say 'is this what I have to do just to win a point?' Stephens, in true smoking a cigar, feet up style, gets over the night to cement the break. Women's final so far = (fire emoji)(fire emoji)(fire emoji).#RG18— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 9, 2018 2:29PM Halep 1-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Some fantastic tennis being played by both women now, working each other from side to side and creating the space to go for the kill. Halep moves into the court for the first time, smashing a sublime overhead deep into the corner for 30-all. But Stephens has some zip on a second service return to throw Halep at the baseline. It brings up a first break point for Stephens. And she makes it. Stephens does brilliantly to switch the play from down the line to cross court and it forces Halep to strike the middle. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:23PM Halep* 1-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A couple of long forehands from Halep allow Stephens to progress to 40-15. But the swirling wind is causing problems for both players and the American pushes one groundstroke behind the line to allow Halep to hang around in the game. The 10th seed stays on the front foot during the next rally and draws another error from Halep's forehand. It remains on serve. 2:19PM Halep 1-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Beautiful ball-striking from Stephens as the American strikes a clean forehand winner down the line after moving Halep at the baseline to create an opening. It's effortless from Stephens as she draws Halep wide to draw level at 30-all. Halep takes the crucial next point, relieved as Stephens' reply flies off the top of her racket. A cross court exchange during the next rally of 14 shots ends when Halep strikes into the tape. Cries of 'Simona' ring round at deuce. Stephens can't jump on a slower second serve but Halep finally holds when she outlasts Stephens during a brutal baseline duel. 2:13PM Halep* 0-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens opens up the final, watches a couple of service returns land long for 30-0. Halep drags a backhand into the tramlines but then gets a first point on the board when Stephens makes an unforced error. Stephens takes a comfortable hold with a backhand winner down the line. The American looks calm and focused early on as expected. 2:03PM Here they come Stephens, with headphones nestled in her ears, heads out to the Philippe Chatrier Court first. Halep follows and unsurprisingly draws a louder cheer from the crowd. Here she is! What Simona and Sloane are playing for today...#RG18pic.twitter.com/5Xq1GGbICc— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2018 1:56PM Getting to know Stephens Stephens' aloof and seemingly can't be bothered attitude hasn't won her too many additional followers and supporters in Paris. Our tennis correspondent Simon Briggs tweeted after Stephens' semi-final win over good friend Madison Keys that she looked like she would rather be "flossing her teeth" than giving her on-court interview. Her lack of French hasn't helped with making friends either. While many of the top level players have gone to great lengths to speak the local language at Roland Garros, Stephens has only uttered a tepid 'Merci Paris, je t'aime' in post-match discussions. Former player and American broadcaster Mary Carillo spent much time with Stephens last summer while working together at the Tennis Channel in the US. Carillo has offered a great insight into what Stephens is really like. She's not just the laid-back, unimpressed and unbothered individual she displays on the court. 1:39PM Halep's supporters Halep fans getting hyped outside Chatrier less an hour before the Women’s Final @rolandgarros ���� pic.twitter.com/uglLMFcyIl— Steve Weissman (@Steve_Weissman) June 9, 2018 1:33PM How will Halep cope with the pressure? Halep and Stephens have similar styles. Both glide around the back of the court, have an abundance of stamina and can switch from defence into attack. The biggest question mark hanging over Halep is the scar tissue of those defeats. When she came from a set down to beat Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals, Halep pointed her finger at her temple. She still has moments of anxiety and self doubt, but by and large she is starting to fix some of her self-inflicted issues. "She deals much better with pressure," 1978 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici who is also Halep's manager and the only woman from Romania to win a major. "The fact that she became No 1 has given her a different dimension, a different stature. She really deals with things better. Psychologically, she's also much better. ... And now she wants to win a Grand Slam. And now she says it. "Before, she didn't dare say it. Now she says it: 'I want to win a Grand Slam.'" Simona Halep, head in the game#RG18#Gettypic.twitter.com/70PQx2eI27— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 6, 2018 1:16PM Flashback to 2008 Halep shouldn't concern herself with the three grand slam finals lost but look back on a happy time when she was lifting the winners' trophy. Ten years ago, as ninth seed Halep won the junior girls' title beating compatriot Elena Bogdan in three sets. If the world No 1 prevails today, she would become the sixth player to win the women's singles title in Paris after winning the girls' title. The other five, you ask? Francoise Durr, Mima Jausovec, Hana Mandlikova, Jennifer Capriati and Justine Henin. Halep won the girls' title in Paris back in 2008 Credit: Getty Images 12:38PM Stephens' impeccable finals record Halep won't need reminding of Stephens' record in tournament finals. The American has proved herself a big-game player, most prominently during her charge to last year's US Open final where she became an unlikely champion so soon after returning from an 11-month injury lay-off. The 25-year-old's victory in Miami back in early April, was her sixth straight win from six finals. Of her impeccable form in finals, Stephens said in the lead up to today's showdown: "There is no formula. I didn't, like, try to do it. I'm not trying to break a record. It's just how it's happened for me." Halep has a mixed bag of results when it comes to finals - albeit competing in a far higher number than her rival. Stephens has won all six of her tournament finals Credit: Getty Images The Romanian is 16-14 overall but her experience hasn't helped her get over the line in the last 12 months. Halep has lost finals in Paris, Cincinnati, Beijing, Melbourne and Rome. Her only success was a smaller tournament in Shenzhen at the start of the year. Halep's 'always the bridesmaid never the bride' story makes her a favourite with neutral fans who are desperate to see the wounded 26-year-old put some painful defeats behind her and write a new chapter of positivity and success moving forward. 10:45AM And then there were two... Welcome all to coverage of the women's final at Roland Garros where Simona Halep looks to fulfil a career ambition of ending her grand slam drought by overcoming last year's US Open champion Sloane Stephens. Halep is well versed in the occasion of reaching the latter stages of a major, especially in Paris where she has won through to the final two other times in 2014 and last year, only to suffer defeat to Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko. This afternoon she must defy the brilliance and athleticism of American Stephens, who will be competing in her first final at Roland Garros, in order to get her hands on the Suzanne Lenglen cup. While the crowd are likely to get behind the world No 1 Halep, Stephens' nerveless approach to her game could prove a tough obstacle to clear. The Romanian has a superior head-to-head advantage, winning five of their seven battles - including winning all four of their last encounters. In fact Halep saw off the 10th seed Stephens during her run to the French Open final in 2014. If today's match goes to a third set, it will be the first time a decider has been required to determine the outcome of their battles. Who will you be supporting this afternoon and how do you see the final playing out? Vote in the poll below and send your thoughts to me at vicki.hodges@telegraph.co.uk
World No 1 Simona Halep finally broke her grand-slam jinx at Roland Garros, producing an unforgettable comeback to burn past the reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens on the home straight. The fans in Paris had watched Halep come up just short of the title here twice before, and they have developed a warm relationship with her. Court Philippe Chatrier was rocking in the third set as Halep pulled away, producing some absurd recovery shots to exhaust the waning Stephens further. At the close of her 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win, Halep accepted a leg-up from a courtside official and climbed up to her player box, where she embraced the three men who have stood consistently at her side through her climb up the world rankings: physio Andrei Cristofor, fitness trainer Teo Cercel and coach Darren Cahill. As the Telegraph reported, in a pre-tournament interview with Halep: “I have people around me who are friends and I feel like they are there forever.” This comeback was surely all the sweeter because Halep was thoroughly outplayed in the opening set. Stephens was so smooth and so resourceful, mixing booming topspin with flatter, faster strikes in a way that made her look – for 40 minutes or so – virtually unbeatable. The apparent rout continued into the early stages of the second, as Stephens broke again to lead 6-3, 2-0. The scoreline then was curiously similar to the lead that Halep had held over Jelena Ostapenko here 12 months ago. Halep celebrates winning the French Open Credit: AP Halep wound up as the frustrated party that day, backing off at just the wrong moment and allowing the free-swinging Ostapenko to surge to a shock win. But she is never more dangerous than when she is trailing, because that is when she loosens up and starts playing like a woman with nothing to lose. “I thought ‘Everything is gone. I just have to relax,’” said Halep afterwards, grinning her way through her on-court interview, as she remembered the key moment. The switch was partly spiritual, as she tapped into her deepest wells of tenacity. But it was also tactical, as she decided to use the whole area of the court for the first time, darting forward to the net whenever Stephens was pushed into deep defence. Commentating for ITV, the former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli began yelling: “That’s the play! That’s the play!” whenever Halep put away a winning volley. There is a huge amount of warmth towards Halep around the sport, as she conducts herself with real class at all times. If Halep found her best self in her moment of crisis, Stephens began to show signs of weariness. The match was only an hour old but Halep was setting a demanding pace and giving fewer and fewer freebies away as the match wore on. No fewer than 55 rallies exceeded nine shots, more than a third of the total points, which is an unusually high figure. The average speed of Stephens’ forehand, which had been doing so much damage, dropped from 77mph in the first set to 70mph in the second. Halep came from a set and break down to end Stephens' 100 per cent record in finals Credit: AFP The third set might look like a non-event on the scorecard but some of the rallies were extraordinary. And none more so than the point Halep won to go a double break ahead at 4-0. This was a 16-shot extravaganza in which she had to dig out a couple of desperate retrievals from the back of the court, then sprint up to the net to dink back a drop-shot, and finally backpedal to make that most awkward of putaways, the backhand overhead. When she finally edged Stephens out in that one, the usually sphinx-like Cahill jumped up off his seat and punched the air in the most uncharacteristic manner. Stephens would win only eight more points from that moment, as Halep finally finished the job with an unreturned serve, dropped her racket and put her hands over her face. Considering what she has been through to reach this point, she was surprisingly restrained in her celebrations, although she spoke eloquently afterwards. “I felt your support,” said Halep told the crowd, as she spoke to Bartoli afterwards. “In the last game I felt that I could not breathe any more, so I just tried not to repeat the last year. I did everything I could. It’s amazing what is happening now. Honestly I can’t believe it. I have been dreaming of this moment since I started to play tennis. I’m really happy that it’s happened in Roland Garros in Paris, my special city.” Halep has loved playing here ever since she won the junior event in 2008. She also took the time out to namecheck her compatriot Virginia Ruzici, who won the French Open 40 years ago and was watching from the stands. Halep won the junior title in 2008 Credit: AFP Messages of congratulation were now flooding in on social media from rivals like Petra Kvitova and Johanna Konta. Later Martina Navratilova – who recently hinted that she will be returning to Wimbledon for the BBC this summer on improved terms – would come up with a neat summation. “It wasn’t a monkey off her back; this was an 800lb gorilla.” The upshot is that this was the seventh straight women’s grand slam with a different winner. The tour is certainly open at the moment, after a sequence that began with Angelique Kerber in New York two years ago and continued through Serena Williams, Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and now Halep. Stephens shakes Halep's hand after losing the final Credit: AFP The one thing we are still waiting for is for anyone to show that they can put a sequence of results together to match what Williams and some of her 2000s rivals – the likes of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin – achieved at their peak. Yet if a straightforward narrative is hard to pull out of this unpredictable string of results, the women keep on throwing up quality matches, while the men have not produced an outstanding major tournament since Melbourne last year. In final analysis, Halep’s heartwarming victory was another good-news story for the WTA tour. 4:31PM Halep talks It's emotional to talk as the winner. I've been waiting for this moment since I was 14. I wanted this trophy to be here in France. Many congrats to Sloane. You have done a great job after those injuries. I'm sure you'll play many more finals in the future. Good luck and take care of your body. I wish in the future to play another final here. It's my favourite one. Thank you and see you next year. 4:29PM Stephens speaks It's been an incredible couple of weeks. It's not the trophy I wanted but it's still beautiful so thank you guys. To Simona, congratulations on your first slam. There's no one else I'd rather lose to than the world No 1. 4:28PM Halep the champion The world No 1 strides on to the mini stage assembled on Philippe Chatrier to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in relief and excitement in equal measure. The national anthem of Romanian is played out while Halep embraces the trophy. 4:26PM Sanchez Vicario hands out the trophies Arantxa Sanchez Vicario has the honour of handing out the runners-up plate and Suzanne Lenglen Cup this afternoon 20 years after her last Roland Garros title. 4:23PM A first time champion at Wimbledon awaits? Tears! Honestly tears!! Congratulations @Simona_Halep .... as a former player to see this moment is heartwarming! Three in a row 1st time slam winners....Sloane, Woz and Simo. Women’s tennis is hot!!— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 4:18PM Halep embraces Cahill in the stands The French Open champion is hoisted into the stands on Philippe Chatrier to give coach Cahill a warm embrace and then cuddles her mum and dad. There isn't a more popular winner than Halep. She manages to find her way back on to the court and looks to the sunny skies in thanks. The monkey is finally off her back. Simonaaaaa! You did it. So happy for you. Enjoy every second. You deserve this moment so much ��❤️ #RG18— Petra Kvitova (@Petra_Kvitova) June 9, 2018 4:16PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 Stephens* Here we go then. Halep lets out a deep sigh at winning the first point. But then nervously strikes long when well placed. A timely ace, her first of the match, is just what the doctor and her psychologist ordered but Stephens reels her in again for 30-all. Halep waits an age for a big overhead clearance to land. Halep stays strong to thwack a smash home and brings up championship point. She takes it. Stephens slaps a service return into the net. Halep has finally, finally won her first grand slam. Well done Simona. Her coach Darren Cahill can't quite believe it. He puts his hands on his head. Halep can't comprehend it either, placing both hands covering her face briefly before soaking up the adulation. GAME, SET AND MATCH: HALEP WINS FRENCH OPEN WITH 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 VICTORY OVER STEPHENS. 4:11PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 5-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh dear, dear. Stephens' level has dropped massively as she hands a free point for Halep for 0-30. She digs deep, fighting back for 30-all and then wins a third straight point with a backhand into the corner. Halep won't allow Stephens of a free game this set and draws back to deuce. Stephens swings a volley into the corner to edge to game point and as the clock passes the two-hour mark, Stephens finally gets on the board this set. 4:04PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 5-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Too many errors from Stephens now as Halep keeping her foot on the gas. She holds to 15. Stephens faces an uphill battle to get back into proceedings Credit: AP 4:02PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 4-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens looking exacerbated now as a failed drop shot lands lamely at the net. The unforced errors are creeping up for the American while Halep's dogged style is taking the Romanian closer to a first title. The 10th seed isn't ready yet to give up the fight as she digs in with a cross court winner for 30-15. But Halep isn't giving her rival any free points and making her work for everything and the errors still come. Halep misreads a slower second serve to miss a chance to set up break point but then hits an unbelievable backhand winner cross court which gets the crowd on Philippe Chatrier purring again. We're back to deuce. Halep gets a slice of luck with a clip of the tape to throw Stephens at the net. The American reacts, gets her racket on the high ball but can't get her return in the court. Halep has another break point here. Stephens pushes Halep to all corners again and how does the Romanian even stay in this incredible point? Both players advance to net, Halep managing to get an overhead and finally finding space to push home the winner. HALEP BREAKS. 3:55PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 3-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens trying to gee herself up by slapping her thigh trailing 30-0. The physical pep talk has worked in the short term, winning the next two points. Halep is more aggressive on the next point and the low ball is difficult for Stephens to retrieve. And at game point another lengthy rally ensues and Stephens blinks first. 'That's a play', shouts Bartoli in the ITV studio again. We know which way Bartoli wants this final to play out. 36 64 30 �� Halep has kept her head. She has kept her aggression. She has not gone away. And now she is amazingly 12 points from the title!���� #RG18pic.twitter.com/ZvL2ZtDDvP— Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) June 9, 2018 3:50PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 2-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Superb ball-striking from both players again as Stephens just misses a forehand when she was making them regularly during the first set. Pressure now as Halep moves to 15-30 up but Stephens keeps calm this time to deliver a brilliant forehand winner cross court. That was a big point. And here's a bigger one now. Stephens can't make a first serve. She gets a second one in but then throws in a sloppy forehand. Her level has massively dropped. Halep, break point now. She takes it. A punched deep forehand is too much for Stephens to get back. The momentum is all with Halep. HALEP BREAKS. 3:45PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 1-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Both players left the court at the end of the second set and we're into unchartered territory now as all seven of their head-to-heads haven't gone the distance before. All three of Halep's last grand slam finals went into a decider. At the start of the third and that break in action has worked to Stephens' advantage as she moves to 0-30. A brilliant backhand winner down the line draws Halep back to 30-all and nerves get the better of Stephens on the next point as she strikes long. Despite great defensive play from the 10th seed, Halep stays strong to see out the game. Sloane Stephens’ adjustment steps have slowed— bad sign when your opponent in the third set is Simona Halep. What a match @rolandgarros— Gerry Marzorati (@marzoTennis) June 9, 2018 3:36PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep stays positive, switching play from corner to corner and biding her time from the baseline. She gets a let off when Halep makes one stretch out wide and looks on as Stephens sends a forehand into the tramlines for 15-30. Stephens clenches her fist as a Halep groundstroke lands long. But she can't back it up as Halep's power and pace proves too hard to deal with. Halep brings up set point. And she takes it as Stephens hits into the tramlines. HALEP WINS SECOND SET TO LEVEL THE MATCH. 3:31PM Halep 3-6, 5-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep throws Stephens off balance by taking a forehand early and catching the American out on the baseline. Stephens stays strong during the next point, firing deep, so deep at the lines and piling further pressure on Halep at 30-all. Halep takes advantage as a ball rears up off the clay and takes the pace off Stephens' reply. Halep is on the short ball in a flash, striking a volley into the corner. Halep moves Stephens side-to-side before unleashing the winner and crucially Halep edges back in front this set. Halep battles against Stephens Credit: AFP 3:27PM Halep* 3-6, 4-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep looks to her corner with her arms extended out wide at missing one groundstroke. Stephens sends down her first ace of the match to establish a 30-0 advantage and then watches as Halep pushes long. That last game might be playing on the world No 1's mind. Stephens misses two game points, the second missing the line with a backhand. But she outlasts Halep during the next rally and we're back level for the set. 3:22PM Halep 3-6, 4-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens has woken back into action. A floating forehand on the line takes her to three break points and when Halep pushes long, we're back on serve this set. Halep will be kicking herself. That was lost far too quickly. STEPHENS BREAKS. 3:20PM Halep* 3-6, 4-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens stops the rot as she watches a Halep forehand land wide. The world No 1 stays focused on Stephens' backhand, whipping forehands out of the American's reach. Stephens digs deep for 30-all but then floats a tired groundstroke into the middle to hand Halep another break point. Another unforced error from Stephens hands Halep a second break this set. How quickly this match has turned. HALEP BREAKS. 3:15PM Halep 3-6, 3-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens' concentration levels have taken a hit. The momentum has shifted, Halep winning 10 of their last 11 points. Stephens' range is off now, a couple of unforced errors allowing Halep of edging ahead this set. Too soon? Wikipedia already has Sloane winning: https://t.co/yLIoTSBndh— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 9, 2018 3:12PM Halep* 3-6, 2-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Marion Bartoli on the ITV commentary is struggling with impartiality this afternoon. 'Go, go, go, go, go' she cries in encouragement to Halep to rush the net. The Romanian's revival gathers pace moving to 0-30 and drawing the American into an error. Now she has three break points this game to draw level this set. And she makes it as Stephens drags a forehand into the tramlines. HALEP BREAKS. 3:08PM Halep 3-6, 1-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens gives one mark a serious look as Halep edges to 30-15 and is finally starting to hurt the American will some deep hitting and solid net play. The Romanian's best chance is to cut short the points and rush the net where possible. A forehand down the line sets Halep up for moving into court and she duly dispatches the volley. Great play Halep. Halep keeps fighting against Stephens Credit: Getty Images 3:05PM Halep* 3-6, 0-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A drop in concentration now from Stephens as Halep moves to 0-30. Stephens composes herself passing Halep at the net and then getting a bit of fortune with a mishit forehand that lands flush on the line. Halep's head drops. From 30-0 down, Stephens completes the comeback with four straight points. That will hurt Halep. This performance from Sloane Stephens in a Slam final is the equal of those from all-time greats like Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova and Rafael Nadal. That good.— David Law (@DavidLawTennis) June 9, 2018 3:01PM Halep 3-6, 0-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep will be praying that Stephens' level drops soon. But it isn't. The American continues to work her magic, spraying unbelievable winners. One backhand down the line brings up two break points. She misses the first with a backhand error. Halep delivers a crucial first serve to blot the second. But Stephens has a third bite of the cherry now. Halep whips a forehand winner down the line to keep Stephens waiting. The American doesn't mind waiting. She's the patient kind. She demonstrates her ability to draw winners from all acute angles by setting up break point No 4 and this time she cheekily goes for a high ball as Halep moves into the net. The Romanian gets her racket to the ball but it flies wide. Stephens is playing unbelievable tennis. Why now? Halep must be thinking. Why now. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:53PM Halep* 3-6 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens' footwork behind the baseline and effortlessness moving side-to-side is mesmorising. Halep is finding the corners, but Stephens is retrieving everything thrown at her and asking further questions of Halep. One punching forehand flashes cross court at a zippy 90 mph for 30-15 but she blinks first during the next lengthy rally. Now she is breathing heavily as she lines up for her next service rotation. Halep toys with Stephens as another rally ensues, chasing down a drop shot and delivering her own drop which Stephens can't retrieve. It's a first break point for Halep. Anxiousness appears to get the better of her. She stands rigid in disbelief at missing that chance. Stephens composes herself to get back on track with decent serving to bring up set point. She takes it as her power is again too much for the world No 1. STEPHENS WINS THE FIRST SET 6-3 2:47PM Halep 3-5 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep working hard for every point and building some rhythm on her serve now. A strong hold to 30, the world No 1 steps into a short return to deliver her own forehand winner. More cries of 'Si-mon-a' ring round Chatrier. Stephens will be serving for the set. 2:43PM Halep* 2-5 Stephens (*denotes next server) A poorly-executed drop shot from Stephens coupled with sound defensive play behind the baseline work Halep to 15-30. Stephens runs round a backhand to strike a powerful forehand and deceives the world No 1 who anticipated Stephens going down the line at game point, only to be watch Stephens strike a forehand winner cross court. @SloaneStephens power AND her topspin is hurting Simo ... their movement is incredible but Sloane’s power is the difference and will be throughout. Only chance Simo has is if Sloane gets tight.— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 Stephens in fantastic form at the start of the opening set Credit: Reuters 2:38PM Halep 2-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Wow. Just when Halep looks to be in control of a rally, Stephens finds a winner at such a cute angle. It draws the American to 30-all and keeps the heat on Halep. The world No 1 isn't playing badly, but Stephens is hitting the lines quite perfectly so far. Halep makes an important hold when Stephens makes an uncharacteristic unforced error. 2:34PM Halep* 1-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh. My. Word! Halep is quite brilliant, brilliant terrier. She makes two ridiculous gets out wide which she has no right to retrieve to send everything back but then strikes an unforced error into the net. She stares down the net in disbelief. At 40-15 Halep fires a winner down the line and looks if to say 'is this what I have to do just to win a point?' Stephens, in true smoking a cigar, feet up style, gets over the night to cement the break. Women's final so far = (fire emoji)(fire emoji)(fire emoji).#RG18— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 9, 2018 2:29PM Halep 1-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Some fantastic tennis being played by both women now, working each other from side to side and creating the space to go for the kill. Halep moves into the court for the first time, smashing a sublime overhead deep into the corner for 30-all. But Stephens has some zip on a second service return to throw Halep at the baseline. It brings up a first break point for Stephens. And she makes it. Stephens does brilliantly to switch the play from down the line to cross court and it forces Halep to strike the middle. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:23PM Halep* 1-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A couple of long forehands from Halep allow Stephens to progress to 40-15. But the swirling wind is causing problems for both players and the American pushes one groundstroke behind the line to allow Halep to hang around in the game. The 10th seed stays on the front foot during the next rally and draws another error from Halep's forehand. It remains on serve. 2:19PM Halep 1-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Beautiful ball-striking from Stephens as the American strikes a clean forehand winner down the line after moving Halep at the baseline to create an opening. It's effortless from Stephens as she draws Halep wide to draw level at 30-all. Halep takes the crucial next point, relieved as Stephens' reply flies off the top of her racket. A cross court exchange during the next rally of 14 shots ends when Halep strikes into the tape. Cries of 'Simona' ring round at deuce. Stephens can't jump on a slower second serve but Halep finally holds when she outlasts Stephens during a brutal baseline duel. 2:13PM Halep* 0-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens opens up the final, watches a couple of service returns land long for 30-0. Halep drags a backhand into the tramlines but then gets a first point on the board when Stephens makes an unforced error. Stephens takes a comfortable hold with a backhand winner down the line. The American looks calm and focused early on as expected. 2:03PM Here they come Stephens, with headphones nestled in her ears, heads out to the Philippe Chatrier Court first. Halep follows and unsurprisingly draws a louder cheer from the crowd. Here she is! What Simona and Sloane are playing for today...#RG18pic.twitter.com/5Xq1GGbICc— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2018 1:56PM Getting to know Stephens Stephens' aloof and seemingly can't be bothered attitude hasn't won her too many additional followers and supporters in Paris. Our tennis correspondent Simon Briggs tweeted after Stephens' semi-final win over good friend Madison Keys that she looked like she would rather be "flossing her teeth" than giving her on-court interview. Her lack of French hasn't helped with making friends either. While many of the top level players have gone to great lengths to speak the local language at Roland Garros, Stephens has only uttered a tepid 'Merci Paris, je t'aime' in post-match discussions. Former player and American broadcaster Mary Carillo spent much time with Stephens last summer while working together at the Tennis Channel in the US. Carillo has offered a great insight into what Stephens is really like. She's not just the laid-back, unimpressed and unbothered individual she displays on the court. 1:39PM Halep's supporters Halep fans getting hyped outside Chatrier less an hour before the Women’s Final @rolandgarros ���� pic.twitter.com/uglLMFcyIl— Steve Weissman (@Steve_Weissman) June 9, 2018 1:33PM How will Halep cope with the pressure? Halep and Stephens have similar styles. Both glide around the back of the court, have an abundance of stamina and can switch from defence into attack. The biggest question mark hanging over Halep is the scar tissue of those defeats. When she came from a set down to beat Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals, Halep pointed her finger at her temple. She still has moments of anxiety and self doubt, but by and large she is starting to fix some of her self-inflicted issues. "She deals much better with pressure," 1978 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici who is also Halep's manager and the only woman from Romania to win a major. "The fact that she became No 1 has given her a different dimension, a different stature. She really deals with things better. Psychologically, she's also much better. ... And now she wants to win a Grand Slam. And now she says it. "Before, she didn't dare say it. Now she says it: 'I want to win a Grand Slam.'" Simona Halep, head in the game#RG18#Gettypic.twitter.com/70PQx2eI27— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 6, 2018 1:16PM Flashback to 2008 Halep shouldn't concern herself with the three grand slam finals lost but look back on a happy time when she was lifting the winners' trophy. Ten years ago, as ninth seed Halep won the junior girls' title beating compatriot Elena Bogdan in three sets. If the world No 1 prevails today, she would become the sixth player to win the women's singles title in Paris after winning the girls' title. The other five, you ask? Francoise Durr, Mima Jausovec, Hana Mandlikova, Jennifer Capriati and Justine Henin. Halep won the girls' title in Paris back in 2008 Credit: Getty Images 12:38PM Stephens' impeccable finals record Halep won't need reminding of Stephens' record in tournament finals. The American has proved herself a big-game player, most prominently during her charge to last year's US Open final where she became an unlikely champion so soon after returning from an 11-month injury lay-off. The 25-year-old's victory in Miami back in early April, was her sixth straight win from six finals. Of her impeccable form in finals, Stephens said in the lead up to today's showdown: "There is no formula. I didn't, like, try to do it. I'm not trying to break a record. It's just how it's happened for me." Halep has a mixed bag of results when it comes to finals - albeit competing in a far higher number than her rival. Stephens has won all six of her tournament finals Credit: Getty Images The Romanian is 16-14 overall but her experience hasn't helped her get over the line in the last 12 months. Halep has lost finals in Paris, Cincinnati, Beijing, Melbourne and Rome. Her only success was a smaller tournament in Shenzhen at the start of the year. Halep's 'always the bridesmaid never the bride' story makes her a favourite with neutral fans who are desperate to see the wounded 26-year-old put some painful defeats behind her and write a new chapter of positivity and success moving forward. 10:45AM And then there were two... Welcome all to coverage of the women's final at Roland Garros where Simona Halep looks to fulfil a career ambition of ending her grand slam drought by overcoming last year's US Open champion Sloane Stephens. Halep is well versed in the occasion of reaching the latter stages of a major, especially in Paris where she has won through to the final two other times in 2014 and last year, only to suffer defeat to Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko. This afternoon she must defy the brilliance and athleticism of American Stephens, who will be competing in her first final at Roland Garros, in order to get her hands on the Suzanne Lenglen cup. While the crowd are likely to get behind the world No 1 Halep, Stephens' nerveless approach to her game could prove a tough obstacle to clear. The Romanian has a superior head-to-head advantage, winning five of their seven battles - including winning all four of their last encounters. In fact Halep saw off the 10th seed Stephens during her run to the French Open final in 2014. If today's match goes to a third set, it will be the first time a decider has been required to determine the outcome of their battles. Who will you be supporting this afternoon and how do you see the final playing out? Vote in the poll below and send your thoughts to me at vicki.hodges@telegraph.co.uk
Simona Halep fights back from set and break down to end grand slam drought in Paris
World No 1 Simona Halep finally broke her grand-slam jinx at Roland Garros, producing an unforgettable comeback to burn past the reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens on the home straight. The fans in Paris had watched Halep come up just short of the title here twice before, and they have developed a warm relationship with her. Court Philippe Chatrier was rocking in the third set as Halep pulled away, producing some absurd recovery shots to exhaust the waning Stephens further. At the close of her 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win, Halep accepted a leg-up from a courtside official and climbed up to her player box, where she embraced the three men who have stood consistently at her side through her climb up the world rankings: physio Andrei Cristofor, fitness trainer Teo Cercel and coach Darren Cahill. As the Telegraph reported, in a pre-tournament interview with Halep: “I have people around me who are friends and I feel like they are there forever.” This comeback was surely all the sweeter because Halep was thoroughly outplayed in the opening set. Stephens was so smooth and so resourceful, mixing booming topspin with flatter, faster strikes in a way that made her look – for 40 minutes or so – virtually unbeatable. The apparent rout continued into the early stages of the second, as Stephens broke again to lead 6-3, 2-0. The scoreline then was curiously similar to the lead that Halep had held over Jelena Ostapenko here 12 months ago. Halep celebrates winning the French Open Credit: AP Halep wound up as the frustrated party that day, backing off at just the wrong moment and allowing the free-swinging Ostapenko to surge to a shock win. But she is never more dangerous than when she is trailing, because that is when she loosens up and starts playing like a woman with nothing to lose. “I thought ‘Everything is gone. I just have to relax,’” said Halep afterwards, grinning her way through her on-court interview, as she remembered the key moment. The switch was partly spiritual, as she tapped into her deepest wells of tenacity. But it was also tactical, as she decided to use the whole area of the court for the first time, darting forward to the net whenever Stephens was pushed into deep defence. Commentating for ITV, the former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli began yelling: “That’s the play! That’s the play!” whenever Halep put away a winning volley. There is a huge amount of warmth towards Halep around the sport, as she conducts herself with real class at all times. If Halep found her best self in her moment of crisis, Stephens began to show signs of weariness. The match was only an hour old but Halep was setting a demanding pace and giving fewer and fewer freebies away as the match wore on. No fewer than 55 rallies exceeded nine shots, more than a third of the total points, which is an unusually high figure. The average speed of Stephens’ forehand, which had been doing so much damage, dropped from 77mph in the first set to 70mph in the second. Halep came from a set and break down to end Stephens' 100 per cent record in finals Credit: AFP The third set might look like a non-event on the scorecard but some of the rallies were extraordinary. And none more so than the point Halep won to go a double break ahead at 4-0. This was a 16-shot extravaganza in which she had to dig out a couple of desperate retrievals from the back of the court, then sprint up to the net to dink back a drop-shot, and finally backpedal to make that most awkward of putaways, the backhand overhead. When she finally edged Stephens out in that one, the usually sphinx-like Cahill jumped up off his seat and punched the air in the most uncharacteristic manner. Stephens would win only eight more points from that moment, as Halep finally finished the job with an unreturned serve, dropped her racket and put her hands over her face. Considering what she has been through to reach this point, she was surprisingly restrained in her celebrations, although she spoke eloquently afterwards. “I felt your support,” said Halep told the crowd, as she spoke to Bartoli afterwards. “In the last game I felt that I could not breathe any more, so I just tried not to repeat the last year. I did everything I could. It’s amazing what is happening now. Honestly I can’t believe it. I have been dreaming of this moment since I started to play tennis. I’m really happy that it’s happened in Roland Garros in Paris, my special city.” Halep has loved playing here ever since she won the junior event in 2008. She also took the time out to namecheck her compatriot Virginia Ruzici, who won the French Open 40 years ago and was watching from the stands. Halep won the junior title in 2008 Credit: AFP Messages of congratulation were now flooding in on social media from rivals like Petra Kvitova and Johanna Konta. Later Martina Navratilova – who recently hinted that she will be returning to Wimbledon for the BBC this summer on improved terms – would come up with a neat summation. “It wasn’t a monkey off her back; this was an 800lb gorilla.” The upshot is that this was the seventh straight women’s grand slam with a different winner. The tour is certainly open at the moment, after a sequence that began with Angelique Kerber in New York two years ago and continued through Serena Williams, Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and now Halep. Stephens shakes Halep's hand after losing the final Credit: AFP The one thing we are still waiting for is for anyone to show that they can put a sequence of results together to match what Williams and some of her 2000s rivals – the likes of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin – achieved at their peak. Yet if a straightforward narrative is hard to pull out of this unpredictable string of results, the women keep on throwing up quality matches, while the men have not produced an outstanding major tournament since Melbourne last year. In final analysis, Halep’s heartwarming victory was another good-news story for the WTA tour. 4:31PM Halep talks It's emotional to talk as the winner. I've been waiting for this moment since I was 14. I wanted this trophy to be here in France. Many congrats to Sloane. You have done a great job after those injuries. I'm sure you'll play many more finals in the future. Good luck and take care of your body. I wish in the future to play another final here. It's my favourite one. Thank you and see you next year. 4:29PM Stephens speaks It's been an incredible couple of weeks. It's not the trophy I wanted but it's still beautiful so thank you guys. To Simona, congratulations on your first slam. There's no one else I'd rather lose to than the world No 1. 4:28PM Halep the champion The world No 1 strides on to the mini stage assembled on Philippe Chatrier to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in relief and excitement in equal measure. The national anthem of Romanian is played out while Halep embraces the trophy. 4:26PM Sanchez Vicario hands out the trophies Arantxa Sanchez Vicario has the honour of handing out the runners-up plate and Suzanne Lenglen Cup this afternoon 20 years after her last Roland Garros title. 4:23PM A first time champion at Wimbledon awaits? Tears! Honestly tears!! Congratulations @Simona_Halep .... as a former player to see this moment is heartwarming! Three in a row 1st time slam winners....Sloane, Woz and Simo. Women’s tennis is hot!!— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 4:18PM Halep embraces Cahill in the stands The French Open champion is hoisted into the stands on Philippe Chatrier to give coach Cahill a warm embrace and then cuddles her mum and dad. There isn't a more popular winner than Halep. She manages to find her way back on to the court and looks to the sunny skies in thanks. The monkey is finally off her back. Simonaaaaa! You did it. So happy for you. Enjoy every second. You deserve this moment so much ��❤️ #RG18— Petra Kvitova (@Petra_Kvitova) June 9, 2018 4:16PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 Stephens* Here we go then. Halep lets out a deep sigh at winning the first point. But then nervously strikes long when well placed. A timely ace, her first of the match, is just what the doctor and her psychologist ordered but Stephens reels her in again for 30-all. Halep waits an age for a big overhead clearance to land. Halep stays strong to thwack a smash home and brings up championship point. She takes it. Stephens slaps a service return into the net. Halep has finally, finally won her first grand slam. Well done Simona. Her coach Darren Cahill can't quite believe it. He puts his hands on his head. Halep can't comprehend it either, placing both hands covering her face briefly before soaking up the adulation. GAME, SET AND MATCH: HALEP WINS FRENCH OPEN WITH 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 VICTORY OVER STEPHENS. 4:11PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 5-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh dear, dear. Stephens' level has dropped massively as she hands a free point for Halep for 0-30. She digs deep, fighting back for 30-all and then wins a third straight point with a backhand into the corner. Halep won't allow Stephens of a free game this set and draws back to deuce. Stephens swings a volley into the corner to edge to game point and as the clock passes the two-hour mark, Stephens finally gets on the board this set. 4:04PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 5-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Too many errors from Stephens now as Halep keeping her foot on the gas. She holds to 15. Stephens faces an uphill battle to get back into proceedings Credit: AP 4:02PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 4-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens looking exacerbated now as a failed drop shot lands lamely at the net. The unforced errors are creeping up for the American while Halep's dogged style is taking the Romanian closer to a first title. The 10th seed isn't ready yet to give up the fight as she digs in with a cross court winner for 30-15. But Halep isn't giving her rival any free points and making her work for everything and the errors still come. Halep misreads a slower second serve to miss a chance to set up break point but then hits an unbelievable backhand winner cross court which gets the crowd on Philippe Chatrier purring again. We're back to deuce. Halep gets a slice of luck with a clip of the tape to throw Stephens at the net. The American reacts, gets her racket on the high ball but can't get her return in the court. Halep has another break point here. Stephens pushes Halep to all corners again and how does the Romanian even stay in this incredible point? Both players advance to net, Halep managing to get an overhead and finally finding space to push home the winner. HALEP BREAKS. 3:55PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 3-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens trying to gee herself up by slapping her thigh trailing 30-0. The physical pep talk has worked in the short term, winning the next two points. Halep is more aggressive on the next point and the low ball is difficult for Stephens to retrieve. And at game point another lengthy rally ensues and Stephens blinks first. 'That's a play', shouts Bartoli in the ITV studio again. We know which way Bartoli wants this final to play out. 36 64 30 �� Halep has kept her head. She has kept her aggression. She has not gone away. And now she is amazingly 12 points from the title!���� #RG18pic.twitter.com/ZvL2ZtDDvP— Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) June 9, 2018 3:50PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 2-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Superb ball-striking from both players again as Stephens just misses a forehand when she was making them regularly during the first set. Pressure now as Halep moves to 15-30 up but Stephens keeps calm this time to deliver a brilliant forehand winner cross court. That was a big point. And here's a bigger one now. Stephens can't make a first serve. She gets a second one in but then throws in a sloppy forehand. Her level has massively dropped. Halep, break point now. She takes it. A punched deep forehand is too much for Stephens to get back. The momentum is all with Halep. HALEP BREAKS. 3:45PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 1-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Both players left the court at the end of the second set and we're into unchartered territory now as all seven of their head-to-heads haven't gone the distance before. All three of Halep's last grand slam finals went into a decider. At the start of the third and that break in action has worked to Stephens' advantage as she moves to 0-30. A brilliant backhand winner down the line draws Halep back to 30-all and nerves get the better of Stephens on the next point as she strikes long. Despite great defensive play from the 10th seed, Halep stays strong to see out the game. Sloane Stephens’ adjustment steps have slowed— bad sign when your opponent in the third set is Simona Halep. What a match @rolandgarros— Gerry Marzorati (@marzoTennis) June 9, 2018 3:36PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep stays positive, switching play from corner to corner and biding her time from the baseline. She gets a let off when Halep makes one stretch out wide and looks on as Stephens sends a forehand into the tramlines for 15-30. Stephens clenches her fist as a Halep groundstroke lands long. But she can't back it up as Halep's power and pace proves too hard to deal with. Halep brings up set point. And she takes it as Stephens hits into the tramlines. HALEP WINS SECOND SET TO LEVEL THE MATCH. 3:31PM Halep 3-6, 5-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep throws Stephens off balance by taking a forehand early and catching the American out on the baseline. Stephens stays strong during the next point, firing deep, so deep at the lines and piling further pressure on Halep at 30-all. Halep takes advantage as a ball rears up off the clay and takes the pace off Stephens' reply. Halep is on the short ball in a flash, striking a volley into the corner. Halep moves Stephens side-to-side before unleashing the winner and crucially Halep edges back in front this set. Halep battles against Stephens Credit: AFP 3:27PM Halep* 3-6, 4-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep looks to her corner with her arms extended out wide at missing one groundstroke. Stephens sends down her first ace of the match to establish a 30-0 advantage and then watches as Halep pushes long. That last game might be playing on the world No 1's mind. Stephens misses two game points, the second missing the line with a backhand. But she outlasts Halep during the next rally and we're back level for the set. 3:22PM Halep 3-6, 4-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens has woken back into action. A floating forehand on the line takes her to three break points and when Halep pushes long, we're back on serve this set. Halep will be kicking herself. That was lost far too quickly. STEPHENS BREAKS. 3:20PM Halep* 3-6, 4-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens stops the rot as she watches a Halep forehand land wide. The world No 1 stays focused on Stephens' backhand, whipping forehands out of the American's reach. Stephens digs deep for 30-all but then floats a tired groundstroke into the middle to hand Halep another break point. Another unforced error from Stephens hands Halep a second break this set. How quickly this match has turned. HALEP BREAKS. 3:15PM Halep 3-6, 3-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens' concentration levels have taken a hit. The momentum has shifted, Halep winning 10 of their last 11 points. Stephens' range is off now, a couple of unforced errors allowing Halep of edging ahead this set. Too soon? Wikipedia already has Sloane winning: https://t.co/yLIoTSBndh— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 9, 2018 3:12PM Halep* 3-6, 2-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Marion Bartoli on the ITV commentary is struggling with impartiality this afternoon. 'Go, go, go, go, go' she cries in encouragement to Halep to rush the net. The Romanian's revival gathers pace moving to 0-30 and drawing the American into an error. Now she has three break points this game to draw level this set. And she makes it as Stephens drags a forehand into the tramlines. HALEP BREAKS. 3:08PM Halep 3-6, 1-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens gives one mark a serious look as Halep edges to 30-15 and is finally starting to hurt the American will some deep hitting and solid net play. The Romanian's best chance is to cut short the points and rush the net where possible. A forehand down the line sets Halep up for moving into court and she duly dispatches the volley. Great play Halep. Halep keeps fighting against Stephens Credit: Getty Images 3:05PM Halep* 3-6, 0-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A drop in concentration now from Stephens as Halep moves to 0-30. Stephens composes herself passing Halep at the net and then getting a bit of fortune with a mishit forehand that lands flush on the line. Halep's head drops. From 30-0 down, Stephens completes the comeback with four straight points. That will hurt Halep. This performance from Sloane Stephens in a Slam final is the equal of those from all-time greats like Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova and Rafael Nadal. That good.— David Law (@DavidLawTennis) June 9, 2018 3:01PM Halep 3-6, 0-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep will be praying that Stephens' level drops soon. But it isn't. The American continues to work her magic, spraying unbelievable winners. One backhand down the line brings up two break points. She misses the first with a backhand error. Halep delivers a crucial first serve to blot the second. But Stephens has a third bite of the cherry now. Halep whips a forehand winner down the line to keep Stephens waiting. The American doesn't mind waiting. She's the patient kind. She demonstrates her ability to draw winners from all acute angles by setting up break point No 4 and this time she cheekily goes for a high ball as Halep moves into the net. The Romanian gets her racket to the ball but it flies wide. Stephens is playing unbelievable tennis. Why now? Halep must be thinking. Why now. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:53PM Halep* 3-6 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens' footwork behind the baseline and effortlessness moving side-to-side is mesmorising. Halep is finding the corners, but Stephens is retrieving everything thrown at her and asking further questions of Halep. One punching forehand flashes cross court at a zippy 90 mph for 30-15 but she blinks first during the next lengthy rally. Now she is breathing heavily as she lines up for her next service rotation. Halep toys with Stephens as another rally ensues, chasing down a drop shot and delivering her own drop which Stephens can't retrieve. It's a first break point for Halep. Anxiousness appears to get the better of her. She stands rigid in disbelief at missing that chance. Stephens composes herself to get back on track with decent serving to bring up set point. She takes it as her power is again too much for the world No 1. STEPHENS WINS THE FIRST SET 6-3 2:47PM Halep 3-5 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep working hard for every point and building some rhythm on her serve now. A strong hold to 30, the world No 1 steps into a short return to deliver her own forehand winner. More cries of 'Si-mon-a' ring round Chatrier. Stephens will be serving for the set. 2:43PM Halep* 2-5 Stephens (*denotes next server) A poorly-executed drop shot from Stephens coupled with sound defensive play behind the baseline work Halep to 15-30. Stephens runs round a backhand to strike a powerful forehand and deceives the world No 1 who anticipated Stephens going down the line at game point, only to be watch Stephens strike a forehand winner cross court. @SloaneStephens power AND her topspin is hurting Simo ... their movement is incredible but Sloane’s power is the difference and will be throughout. Only chance Simo has is if Sloane gets tight.— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 Stephens in fantastic form at the start of the opening set Credit: Reuters 2:38PM Halep 2-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Wow. Just when Halep looks to be in control of a rally, Stephens finds a winner at such a cute angle. It draws the American to 30-all and keeps the heat on Halep. The world No 1 isn't playing badly, but Stephens is hitting the lines quite perfectly so far. Halep makes an important hold when Stephens makes an uncharacteristic unforced error. 2:34PM Halep* 1-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh. My. Word! Halep is quite brilliant, brilliant terrier. She makes two ridiculous gets out wide which she has no right to retrieve to send everything back but then strikes an unforced error into the net. She stares down the net in disbelief. At 40-15 Halep fires a winner down the line and looks if to say 'is this what I have to do just to win a point?' Stephens, in true smoking a cigar, feet up style, gets over the night to cement the break. Women's final so far = (fire emoji)(fire emoji)(fire emoji).#RG18— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 9, 2018 2:29PM Halep 1-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Some fantastic tennis being played by both women now, working each other from side to side and creating the space to go for the kill. Halep moves into the court for the first time, smashing a sublime overhead deep into the corner for 30-all. But Stephens has some zip on a second service return to throw Halep at the baseline. It brings up a first break point for Stephens. And she makes it. Stephens does brilliantly to switch the play from down the line to cross court and it forces Halep to strike the middle. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:23PM Halep* 1-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A couple of long forehands from Halep allow Stephens to progress to 40-15. But the swirling wind is causing problems for both players and the American pushes one groundstroke behind the line to allow Halep to hang around in the game. The 10th seed stays on the front foot during the next rally and draws another error from Halep's forehand. It remains on serve. 2:19PM Halep 1-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Beautiful ball-striking from Stephens as the American strikes a clean forehand winner down the line after moving Halep at the baseline to create an opening. It's effortless from Stephens as she draws Halep wide to draw level at 30-all. Halep takes the crucial next point, relieved as Stephens' reply flies off the top of her racket. A cross court exchange during the next rally of 14 shots ends when Halep strikes into the tape. Cries of 'Simona' ring round at deuce. Stephens can't jump on a slower second serve but Halep finally holds when she outlasts Stephens during a brutal baseline duel. 2:13PM Halep* 0-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens opens up the final, watches a couple of service returns land long for 30-0. Halep drags a backhand into the tramlines but then gets a first point on the board when Stephens makes an unforced error. Stephens takes a comfortable hold with a backhand winner down the line. The American looks calm and focused early on as expected. 2:03PM Here they come Stephens, with headphones nestled in her ears, heads out to the Philippe Chatrier Court first. Halep follows and unsurprisingly draws a louder cheer from the crowd. Here she is! What Simona and Sloane are playing for today...#RG18pic.twitter.com/5Xq1GGbICc— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2018 1:56PM Getting to know Stephens Stephens' aloof and seemingly can't be bothered attitude hasn't won her too many additional followers and supporters in Paris. Our tennis correspondent Simon Briggs tweeted after Stephens' semi-final win over good friend Madison Keys that she looked like she would rather be "flossing her teeth" than giving her on-court interview. Her lack of French hasn't helped with making friends either. While many of the top level players have gone to great lengths to speak the local language at Roland Garros, Stephens has only uttered a tepid 'Merci Paris, je t'aime' in post-match discussions. Former player and American broadcaster Mary Carillo spent much time with Stephens last summer while working together at the Tennis Channel in the US. Carillo has offered a great insight into what Stephens is really like. She's not just the laid-back, unimpressed and unbothered individual she displays on the court. 1:39PM Halep's supporters Halep fans getting hyped outside Chatrier less an hour before the Women’s Final @rolandgarros ���� pic.twitter.com/uglLMFcyIl— Steve Weissman (@Steve_Weissman) June 9, 2018 1:33PM How will Halep cope with the pressure? Halep and Stephens have similar styles. Both glide around the back of the court, have an abundance of stamina and can switch from defence into attack. The biggest question mark hanging over Halep is the scar tissue of those defeats. When she came from a set down to beat Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals, Halep pointed her finger at her temple. She still has moments of anxiety and self doubt, but by and large she is starting to fix some of her self-inflicted issues. "She deals much better with pressure," 1978 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici who is also Halep's manager and the only woman from Romania to win a major. "The fact that she became No 1 has given her a different dimension, a different stature. She really deals with things better. Psychologically, she's also much better. ... And now she wants to win a Grand Slam. And now she says it. "Before, she didn't dare say it. Now she says it: 'I want to win a Grand Slam.'" Simona Halep, head in the game#RG18#Gettypic.twitter.com/70PQx2eI27— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 6, 2018 1:16PM Flashback to 2008 Halep shouldn't concern herself with the three grand slam finals lost but look back on a happy time when she was lifting the winners' trophy. Ten years ago, as ninth seed Halep won the junior girls' title beating compatriot Elena Bogdan in three sets. If the world No 1 prevails today, she would become the sixth player to win the women's singles title in Paris after winning the girls' title. The other five, you ask? Francoise Durr, Mima Jausovec, Hana Mandlikova, Jennifer Capriati and Justine Henin. Halep won the girls' title in Paris back in 2008 Credit: Getty Images 12:38PM Stephens' impeccable finals record Halep won't need reminding of Stephens' record in tournament finals. The American has proved herself a big-game player, most prominently during her charge to last year's US Open final where she became an unlikely champion so soon after returning from an 11-month injury lay-off. The 25-year-old's victory in Miami back in early April, was her sixth straight win from six finals. Of her impeccable form in finals, Stephens said in the lead up to today's showdown: "There is no formula. I didn't, like, try to do it. I'm not trying to break a record. It's just how it's happened for me." Halep has a mixed bag of results when it comes to finals - albeit competing in a far higher number than her rival. Stephens has won all six of her tournament finals Credit: Getty Images The Romanian is 16-14 overall but her experience hasn't helped her get over the line in the last 12 months. Halep has lost finals in Paris, Cincinnati, Beijing, Melbourne and Rome. Her only success was a smaller tournament in Shenzhen at the start of the year. Halep's 'always the bridesmaid never the bride' story makes her a favourite with neutral fans who are desperate to see the wounded 26-year-old put some painful defeats behind her and write a new chapter of positivity and success moving forward. 10:45AM And then there were two... Welcome all to coverage of the women's final at Roland Garros where Simona Halep looks to fulfil a career ambition of ending her grand slam drought by overcoming last year's US Open champion Sloane Stephens. Halep is well versed in the occasion of reaching the latter stages of a major, especially in Paris where she has won through to the final two other times in 2014 and last year, only to suffer defeat to Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko. This afternoon she must defy the brilliance and athleticism of American Stephens, who will be competing in her first final at Roland Garros, in order to get her hands on the Suzanne Lenglen cup. While the crowd are likely to get behind the world No 1 Halep, Stephens' nerveless approach to her game could prove a tough obstacle to clear. The Romanian has a superior head-to-head advantage, winning five of their seven battles - including winning all four of their last encounters. In fact Halep saw off the 10th seed Stephens during her run to the French Open final in 2014. If today's match goes to a third set, it will be the first time a decider has been required to determine the outcome of their battles. Who will you be supporting this afternoon and how do you see the final playing out? Vote in the poll below and send your thoughts to me at vicki.hodges@telegraph.co.uk
World No 1 Simona Halep finally broke her grand-slam jinx at Roland Garros, producing an unforgettable comeback to burn past the reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens on the home straight. The fans in Paris had watched Halep come up just short of the title here twice before, and they have developed a warm relationship with her. Court Philippe Chatrier was rocking in the third set as Halep pulled away, producing some absurd recovery shots to exhaust the waning Stephens further. At the close of her 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win, Halep accepted a leg-up from a courtside official and climbed up to her player box, where she embraced the three men who have stood consistently at her side through her climb up the world rankings: physio Andrei Cristofor, fitness trainer Teo Cercel and coach Darren Cahill. As the Telegraph reported, in a pre-tournament interview with Halep: “I have people around me who are friends and I feel like they are there forever.” This comeback was surely all the sweeter because Halep was thoroughly outplayed in the opening set. Stephens was so smooth and so resourceful, mixing booming topspin with flatter, faster strikes in a way that made her look – for 40 minutes or so – virtually unbeatable. The apparent rout continued into the early stages of the second, as Stephens broke again to lead 6-3, 2-0. The scoreline then was curiously similar to the lead that Halep had held over Jelena Ostapenko here 12 months ago. Halep celebrates winning the French Open Credit: AP Halep wound up as the frustrated party that day, backing off at just the wrong moment and allowing the free-swinging Ostapenko to surge to a shock win. But she is never more dangerous than when she is trailing, because that is when she loosens up and starts playing like a woman with nothing to lose. “I thought ‘Everything is gone. I just have to relax,’” said Halep afterwards, grinning her way through her on-court interview, as she remembered the key moment. The switch was partly spiritual, as she tapped into her deepest wells of tenacity. But it was also tactical, as she decided to use the whole area of the court for the first time, darting forward to the net whenever Stephens was pushed into deep defence. Commentating for ITV, the former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli began yelling: “That’s the play! That’s the play!” whenever Halep put away a winning volley. There is a huge amount of warmth towards Halep around the sport, as she conducts herself with real class at all times. If Halep found her best self in her moment of crisis, Stephens began to show signs of weariness. The match was only an hour old but Halep was setting a demanding pace and giving fewer and fewer freebies away as the match wore on. No fewer than 55 rallies exceeded nine shots, more than a third of the total points, which is an unusually high figure. The average speed of Stephens’ forehand, which had been doing so much damage, dropped from 77mph in the first set to 70mph in the second. Halep came from a set and break down to end Stephens' 100 per cent record in finals Credit: AFP The third set might look like a non-event on the scorecard but some of the rallies were extraordinary. And none more so than the point Halep won to go a double break ahead at 4-0. This was a 16-shot extravaganza in which she had to dig out a couple of desperate retrievals from the back of the court, then sprint up to the net to dink back a drop-shot, and finally backpedal to make that most awkward of putaways, the backhand overhead. When she finally edged Stephens out in that one, the usually sphinx-like Cahill jumped up off his seat and punched the air in the most uncharacteristic manner. Stephens would win only eight more points from that moment, as Halep finally finished the job with an unreturned serve, dropped her racket and put her hands over her face. Considering what she has been through to reach this point, she was surprisingly restrained in her celebrations, although she spoke eloquently afterwards. “I felt your support,” said Halep told the crowd, as she spoke to Bartoli afterwards. “In the last game I felt that I could not breathe any more, so I just tried not to repeat the last year. I did everything I could. It’s amazing what is happening now. Honestly I can’t believe it. I have been dreaming of this moment since I started to play tennis. I’m really happy that it’s happened in Roland Garros in Paris, my special city.” Halep has loved playing here ever since she won the junior event in 2008. She also took the time out to namecheck her compatriot Virginia Ruzici, who won the French Open 40 years ago and was watching from the stands. Halep won the junior title in 2008 Credit: AFP Messages of congratulation were now flooding in on social media from rivals like Petra Kvitova and Johanna Konta. Later Martina Navratilova – who recently hinted that she will be returning to Wimbledon for the BBC this summer on improved terms – would come up with a neat summation. “It wasn’t a monkey off her back; this was an 800lb gorilla.” The upshot is that this was the seventh straight women’s grand slam with a different winner. The tour is certainly open at the moment, after a sequence that began with Angelique Kerber in New York two years ago and continued through Serena Williams, Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and now Halep. Stephens shakes Halep's hand after losing the final Credit: AFP The one thing we are still waiting for is for anyone to show that they can put a sequence of results together to match what Williams and some of her 2000s rivals – the likes of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin – achieved at their peak. Yet if a straightforward narrative is hard to pull out of this unpredictable string of results, the women keep on throwing up quality matches, while the men have not produced an outstanding major tournament since Melbourne last year. In final analysis, Halep’s heartwarming victory was another good-news story for the WTA tour. 4:31PM Halep talks It's emotional to talk as the winner. I've been waiting for this moment since I was 14. I wanted this trophy to be here in France. Many congrats to Sloane. You have done a great job after those injuries. I'm sure you'll play many more finals in the future. Good luck and take care of your body. I wish in the future to play another final here. It's my favourite one. Thank you and see you next year. 4:29PM Stephens speaks It's been an incredible couple of weeks. It's not the trophy I wanted but it's still beautiful so thank you guys. To Simona, congratulations on your first slam. There's no one else I'd rather lose to than the world No 1. 4:28PM Halep the champion The world No 1 strides on to the mini stage assembled on Philippe Chatrier to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in relief and excitement in equal measure. The national anthem of Romanian is played out while Halep embraces the trophy. 4:26PM Sanchez Vicario hands out the trophies Arantxa Sanchez Vicario has the honour of handing out the runners-up plate and Suzanne Lenglen Cup this afternoon 20 years after her last Roland Garros title. 4:23PM A first time champion at Wimbledon awaits? Tears! Honestly tears!! Congratulations @Simona_Halep .... as a former player to see this moment is heartwarming! Three in a row 1st time slam winners....Sloane, Woz and Simo. Women’s tennis is hot!!— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 4:18PM Halep embraces Cahill in the stands The French Open champion is hoisted into the stands on Philippe Chatrier to give coach Cahill a warm embrace and then cuddles her mum and dad. There isn't a more popular winner than Halep. She manages to find her way back on to the court and looks to the sunny skies in thanks. The monkey is finally off her back. Simonaaaaa! You did it. So happy for you. Enjoy every second. You deserve this moment so much ��❤️ #RG18— Petra Kvitova (@Petra_Kvitova) June 9, 2018 4:16PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 Stephens* Here we go then. Halep lets out a deep sigh at winning the first point. But then nervously strikes long when well placed. A timely ace, her first of the match, is just what the doctor and her psychologist ordered but Stephens reels her in again for 30-all. Halep waits an age for a big overhead clearance to land. Halep stays strong to thwack a smash home and brings up championship point. She takes it. Stephens slaps a service return into the net. Halep has finally, finally won her first grand slam. Well done Simona. Her coach Darren Cahill can't quite believe it. He puts his hands on his head. Halep can't comprehend it either, placing both hands covering her face briefly before soaking up the adulation. GAME, SET AND MATCH: HALEP WINS FRENCH OPEN WITH 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 VICTORY OVER STEPHENS. 4:11PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 5-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh dear, dear. Stephens' level has dropped massively as she hands a free point for Halep for 0-30. She digs deep, fighting back for 30-all and then wins a third straight point with a backhand into the corner. Halep won't allow Stephens of a free game this set and draws back to deuce. Stephens swings a volley into the corner to edge to game point and as the clock passes the two-hour mark, Stephens finally gets on the board this set. 4:04PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 5-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Too many errors from Stephens now as Halep keeping her foot on the gas. She holds to 15. Stephens faces an uphill battle to get back into proceedings Credit: AP 4:02PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 4-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens looking exacerbated now as a failed drop shot lands lamely at the net. The unforced errors are creeping up for the American while Halep's dogged style is taking the Romanian closer to a first title. The 10th seed isn't ready yet to give up the fight as she digs in with a cross court winner for 30-15. But Halep isn't giving her rival any free points and making her work for everything and the errors still come. Halep misreads a slower second serve to miss a chance to set up break point but then hits an unbelievable backhand winner cross court which gets the crowd on Philippe Chatrier purring again. We're back to deuce. Halep gets a slice of luck with a clip of the tape to throw Stephens at the net. The American reacts, gets her racket on the high ball but can't get her return in the court. Halep has another break point here. Stephens pushes Halep to all corners again and how does the Romanian even stay in this incredible point? Both players advance to net, Halep managing to get an overhead and finally finding space to push home the winner. HALEP BREAKS. 3:55PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 3-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens trying to gee herself up by slapping her thigh trailing 30-0. The physical pep talk has worked in the short term, winning the next two points. Halep is more aggressive on the next point and the low ball is difficult for Stephens to retrieve. And at game point another lengthy rally ensues and Stephens blinks first. 'That's a play', shouts Bartoli in the ITV studio again. We know which way Bartoli wants this final to play out. 36 64 30 �� Halep has kept her head. She has kept her aggression. She has not gone away. And now she is amazingly 12 points from the title!���� #RG18pic.twitter.com/ZvL2ZtDDvP— Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) June 9, 2018 3:50PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 2-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Superb ball-striking from both players again as Stephens just misses a forehand when she was making them regularly during the first set. Pressure now as Halep moves to 15-30 up but Stephens keeps calm this time to deliver a brilliant forehand winner cross court. That was a big point. And here's a bigger one now. Stephens can't make a first serve. She gets a second one in but then throws in a sloppy forehand. Her level has massively dropped. Halep, break point now. She takes it. A punched deep forehand is too much for Stephens to get back. The momentum is all with Halep. HALEP BREAKS. 3:45PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 1-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Both players left the court at the end of the second set and we're into unchartered territory now as all seven of their head-to-heads haven't gone the distance before. All three of Halep's last grand slam finals went into a decider. At the start of the third and that break in action has worked to Stephens' advantage as she moves to 0-30. A brilliant backhand winner down the line draws Halep back to 30-all and nerves get the better of Stephens on the next point as she strikes long. Despite great defensive play from the 10th seed, Halep stays strong to see out the game. Sloane Stephens’ adjustment steps have slowed— bad sign when your opponent in the third set is Simona Halep. What a match @rolandgarros— Gerry Marzorati (@marzoTennis) June 9, 2018 3:36PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep stays positive, switching play from corner to corner and biding her time from the baseline. She gets a let off when Halep makes one stretch out wide and looks on as Stephens sends a forehand into the tramlines for 15-30. Stephens clenches her fist as a Halep groundstroke lands long. But she can't back it up as Halep's power and pace proves too hard to deal with. Halep brings up set point. And she takes it as Stephens hits into the tramlines. HALEP WINS SECOND SET TO LEVEL THE MATCH. 3:31PM Halep 3-6, 5-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep throws Stephens off balance by taking a forehand early and catching the American out on the baseline. Stephens stays strong during the next point, firing deep, so deep at the lines and piling further pressure on Halep at 30-all. Halep takes advantage as a ball rears up off the clay and takes the pace off Stephens' reply. Halep is on the short ball in a flash, striking a volley into the corner. Halep moves Stephens side-to-side before unleashing the winner and crucially Halep edges back in front this set. Halep battles against Stephens Credit: AFP 3:27PM Halep* 3-6, 4-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep looks to her corner with her arms extended out wide at missing one groundstroke. Stephens sends down her first ace of the match to establish a 30-0 advantage and then watches as Halep pushes long. That last game might be playing on the world No 1's mind. Stephens misses two game points, the second missing the line with a backhand. But she outlasts Halep during the next rally and we're back level for the set. 3:22PM Halep 3-6, 4-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens has woken back into action. A floating forehand on the line takes her to three break points and when Halep pushes long, we're back on serve this set. Halep will be kicking herself. That was lost far too quickly. STEPHENS BREAKS. 3:20PM Halep* 3-6, 4-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens stops the rot as she watches a Halep forehand land wide. The world No 1 stays focused on Stephens' backhand, whipping forehands out of the American's reach. Stephens digs deep for 30-all but then floats a tired groundstroke into the middle to hand Halep another break point. Another unforced error from Stephens hands Halep a second break this set. How quickly this match has turned. HALEP BREAKS. 3:15PM Halep 3-6, 3-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens' concentration levels have taken a hit. The momentum has shifted, Halep winning 10 of their last 11 points. Stephens' range is off now, a couple of unforced errors allowing Halep of edging ahead this set. Too soon? Wikipedia already has Sloane winning: https://t.co/yLIoTSBndh— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 9, 2018 3:12PM Halep* 3-6, 2-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Marion Bartoli on the ITV commentary is struggling with impartiality this afternoon. 'Go, go, go, go, go' she cries in encouragement to Halep to rush the net. The Romanian's revival gathers pace moving to 0-30 and drawing the American into an error. Now she has three break points this game to draw level this set. And she makes it as Stephens drags a forehand into the tramlines. HALEP BREAKS. 3:08PM Halep 3-6, 1-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens gives one mark a serious look as Halep edges to 30-15 and is finally starting to hurt the American will some deep hitting and solid net play. The Romanian's best chance is to cut short the points and rush the net where possible. A forehand down the line sets Halep up for moving into court and she duly dispatches the volley. Great play Halep. Halep keeps fighting against Stephens Credit: Getty Images 3:05PM Halep* 3-6, 0-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A drop in concentration now from Stephens as Halep moves to 0-30. Stephens composes herself passing Halep at the net and then getting a bit of fortune with a mishit forehand that lands flush on the line. Halep's head drops. From 30-0 down, Stephens completes the comeback with four straight points. That will hurt Halep. This performance from Sloane Stephens in a Slam final is the equal of those from all-time greats like Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova and Rafael Nadal. That good.— David Law (@DavidLawTennis) June 9, 2018 3:01PM Halep 3-6, 0-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep will be praying that Stephens' level drops soon. But it isn't. The American continues to work her magic, spraying unbelievable winners. One backhand down the line brings up two break points. She misses the first with a backhand error. Halep delivers a crucial first serve to blot the second. But Stephens has a third bite of the cherry now. Halep whips a forehand winner down the line to keep Stephens waiting. The American doesn't mind waiting. She's the patient kind. She demonstrates her ability to draw winners from all acute angles by setting up break point No 4 and this time she cheekily goes for a high ball as Halep moves into the net. The Romanian gets her racket to the ball but it flies wide. Stephens is playing unbelievable tennis. Why now? Halep must be thinking. Why now. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:53PM Halep* 3-6 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens' footwork behind the baseline and effortlessness moving side-to-side is mesmorising. Halep is finding the corners, but Stephens is retrieving everything thrown at her and asking further questions of Halep. One punching forehand flashes cross court at a zippy 90 mph for 30-15 but she blinks first during the next lengthy rally. Now she is breathing heavily as she lines up for her next service rotation. Halep toys with Stephens as another rally ensues, chasing down a drop shot and delivering her own drop which Stephens can't retrieve. It's a first break point for Halep. Anxiousness appears to get the better of her. She stands rigid in disbelief at missing that chance. Stephens composes herself to get back on track with decent serving to bring up set point. She takes it as her power is again too much for the world No 1. STEPHENS WINS THE FIRST SET 6-3 2:47PM Halep 3-5 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep working hard for every point and building some rhythm on her serve now. A strong hold to 30, the world No 1 steps into a short return to deliver her own forehand winner. More cries of 'Si-mon-a' ring round Chatrier. Stephens will be serving for the set. 2:43PM Halep* 2-5 Stephens (*denotes next server) A poorly-executed drop shot from Stephens coupled with sound defensive play behind the baseline work Halep to 15-30. Stephens runs round a backhand to strike a powerful forehand and deceives the world No 1 who anticipated Stephens going down the line at game point, only to be watch Stephens strike a forehand winner cross court. @SloaneStephens power AND her topspin is hurting Simo ... their movement is incredible but Sloane’s power is the difference and will be throughout. Only chance Simo has is if Sloane gets tight.— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 Stephens in fantastic form at the start of the opening set Credit: Reuters 2:38PM Halep 2-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Wow. Just when Halep looks to be in control of a rally, Stephens finds a winner at such a cute angle. It draws the American to 30-all and keeps the heat on Halep. The world No 1 isn't playing badly, but Stephens is hitting the lines quite perfectly so far. Halep makes an important hold when Stephens makes an uncharacteristic unforced error. 2:34PM Halep* 1-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh. My. Word! Halep is quite brilliant, brilliant terrier. She makes two ridiculous gets out wide which she has no right to retrieve to send everything back but then strikes an unforced error into the net. She stares down the net in disbelief. At 40-15 Halep fires a winner down the line and looks if to say 'is this what I have to do just to win a point?' Stephens, in true smoking a cigar, feet up style, gets over the night to cement the break. Women's final so far = (fire emoji)(fire emoji)(fire emoji).#RG18— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 9, 2018 2:29PM Halep 1-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Some fantastic tennis being played by both women now, working each other from side to side and creating the space to go for the kill. Halep moves into the court for the first time, smashing a sublime overhead deep into the corner for 30-all. But Stephens has some zip on a second service return to throw Halep at the baseline. It brings up a first break point for Stephens. And she makes it. Stephens does brilliantly to switch the play from down the line to cross court and it forces Halep to strike the middle. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:23PM Halep* 1-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A couple of long forehands from Halep allow Stephens to progress to 40-15. But the swirling wind is causing problems for both players and the American pushes one groundstroke behind the line to allow Halep to hang around in the game. The 10th seed stays on the front foot during the next rally and draws another error from Halep's forehand. It remains on serve. 2:19PM Halep 1-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Beautiful ball-striking from Stephens as the American strikes a clean forehand winner down the line after moving Halep at the baseline to create an opening. It's effortless from Stephens as she draws Halep wide to draw level at 30-all. Halep takes the crucial next point, relieved as Stephens' reply flies off the top of her racket. A cross court exchange during the next rally of 14 shots ends when Halep strikes into the tape. Cries of 'Simona' ring round at deuce. Stephens can't jump on a slower second serve but Halep finally holds when she outlasts Stephens during a brutal baseline duel. 2:13PM Halep* 0-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens opens up the final, watches a couple of service returns land long for 30-0. Halep drags a backhand into the tramlines but then gets a first point on the board when Stephens makes an unforced error. Stephens takes a comfortable hold with a backhand winner down the line. The American looks calm and focused early on as expected. 2:03PM Here they come Stephens, with headphones nestled in her ears, heads out to the Philippe Chatrier Court first. Halep follows and unsurprisingly draws a louder cheer from the crowd. Here she is! What Simona and Sloane are playing for today...#RG18pic.twitter.com/5Xq1GGbICc— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2018 1:56PM Getting to know Stephens Stephens' aloof and seemingly can't be bothered attitude hasn't won her too many additional followers and supporters in Paris. Our tennis correspondent Simon Briggs tweeted after Stephens' semi-final win over good friend Madison Keys that she looked like she would rather be "flossing her teeth" than giving her on-court interview. Her lack of French hasn't helped with making friends either. While many of the top level players have gone to great lengths to speak the local language at Roland Garros, Stephens has only uttered a tepid 'Merci Paris, je t'aime' in post-match discussions. Former player and American broadcaster Mary Carillo spent much time with Stephens last summer while working together at the Tennis Channel in the US. Carillo has offered a great insight into what Stephens is really like. She's not just the laid-back, unimpressed and unbothered individual she displays on the court. 1:39PM Halep's supporters Halep fans getting hyped outside Chatrier less an hour before the Women’s Final @rolandgarros ���� pic.twitter.com/uglLMFcyIl— Steve Weissman (@Steve_Weissman) June 9, 2018 1:33PM How will Halep cope with the pressure? Halep and Stephens have similar styles. Both glide around the back of the court, have an abundance of stamina and can switch from defence into attack. The biggest question mark hanging over Halep is the scar tissue of those defeats. When she came from a set down to beat Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals, Halep pointed her finger at her temple. She still has moments of anxiety and self doubt, but by and large she is starting to fix some of her self-inflicted issues. "She deals much better with pressure," 1978 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici who is also Halep's manager and the only woman from Romania to win a major. "The fact that she became No 1 has given her a different dimension, a different stature. She really deals with things better. Psychologically, she's also much better. ... And now she wants to win a Grand Slam. And now she says it. "Before, she didn't dare say it. Now she says it: 'I want to win a Grand Slam.'" Simona Halep, head in the game#RG18#Gettypic.twitter.com/70PQx2eI27— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 6, 2018 1:16PM Flashback to 2008 Halep shouldn't concern herself with the three grand slam finals lost but look back on a happy time when she was lifting the winners' trophy. Ten years ago, as ninth seed Halep won the junior girls' title beating compatriot Elena Bogdan in three sets. If the world No 1 prevails today, she would become the sixth player to win the women's singles title in Paris after winning the girls' title. The other five, you ask? Francoise Durr, Mima Jausovec, Hana Mandlikova, Jennifer Capriati and Justine Henin. Halep won the girls' title in Paris back in 2008 Credit: Getty Images 12:38PM Stephens' impeccable finals record Halep won't need reminding of Stephens' record in tournament finals. The American has proved herself a big-game player, most prominently during her charge to last year's US Open final where she became an unlikely champion so soon after returning from an 11-month injury lay-off. The 25-year-old's victory in Miami back in early April, was her sixth straight win from six finals. Of her impeccable form in finals, Stephens said in the lead up to today's showdown: "There is no formula. I didn't, like, try to do it. I'm not trying to break a record. It's just how it's happened for me." Halep has a mixed bag of results when it comes to finals - albeit competing in a far higher number than her rival. Stephens has won all six of her tournament finals Credit: Getty Images The Romanian is 16-14 overall but her experience hasn't helped her get over the line in the last 12 months. Halep has lost finals in Paris, Cincinnati, Beijing, Melbourne and Rome. Her only success was a smaller tournament in Shenzhen at the start of the year. Halep's 'always the bridesmaid never the bride' story makes her a favourite with neutral fans who are desperate to see the wounded 26-year-old put some painful defeats behind her and write a new chapter of positivity and success moving forward. 10:45AM And then there were two... Welcome all to coverage of the women's final at Roland Garros where Simona Halep looks to fulfil a career ambition of ending her grand slam drought by overcoming last year's US Open champion Sloane Stephens. Halep is well versed in the occasion of reaching the latter stages of a major, especially in Paris where she has won through to the final two other times in 2014 and last year, only to suffer defeat to Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko. This afternoon she must defy the brilliance and athleticism of American Stephens, who will be competing in her first final at Roland Garros, in order to get her hands on the Suzanne Lenglen cup. While the crowd are likely to get behind the world No 1 Halep, Stephens' nerveless approach to her game could prove a tough obstacle to clear. The Romanian has a superior head-to-head advantage, winning five of their seven battles - including winning all four of their last encounters. In fact Halep saw off the 10th seed Stephens during her run to the French Open final in 2014. If today's match goes to a third set, it will be the first time a decider has been required to determine the outcome of their battles. Who will you be supporting this afternoon and how do you see the final playing out? Vote in the poll below and send your thoughts to me at vicki.hodges@telegraph.co.uk
Simona Halep fights back from set and break down to end grand slam drought in Paris
World No 1 Simona Halep finally broke her grand-slam jinx at Roland Garros, producing an unforgettable comeback to burn past the reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens on the home straight. The fans in Paris had watched Halep come up just short of the title here twice before, and they have developed a warm relationship with her. Court Philippe Chatrier was rocking in the third set as Halep pulled away, producing some absurd recovery shots to exhaust the waning Stephens further. At the close of her 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win, Halep accepted a leg-up from a courtside official and climbed up to her player box, where she embraced the three men who have stood consistently at her side through her climb up the world rankings: physio Andrei Cristofor, fitness trainer Teo Cercel and coach Darren Cahill. As the Telegraph reported, in a pre-tournament interview with Halep: “I have people around me who are friends and I feel like they are there forever.” This comeback was surely all the sweeter because Halep was thoroughly outplayed in the opening set. Stephens was so smooth and so resourceful, mixing booming topspin with flatter, faster strikes in a way that made her look – for 40 minutes or so – virtually unbeatable. The apparent rout continued into the early stages of the second, as Stephens broke again to lead 6-3, 2-0. The scoreline then was curiously similar to the lead that Halep had held over Jelena Ostapenko here 12 months ago. Halep celebrates winning the French Open Credit: AP Halep wound up as the frustrated party that day, backing off at just the wrong moment and allowing the free-swinging Ostapenko to surge to a shock win. But she is never more dangerous than when she is trailing, because that is when she loosens up and starts playing like a woman with nothing to lose. “I thought ‘Everything is gone. I just have to relax,’” said Halep afterwards, grinning her way through her on-court interview, as she remembered the key moment. The switch was partly spiritual, as she tapped into her deepest wells of tenacity. But it was also tactical, as she decided to use the whole area of the court for the first time, darting forward to the net whenever Stephens was pushed into deep defence. Commentating for ITV, the former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli began yelling: “That’s the play! That’s the play!” whenever Halep put away a winning volley. There is a huge amount of warmth towards Halep around the sport, as she conducts herself with real class at all times. If Halep found her best self in her moment of crisis, Stephens began to show signs of weariness. The match was only an hour old but Halep was setting a demanding pace and giving fewer and fewer freebies away as the match wore on. No fewer than 55 rallies exceeded nine shots, more than a third of the total points, which is an unusually high figure. The average speed of Stephens’ forehand, which had been doing so much damage, dropped from 77mph in the first set to 70mph in the second. Halep came from a set and break down to end Stephens' 100 per cent record in finals Credit: AFP The third set might look like a non-event on the scorecard but some of the rallies were extraordinary. And none more so than the point Halep won to go a double break ahead at 4-0. This was a 16-shot extravaganza in which she had to dig out a couple of desperate retrievals from the back of the court, then sprint up to the net to dink back a drop-shot, and finally backpedal to make that most awkward of putaways, the backhand overhead. When she finally edged Stephens out in that one, the usually sphinx-like Cahill jumped up off his seat and punched the air in the most uncharacteristic manner. Stephens would win only eight more points from that moment, as Halep finally finished the job with an unreturned serve, dropped her racket and put her hands over her face. Considering what she has been through to reach this point, she was surprisingly restrained in her celebrations, although she spoke eloquently afterwards. “I felt your support,” said Halep told the crowd, as she spoke to Bartoli afterwards. “In the last game I felt that I could not breathe any more, so I just tried not to repeat the last year. I did everything I could. It’s amazing what is happening now. Honestly I can’t believe it. I have been dreaming of this moment since I started to play tennis. I’m really happy that it’s happened in Roland Garros in Paris, my special city.” Halep has loved playing here ever since she won the junior event in 2008. She also took the time out to namecheck her compatriot Virginia Ruzici, who won the French Open 40 years ago and was watching from the stands. Halep won the junior title in 2008 Credit: AFP Messages of congratulation were now flooding in on social media from rivals like Petra Kvitova and Johanna Konta. Later Martina Navratilova – who recently hinted that she will be returning to Wimbledon for the BBC this summer on improved terms – would come up with a neat summation. “It wasn’t a monkey off her back; this was an 800lb gorilla.” The upshot is that this was the seventh straight women’s grand slam with a different winner. The tour is certainly open at the moment, after a sequence that began with Angelique Kerber in New York two years ago and continued through Serena Williams, Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and now Halep. Stephens shakes Halep's hand after losing the final Credit: AFP The one thing we are still waiting for is for anyone to show that they can put a sequence of results together to match what Williams and some of her 2000s rivals – the likes of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin – achieved at their peak. Yet if a straightforward narrative is hard to pull out of this unpredictable string of results, the women keep on throwing up quality matches, while the men have not produced an outstanding major tournament since Melbourne last year. In final analysis, Halep’s heartwarming victory was another good-news story for the WTA tour. 4:31PM Halep talks It's emotional to talk as the winner. I've been waiting for this moment since I was 14. I wanted this trophy to be here in France. Many congrats to Sloane. You have done a great job after those injuries. I'm sure you'll play many more finals in the future. Good luck and take care of your body. I wish in the future to play another final here. It's my favourite one. Thank you and see you next year. 4:29PM Stephens speaks It's been an incredible couple of weeks. It's not the trophy I wanted but it's still beautiful so thank you guys. To Simona, congratulations on your first slam. There's no one else I'd rather lose to than the world No 1. 4:28PM Halep the champion The world No 1 strides on to the mini stage assembled on Philippe Chatrier to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in relief and excitement in equal measure. The national anthem of Romanian is played out while Halep embraces the trophy. 4:26PM Sanchez Vicario hands out the trophies Arantxa Sanchez Vicario has the honour of handing out the runners-up plate and Suzanne Lenglen Cup this afternoon 20 years after her last Roland Garros title. 4:23PM A first time champion at Wimbledon awaits? Tears! Honestly tears!! Congratulations @Simona_Halep .... as a former player to see this moment is heartwarming! Three in a row 1st time slam winners....Sloane, Woz and Simo. Women’s tennis is hot!!— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 4:18PM Halep embraces Cahill in the stands The French Open champion is hoisted into the stands on Philippe Chatrier to give coach Cahill a warm embrace and then cuddles her mum and dad. There isn't a more popular winner than Halep. She manages to find her way back on to the court and looks to the sunny skies in thanks. The monkey is finally off her back. Simonaaaaa! You did it. So happy for you. Enjoy every second. You deserve this moment so much ��❤️ #RG18— Petra Kvitova (@Petra_Kvitova) June 9, 2018 4:16PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 Stephens* Here we go then. Halep lets out a deep sigh at winning the first point. But then nervously strikes long when well placed. A timely ace, her first of the match, is just what the doctor and her psychologist ordered but Stephens reels her in again for 30-all. Halep waits an age for a big overhead clearance to land. Halep stays strong to thwack a smash home and brings up championship point. She takes it. Stephens slaps a service return into the net. Halep has finally, finally won her first grand slam. Well done Simona. Her coach Darren Cahill can't quite believe it. He puts his hands on his head. Halep can't comprehend it either, placing both hands covering her face briefly before soaking up the adulation. GAME, SET AND MATCH: HALEP WINS FRENCH OPEN WITH 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 VICTORY OVER STEPHENS. 4:11PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 5-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh dear, dear. Stephens' level has dropped massively as she hands a free point for Halep for 0-30. She digs deep, fighting back for 30-all and then wins a third straight point with a backhand into the corner. Halep won't allow Stephens of a free game this set and draws back to deuce. Stephens swings a volley into the corner to edge to game point and as the clock passes the two-hour mark, Stephens finally gets on the board this set. 4:04PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 5-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Too many errors from Stephens now as Halep keeping her foot on the gas. She holds to 15. Stephens faces an uphill battle to get back into proceedings Credit: AP 4:02PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 4-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens looking exacerbated now as a failed drop shot lands lamely at the net. The unforced errors are creeping up for the American while Halep's dogged style is taking the Romanian closer to a first title. The 10th seed isn't ready yet to give up the fight as she digs in with a cross court winner for 30-15. But Halep isn't giving her rival any free points and making her work for everything and the errors still come. Halep misreads a slower second serve to miss a chance to set up break point but then hits an unbelievable backhand winner cross court which gets the crowd on Philippe Chatrier purring again. We're back to deuce. Halep gets a slice of luck with a clip of the tape to throw Stephens at the net. The American reacts, gets her racket on the high ball but can't get her return in the court. Halep has another break point here. Stephens pushes Halep to all corners again and how does the Romanian even stay in this incredible point? Both players advance to net, Halep managing to get an overhead and finally finding space to push home the winner. HALEP BREAKS. 3:55PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 3-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens trying to gee herself up by slapping her thigh trailing 30-0. The physical pep talk has worked in the short term, winning the next two points. Halep is more aggressive on the next point and the low ball is difficult for Stephens to retrieve. And at game point another lengthy rally ensues and Stephens blinks first. 'That's a play', shouts Bartoli in the ITV studio again. We know which way Bartoli wants this final to play out. 36 64 30 �� Halep has kept her head. She has kept her aggression. She has not gone away. And now she is amazingly 12 points from the title!���� #RG18pic.twitter.com/ZvL2ZtDDvP— Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) June 9, 2018 3:50PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 2-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Superb ball-striking from both players again as Stephens just misses a forehand when she was making them regularly during the first set. Pressure now as Halep moves to 15-30 up but Stephens keeps calm this time to deliver a brilliant forehand winner cross court. That was a big point. And here's a bigger one now. Stephens can't make a first serve. She gets a second one in but then throws in a sloppy forehand. Her level has massively dropped. Halep, break point now. She takes it. A punched deep forehand is too much for Stephens to get back. The momentum is all with Halep. HALEP BREAKS. 3:45PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 1-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Both players left the court at the end of the second set and we're into unchartered territory now as all seven of their head-to-heads haven't gone the distance before. All three of Halep's last grand slam finals went into a decider. At the start of the third and that break in action has worked to Stephens' advantage as she moves to 0-30. A brilliant backhand winner down the line draws Halep back to 30-all and nerves get the better of Stephens on the next point as she strikes long. Despite great defensive play from the 10th seed, Halep stays strong to see out the game. Sloane Stephens’ adjustment steps have slowed— bad sign when your opponent in the third set is Simona Halep. What a match @rolandgarros— Gerry Marzorati (@marzoTennis) June 9, 2018 3:36PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep stays positive, switching play from corner to corner and biding her time from the baseline. She gets a let off when Halep makes one stretch out wide and looks on as Stephens sends a forehand into the tramlines for 15-30. Stephens clenches her fist as a Halep groundstroke lands long. But she can't back it up as Halep's power and pace proves too hard to deal with. Halep brings up set point. And she takes it as Stephens hits into the tramlines. HALEP WINS SECOND SET TO LEVEL THE MATCH. 3:31PM Halep 3-6, 5-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep throws Stephens off balance by taking a forehand early and catching the American out on the baseline. Stephens stays strong during the next point, firing deep, so deep at the lines and piling further pressure on Halep at 30-all. Halep takes advantage as a ball rears up off the clay and takes the pace off Stephens' reply. Halep is on the short ball in a flash, striking a volley into the corner. Halep moves Stephens side-to-side before unleashing the winner and crucially Halep edges back in front this set. Halep battles against Stephens Credit: AFP 3:27PM Halep* 3-6, 4-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep looks to her corner with her arms extended out wide at missing one groundstroke. Stephens sends down her first ace of the match to establish a 30-0 advantage and then watches as Halep pushes long. That last game might be playing on the world No 1's mind. Stephens misses two game points, the second missing the line with a backhand. But she outlasts Halep during the next rally and we're back level for the set. 3:22PM Halep 3-6, 4-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens has woken back into action. A floating forehand on the line takes her to three break points and when Halep pushes long, we're back on serve this set. Halep will be kicking herself. That was lost far too quickly. STEPHENS BREAKS. 3:20PM Halep* 3-6, 4-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens stops the rot as she watches a Halep forehand land wide. The world No 1 stays focused on Stephens' backhand, whipping forehands out of the American's reach. Stephens digs deep for 30-all but then floats a tired groundstroke into the middle to hand Halep another break point. Another unforced error from Stephens hands Halep a second break this set. How quickly this match has turned. HALEP BREAKS. 3:15PM Halep 3-6, 3-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens' concentration levels have taken a hit. The momentum has shifted, Halep winning 10 of their last 11 points. Stephens' range is off now, a couple of unforced errors allowing Halep of edging ahead this set. Too soon? Wikipedia already has Sloane winning: https://t.co/yLIoTSBndh— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 9, 2018 3:12PM Halep* 3-6, 2-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Marion Bartoli on the ITV commentary is struggling with impartiality this afternoon. 'Go, go, go, go, go' she cries in encouragement to Halep to rush the net. The Romanian's revival gathers pace moving to 0-30 and drawing the American into an error. Now she has three break points this game to draw level this set. And she makes it as Stephens drags a forehand into the tramlines. HALEP BREAKS. 3:08PM Halep 3-6, 1-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens gives one mark a serious look as Halep edges to 30-15 and is finally starting to hurt the American will some deep hitting and solid net play. The Romanian's best chance is to cut short the points and rush the net where possible. A forehand down the line sets Halep up for moving into court and she duly dispatches the volley. Great play Halep. Halep keeps fighting against Stephens Credit: Getty Images 3:05PM Halep* 3-6, 0-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A drop in concentration now from Stephens as Halep moves to 0-30. Stephens composes herself passing Halep at the net and then getting a bit of fortune with a mishit forehand that lands flush on the line. Halep's head drops. From 30-0 down, Stephens completes the comeback with four straight points. That will hurt Halep. This performance from Sloane Stephens in a Slam final is the equal of those from all-time greats like Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova and Rafael Nadal. That good.— David Law (@DavidLawTennis) June 9, 2018 3:01PM Halep 3-6, 0-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep will be praying that Stephens' level drops soon. But it isn't. The American continues to work her magic, spraying unbelievable winners. One backhand down the line brings up two break points. She misses the first with a backhand error. Halep delivers a crucial first serve to blot the second. But Stephens has a third bite of the cherry now. Halep whips a forehand winner down the line to keep Stephens waiting. The American doesn't mind waiting. She's the patient kind. She demonstrates her ability to draw winners from all acute angles by setting up break point No 4 and this time she cheekily goes for a high ball as Halep moves into the net. The Romanian gets her racket to the ball but it flies wide. Stephens is playing unbelievable tennis. Why now? Halep must be thinking. Why now. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:53PM Halep* 3-6 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens' footwork behind the baseline and effortlessness moving side-to-side is mesmorising. Halep is finding the corners, but Stephens is retrieving everything thrown at her and asking further questions of Halep. One punching forehand flashes cross court at a zippy 90 mph for 30-15 but she blinks first during the next lengthy rally. Now she is breathing heavily as she lines up for her next service rotation. Halep toys with Stephens as another rally ensues, chasing down a drop shot and delivering her own drop which Stephens can't retrieve. It's a first break point for Halep. Anxiousness appears to get the better of her. She stands rigid in disbelief at missing that chance. Stephens composes herself to get back on track with decent serving to bring up set point. She takes it as her power is again too much for the world No 1. STEPHENS WINS THE FIRST SET 6-3 2:47PM Halep 3-5 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep working hard for every point and building some rhythm on her serve now. A strong hold to 30, the world No 1 steps into a short return to deliver her own forehand winner. More cries of 'Si-mon-a' ring round Chatrier. Stephens will be serving for the set. 2:43PM Halep* 2-5 Stephens (*denotes next server) A poorly-executed drop shot from Stephens coupled with sound defensive play behind the baseline work Halep to 15-30. Stephens runs round a backhand to strike a powerful forehand and deceives the world No 1 who anticipated Stephens going down the line at game point, only to be watch Stephens strike a forehand winner cross court. @SloaneStephens power AND her topspin is hurting Simo ... their movement is incredible but Sloane’s power is the difference and will be throughout. Only chance Simo has is if Sloane gets tight.— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 Stephens in fantastic form at the start of the opening set Credit: Reuters 2:38PM Halep 2-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Wow. Just when Halep looks to be in control of a rally, Stephens finds a winner at such a cute angle. It draws the American to 30-all and keeps the heat on Halep. The world No 1 isn't playing badly, but Stephens is hitting the lines quite perfectly so far. Halep makes an important hold when Stephens makes an uncharacteristic unforced error. 2:34PM Halep* 1-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh. My. Word! Halep is quite brilliant, brilliant terrier. She makes two ridiculous gets out wide which she has no right to retrieve to send everything back but then strikes an unforced error into the net. She stares down the net in disbelief. At 40-15 Halep fires a winner down the line and looks if to say 'is this what I have to do just to win a point?' Stephens, in true smoking a cigar, feet up style, gets over the night to cement the break. Women's final so far = (fire emoji)(fire emoji)(fire emoji).#RG18— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 9, 2018 2:29PM Halep 1-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Some fantastic tennis being played by both women now, working each other from side to side and creating the space to go for the kill. Halep moves into the court for the first time, smashing a sublime overhead deep into the corner for 30-all. But Stephens has some zip on a second service return to throw Halep at the baseline. It brings up a first break point for Stephens. And she makes it. Stephens does brilliantly to switch the play from down the line to cross court and it forces Halep to strike the middle. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:23PM Halep* 1-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A couple of long forehands from Halep allow Stephens to progress to 40-15. But the swirling wind is causing problems for both players and the American pushes one groundstroke behind the line to allow Halep to hang around in the game. The 10th seed stays on the front foot during the next rally and draws another error from Halep's forehand. It remains on serve. 2:19PM Halep 1-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Beautiful ball-striking from Stephens as the American strikes a clean forehand winner down the line after moving Halep at the baseline to create an opening. It's effortless from Stephens as she draws Halep wide to draw level at 30-all. Halep takes the crucial next point, relieved as Stephens' reply flies off the top of her racket. A cross court exchange during the next rally of 14 shots ends when Halep strikes into the tape. Cries of 'Simona' ring round at deuce. Stephens can't jump on a slower second serve but Halep finally holds when she outlasts Stephens during a brutal baseline duel. 2:13PM Halep* 0-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens opens up the final, watches a couple of service returns land long for 30-0. Halep drags a backhand into the tramlines but then gets a first point on the board when Stephens makes an unforced error. Stephens takes a comfortable hold with a backhand winner down the line. The American looks calm and focused early on as expected. 2:03PM Here they come Stephens, with headphones nestled in her ears, heads out to the Philippe Chatrier Court first. Halep follows and unsurprisingly draws a louder cheer from the crowd. Here she is! What Simona and Sloane are playing for today...#RG18pic.twitter.com/5Xq1GGbICc— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2018 1:56PM Getting to know Stephens Stephens' aloof and seemingly can't be bothered attitude hasn't won her too many additional followers and supporters in Paris. Our tennis correspondent Simon Briggs tweeted after Stephens' semi-final win over good friend Madison Keys that she looked like she would rather be "flossing her teeth" than giving her on-court interview. Her lack of French hasn't helped with making friends either. While many of the top level players have gone to great lengths to speak the local language at Roland Garros, Stephens has only uttered a tepid 'Merci Paris, je t'aime' in post-match discussions. Former player and American broadcaster Mary Carillo spent much time with Stephens last summer while working together at the Tennis Channel in the US. Carillo has offered a great insight into what Stephens is really like. She's not just the laid-back, unimpressed and unbothered individual she displays on the court. 1:39PM Halep's supporters Halep fans getting hyped outside Chatrier less an hour before the Women’s Final @rolandgarros ���� pic.twitter.com/uglLMFcyIl— Steve Weissman (@Steve_Weissman) June 9, 2018 1:33PM How will Halep cope with the pressure? Halep and Stephens have similar styles. Both glide around the back of the court, have an abundance of stamina and can switch from defence into attack. The biggest question mark hanging over Halep is the scar tissue of those defeats. When she came from a set down to beat Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals, Halep pointed her finger at her temple. She still has moments of anxiety and self doubt, but by and large she is starting to fix some of her self-inflicted issues. "She deals much better with pressure," 1978 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici who is also Halep's manager and the only woman from Romania to win a major. "The fact that she became No 1 has given her a different dimension, a different stature. She really deals with things better. Psychologically, she's also much better. ... And now she wants to win a Grand Slam. And now she says it. "Before, she didn't dare say it. Now she says it: 'I want to win a Grand Slam.'" Simona Halep, head in the game#RG18#Gettypic.twitter.com/70PQx2eI27— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 6, 2018 1:16PM Flashback to 2008 Halep shouldn't concern herself with the three grand slam finals lost but look back on a happy time when she was lifting the winners' trophy. Ten years ago, as ninth seed Halep won the junior girls' title beating compatriot Elena Bogdan in three sets. If the world No 1 prevails today, she would become the sixth player to win the women's singles title in Paris after winning the girls' title. The other five, you ask? Francoise Durr, Mima Jausovec, Hana Mandlikova, Jennifer Capriati and Justine Henin. Halep won the girls' title in Paris back in 2008 Credit: Getty Images 12:38PM Stephens' impeccable finals record Halep won't need reminding of Stephens' record in tournament finals. The American has proved herself a big-game player, most prominently during her charge to last year's US Open final where she became an unlikely champion so soon after returning from an 11-month injury lay-off. The 25-year-old's victory in Miami back in early April, was her sixth straight win from six finals. Of her impeccable form in finals, Stephens said in the lead up to today's showdown: "There is no formula. I didn't, like, try to do it. I'm not trying to break a record. It's just how it's happened for me." Halep has a mixed bag of results when it comes to finals - albeit competing in a far higher number than her rival. Stephens has won all six of her tournament finals Credit: Getty Images The Romanian is 16-14 overall but her experience hasn't helped her get over the line in the last 12 months. Halep has lost finals in Paris, Cincinnati, Beijing, Melbourne and Rome. Her only success was a smaller tournament in Shenzhen at the start of the year. Halep's 'always the bridesmaid never the bride' story makes her a favourite with neutral fans who are desperate to see the wounded 26-year-old put some painful defeats behind her and write a new chapter of positivity and success moving forward. 10:45AM And then there were two... Welcome all to coverage of the women's final at Roland Garros where Simona Halep looks to fulfil a career ambition of ending her grand slam drought by overcoming last year's US Open champion Sloane Stephens. Halep is well versed in the occasion of reaching the latter stages of a major, especially in Paris where she has won through to the final two other times in 2014 and last year, only to suffer defeat to Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko. This afternoon she must defy the brilliance and athleticism of American Stephens, who will be competing in her first final at Roland Garros, in order to get her hands on the Suzanne Lenglen cup. While the crowd are likely to get behind the world No 1 Halep, Stephens' nerveless approach to her game could prove a tough obstacle to clear. The Romanian has a superior head-to-head advantage, winning five of their seven battles - including winning all four of their last encounters. In fact Halep saw off the 10th seed Stephens during her run to the French Open final in 2014. If today's match goes to a third set, it will be the first time a decider has been required to determine the outcome of their battles. Who will you be supporting this afternoon and how do you see the final playing out? Vote in the poll below and send your thoughts to me at vicki.hodges@telegraph.co.uk
World No 1 Simona Halep finally broke her grand-slam jinx at Roland Garros, producing an unforgettable comeback to burn past the reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens on the home straight. The fans in Paris had watched Halep come up just short of the title here twice before, and they have developed a warm relationship with her. Court Philippe Chatrier was rocking in the third set as Halep pulled away, producing some absurd recovery shots to exhaust the waning Stephens further. At the close of her 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win, Halep accepted a leg-up from a courtside official and climbed up to her player box, where she embraced the three men who have stood consistently at her side through her climb up the world rankings: physio Andrei Cristofor, fitness trainer Teo Cercel and coach Darren Cahill. As the Telegraph reported, in a pre-tournament interview with Halep: “I have people around me who are friends and I feel like they are there forever.” This comeback was surely all the sweeter because Halep was thoroughly outplayed in the opening set. Stephens was so smooth and so resourceful, mixing booming topspin with flatter, faster strikes in a way that made her look – for 40 minutes or so – virtually unbeatable. The apparent rout continued into the early stages of the second, as Stephens broke again to lead 6-3, 2-0. The scoreline then was curiously similar to the lead that Halep had held over Jelena Ostapenko here 12 months ago. Halep celebrates winning the French Open Credit: AP Halep wound up as the frustrated party that day, backing off at just the wrong moment and allowing the free-swinging Ostapenko to surge to a shock win. But she is never more dangerous than when she is trailing, because that is when she loosens up and starts playing like a woman with nothing to lose. “I thought ‘Everything is gone. I just have to relax,’” said Halep afterwards, grinning her way through her on-court interview, as she remembered the key moment. The switch was partly spiritual, as she tapped into her deepest wells of tenacity. But it was also tactical, as she decided to use the whole area of the court for the first time, darting forward to the net whenever Stephens was pushed into deep defence. Commentating for ITV, the former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli began yelling: “That’s the play! That’s the play!” whenever Halep put away a winning volley. There is a huge amount of warmth towards Halep around the sport, as she conducts herself with real class at all times. If Halep found her best self in her moment of crisis, Stephens began to show signs of weariness. The match was only an hour old but Halep was setting a demanding pace and giving fewer and fewer freebies away as the match wore on. No fewer than 55 rallies exceeded nine shots, more than a third of the total points, which is an unusually high figure. The average speed of Stephens’ forehand, which had been doing so much damage, dropped from 77mph in the first set to 70mph in the second. Halep came from a set and break down to end Stephens' 100 per cent record in finals Credit: AFP The third set might look like a non-event on the scorecard but some of the rallies were extraordinary. And none more so than the point Halep won to go a double break ahead at 4-0. This was a 16-shot extravaganza in which she had to dig out a couple of desperate retrievals from the back of the court, then sprint up to the net to dink back a drop-shot, and finally backpedal to make that most awkward of putaways, the backhand overhead. When she finally edged Stephens out in that one, the usually sphinx-like Cahill jumped up off his seat and punched the air in the most uncharacteristic manner. Stephens would win only eight more points from that moment, as Halep finally finished the job with an unreturned serve, dropped her racket and put her hands over her face. Considering what she has been through to reach this point, she was surprisingly restrained in her celebrations, although she spoke eloquently afterwards. “I felt your support,” said Halep told the crowd, as she spoke to Bartoli afterwards. “In the last game I felt that I could not breathe any more, so I just tried not to repeat the last year. I did everything I could. It’s amazing what is happening now. Honestly I can’t believe it. I have been dreaming of this moment since I started to play tennis. I’m really happy that it’s happened in Roland Garros in Paris, my special city.” Halep has loved playing here ever since she won the junior event in 2008. She also took the time out to namecheck her compatriot Virginia Ruzici, who won the French Open 40 years ago and was watching from the stands. Halep won the junior title in 2008 Credit: AFP Messages of congratulation were now flooding in on social media from rivals like Petra Kvitova and Johanna Konta. Later Martina Navratilova – who recently hinted that she will be returning to Wimbledon for the BBC this summer on improved terms – would come up with a neat summation. “It wasn’t a monkey off her back; this was an 800lb gorilla.” The upshot is that this was the seventh straight women’s grand slam with a different winner. The tour is certainly open at the moment, after a sequence that began with Angelique Kerber in New York two years ago and continued through Serena Williams, Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and now Halep. Stephens shakes Halep's hand after losing the final Credit: AFP The one thing we are still waiting for is for anyone to show that they can put a sequence of results together to match what Williams and some of her 2000s rivals – the likes of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin – achieved at their peak. Yet if a straightforward narrative is hard to pull out of this unpredictable string of results, the women keep on throwing up quality matches, while the men have not produced an outstanding major tournament since Melbourne last year. In final analysis, Halep’s heartwarming victory was another good-news story for the WTA tour. 4:31PM Halep talks It's emotional to talk as the winner. I've been waiting for this moment since I was 14. I wanted this trophy to be here in France. Many congrats to Sloane. You have done a great job after those injuries. I'm sure you'll play many more finals in the future. Good luck and take care of your body. I wish in the future to play another final here. It's my favourite one. Thank you and see you next year. 4:29PM Stephens speaks It's been an incredible couple of weeks. It's not the trophy I wanted but it's still beautiful so thank you guys. To Simona, congratulations on your first slam. There's no one else I'd rather lose to than the world No 1. 4:28PM Halep the champion The world No 1 strides on to the mini stage assembled on Philippe Chatrier to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in relief and excitement in equal measure. The national anthem of Romanian is played out while Halep embraces the trophy. 4:26PM Sanchez Vicario hands out the trophies Arantxa Sanchez Vicario has the honour of handing out the runners-up plate and Suzanne Lenglen Cup this afternoon 20 years after her last Roland Garros title. 4:23PM A first time champion at Wimbledon awaits? Tears! Honestly tears!! Congratulations @Simona_Halep .... as a former player to see this moment is heartwarming! Three in a row 1st time slam winners....Sloane, Woz and Simo. Women’s tennis is hot!!— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 4:18PM Halep embraces Cahill in the stands The French Open champion is hoisted into the stands on Philippe Chatrier to give coach Cahill a warm embrace and then cuddles her mum and dad. There isn't a more popular winner than Halep. She manages to find her way back on to the court and looks to the sunny skies in thanks. The monkey is finally off her back. Simonaaaaa! You did it. So happy for you. Enjoy every second. You deserve this moment so much ��❤️ #RG18— Petra Kvitova (@Petra_Kvitova) June 9, 2018 4:16PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 Stephens* Here we go then. Halep lets out a deep sigh at winning the first point. But then nervously strikes long when well placed. A timely ace, her first of the match, is just what the doctor and her psychologist ordered but Stephens reels her in again for 30-all. Halep waits an age for a big overhead clearance to land. Halep stays strong to thwack a smash home and brings up championship point. She takes it. Stephens slaps a service return into the net. Halep has finally, finally won her first grand slam. Well done Simona. Her coach Darren Cahill can't quite believe it. He puts his hands on his head. Halep can't comprehend it either, placing both hands covering her face briefly before soaking up the adulation. GAME, SET AND MATCH: HALEP WINS FRENCH OPEN WITH 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 VICTORY OVER STEPHENS. 4:11PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 5-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh dear, dear. Stephens' level has dropped massively as she hands a free point for Halep for 0-30. She digs deep, fighting back for 30-all and then wins a third straight point with a backhand into the corner. Halep won't allow Stephens of a free game this set and draws back to deuce. Stephens swings a volley into the corner to edge to game point and as the clock passes the two-hour mark, Stephens finally gets on the board this set. 4:04PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 5-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Too many errors from Stephens now as Halep keeping her foot on the gas. She holds to 15. Stephens faces an uphill battle to get back into proceedings Credit: AP 4:02PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 4-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens looking exacerbated now as a failed drop shot lands lamely at the net. The unforced errors are creeping up for the American while Halep's dogged style is taking the Romanian closer to a first title. The 10th seed isn't ready yet to give up the fight as she digs in with a cross court winner for 30-15. But Halep isn't giving her rival any free points and making her work for everything and the errors still come. Halep misreads a slower second serve to miss a chance to set up break point but then hits an unbelievable backhand winner cross court which gets the crowd on Philippe Chatrier purring again. We're back to deuce. Halep gets a slice of luck with a clip of the tape to throw Stephens at the net. The American reacts, gets her racket on the high ball but can't get her return in the court. Halep has another break point here. Stephens pushes Halep to all corners again and how does the Romanian even stay in this incredible point? Both players advance to net, Halep managing to get an overhead and finally finding space to push home the winner. HALEP BREAKS. 3:55PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 3-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens trying to gee herself up by slapping her thigh trailing 30-0. The physical pep talk has worked in the short term, winning the next two points. Halep is more aggressive on the next point and the low ball is difficult for Stephens to retrieve. And at game point another lengthy rally ensues and Stephens blinks first. 'That's a play', shouts Bartoli in the ITV studio again. We know which way Bartoli wants this final to play out. 36 64 30 �� Halep has kept her head. She has kept her aggression. She has not gone away. And now she is amazingly 12 points from the title!���� #RG18pic.twitter.com/ZvL2ZtDDvP— Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) June 9, 2018 3:50PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 2-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Superb ball-striking from both players again as Stephens just misses a forehand when she was making them regularly during the first set. Pressure now as Halep moves to 15-30 up but Stephens keeps calm this time to deliver a brilliant forehand winner cross court. That was a big point. And here's a bigger one now. Stephens can't make a first serve. She gets a second one in but then throws in a sloppy forehand. Her level has massively dropped. Halep, break point now. She takes it. A punched deep forehand is too much for Stephens to get back. The momentum is all with Halep. HALEP BREAKS. 3:45PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 1-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Both players left the court at the end of the second set and we're into unchartered territory now as all seven of their head-to-heads haven't gone the distance before. All three of Halep's last grand slam finals went into a decider. At the start of the third and that break in action has worked to Stephens' advantage as she moves to 0-30. A brilliant backhand winner down the line draws Halep back to 30-all and nerves get the better of Stephens on the next point as she strikes long. Despite great defensive play from the 10th seed, Halep stays strong to see out the game. Sloane Stephens’ adjustment steps have slowed— bad sign when your opponent in the third set is Simona Halep. What a match @rolandgarros— Gerry Marzorati (@marzoTennis) June 9, 2018 3:36PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep stays positive, switching play from corner to corner and biding her time from the baseline. She gets a let off when Halep makes one stretch out wide and looks on as Stephens sends a forehand into the tramlines for 15-30. Stephens clenches her fist as a Halep groundstroke lands long. But she can't back it up as Halep's power and pace proves too hard to deal with. Halep brings up set point. And she takes it as Stephens hits into the tramlines. HALEP WINS SECOND SET TO LEVEL THE MATCH. 3:31PM Halep 3-6, 5-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep throws Stephens off balance by taking a forehand early and catching the American out on the baseline. Stephens stays strong during the next point, firing deep, so deep at the lines and piling further pressure on Halep at 30-all. Halep takes advantage as a ball rears up off the clay and takes the pace off Stephens' reply. Halep is on the short ball in a flash, striking a volley into the corner. Halep moves Stephens side-to-side before unleashing the winner and crucially Halep edges back in front this set. Halep battles against Stephens Credit: AFP 3:27PM Halep* 3-6, 4-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep looks to her corner with her arms extended out wide at missing one groundstroke. Stephens sends down her first ace of the match to establish a 30-0 advantage and then watches as Halep pushes long. That last game might be playing on the world No 1's mind. Stephens misses two game points, the second missing the line with a backhand. But she outlasts Halep during the next rally and we're back level for the set. 3:22PM Halep 3-6, 4-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens has woken back into action. A floating forehand on the line takes her to three break points and when Halep pushes long, we're back on serve this set. Halep will be kicking herself. That was lost far too quickly. STEPHENS BREAKS. 3:20PM Halep* 3-6, 4-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens stops the rot as she watches a Halep forehand land wide. The world No 1 stays focused on Stephens' backhand, whipping forehands out of the American's reach. Stephens digs deep for 30-all but then floats a tired groundstroke into the middle to hand Halep another break point. Another unforced error from Stephens hands Halep a second break this set. How quickly this match has turned. HALEP BREAKS. 3:15PM Halep 3-6, 3-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens' concentration levels have taken a hit. The momentum has shifted, Halep winning 10 of their last 11 points. Stephens' range is off now, a couple of unforced errors allowing Halep of edging ahead this set. Too soon? Wikipedia already has Sloane winning: https://t.co/yLIoTSBndh— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 9, 2018 3:12PM Halep* 3-6, 2-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Marion Bartoli on the ITV commentary is struggling with impartiality this afternoon. 'Go, go, go, go, go' she cries in encouragement to Halep to rush the net. The Romanian's revival gathers pace moving to 0-30 and drawing the American into an error. Now she has three break points this game to draw level this set. And she makes it as Stephens drags a forehand into the tramlines. HALEP BREAKS. 3:08PM Halep 3-6, 1-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens gives one mark a serious look as Halep edges to 30-15 and is finally starting to hurt the American will some deep hitting and solid net play. The Romanian's best chance is to cut short the points and rush the net where possible. A forehand down the line sets Halep up for moving into court and she duly dispatches the volley. Great play Halep. Halep keeps fighting against Stephens Credit: Getty Images 3:05PM Halep* 3-6, 0-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A drop in concentration now from Stephens as Halep moves to 0-30. Stephens composes herself passing Halep at the net and then getting a bit of fortune with a mishit forehand that lands flush on the line. Halep's head drops. From 30-0 down, Stephens completes the comeback with four straight points. That will hurt Halep. This performance from Sloane Stephens in a Slam final is the equal of those from all-time greats like Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova and Rafael Nadal. That good.— David Law (@DavidLawTennis) June 9, 2018 3:01PM Halep 3-6, 0-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep will be praying that Stephens' level drops soon. But it isn't. The American continues to work her magic, spraying unbelievable winners. One backhand down the line brings up two break points. She misses the first with a backhand error. Halep delivers a crucial first serve to blot the second. But Stephens has a third bite of the cherry now. Halep whips a forehand winner down the line to keep Stephens waiting. The American doesn't mind waiting. She's the patient kind. She demonstrates her ability to draw winners from all acute angles by setting up break point No 4 and this time she cheekily goes for a high ball as Halep moves into the net. The Romanian gets her racket to the ball but it flies wide. Stephens is playing unbelievable tennis. Why now? Halep must be thinking. Why now. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:53PM Halep* 3-6 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens' footwork behind the baseline and effortlessness moving side-to-side is mesmorising. Halep is finding the corners, but Stephens is retrieving everything thrown at her and asking further questions of Halep. One punching forehand flashes cross court at a zippy 90 mph for 30-15 but she blinks first during the next lengthy rally. Now she is breathing heavily as she lines up for her next service rotation. Halep toys with Stephens as another rally ensues, chasing down a drop shot and delivering her own drop which Stephens can't retrieve. It's a first break point for Halep. Anxiousness appears to get the better of her. She stands rigid in disbelief at missing that chance. Stephens composes herself to get back on track with decent serving to bring up set point. She takes it as her power is again too much for the world No 1. STEPHENS WINS THE FIRST SET 6-3 2:47PM Halep 3-5 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep working hard for every point and building some rhythm on her serve now. A strong hold to 30, the world No 1 steps into a short return to deliver her own forehand winner. More cries of 'Si-mon-a' ring round Chatrier. Stephens will be serving for the set. 2:43PM Halep* 2-5 Stephens (*denotes next server) A poorly-executed drop shot from Stephens coupled with sound defensive play behind the baseline work Halep to 15-30. Stephens runs round a backhand to strike a powerful forehand and deceives the world No 1 who anticipated Stephens going down the line at game point, only to be watch Stephens strike a forehand winner cross court. @SloaneStephens power AND her topspin is hurting Simo ... their movement is incredible but Sloane’s power is the difference and will be throughout. Only chance Simo has is if Sloane gets tight.— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 Stephens in fantastic form at the start of the opening set Credit: Reuters 2:38PM Halep 2-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Wow. Just when Halep looks to be in control of a rally, Stephens finds a winner at such a cute angle. It draws the American to 30-all and keeps the heat on Halep. The world No 1 isn't playing badly, but Stephens is hitting the lines quite perfectly so far. Halep makes an important hold when Stephens makes an uncharacteristic unforced error. 2:34PM Halep* 1-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh. My. Word! Halep is quite brilliant, brilliant terrier. She makes two ridiculous gets out wide which she has no right to retrieve to send everything back but then strikes an unforced error into the net. She stares down the net in disbelief. At 40-15 Halep fires a winner down the line and looks if to say 'is this what I have to do just to win a point?' Stephens, in true smoking a cigar, feet up style, gets over the night to cement the break. Women's final so far = (fire emoji)(fire emoji)(fire emoji).#RG18— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 9, 2018 2:29PM Halep 1-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Some fantastic tennis being played by both women now, working each other from side to side and creating the space to go for the kill. Halep moves into the court for the first time, smashing a sublime overhead deep into the corner for 30-all. But Stephens has some zip on a second service return to throw Halep at the baseline. It brings up a first break point for Stephens. And she makes it. Stephens does brilliantly to switch the play from down the line to cross court and it forces Halep to strike the middle. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:23PM Halep* 1-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A couple of long forehands from Halep allow Stephens to progress to 40-15. But the swirling wind is causing problems for both players and the American pushes one groundstroke behind the line to allow Halep to hang around in the game. The 10th seed stays on the front foot during the next rally and draws another error from Halep's forehand. It remains on serve. 2:19PM Halep 1-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Beautiful ball-striking from Stephens as the American strikes a clean forehand winner down the line after moving Halep at the baseline to create an opening. It's effortless from Stephens as she draws Halep wide to draw level at 30-all. Halep takes the crucial next point, relieved as Stephens' reply flies off the top of her racket. A cross court exchange during the next rally of 14 shots ends when Halep strikes into the tape. Cries of 'Simona' ring round at deuce. Stephens can't jump on a slower second serve but Halep finally holds when she outlasts Stephens during a brutal baseline duel. 2:13PM Halep* 0-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens opens up the final, watches a couple of service returns land long for 30-0. Halep drags a backhand into the tramlines but then gets a first point on the board when Stephens makes an unforced error. Stephens takes a comfortable hold with a backhand winner down the line. The American looks calm and focused early on as expected. 2:03PM Here they come Stephens, with headphones nestled in her ears, heads out to the Philippe Chatrier Court first. Halep follows and unsurprisingly draws a louder cheer from the crowd. Here she is! What Simona and Sloane are playing for today...#RG18pic.twitter.com/5Xq1GGbICc— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2018 1:56PM Getting to know Stephens Stephens' aloof and seemingly can't be bothered attitude hasn't won her too many additional followers and supporters in Paris. Our tennis correspondent Simon Briggs tweeted after Stephens' semi-final win over good friend Madison Keys that she looked like she would rather be "flossing her teeth" than giving her on-court interview. Her lack of French hasn't helped with making friends either. While many of the top level players have gone to great lengths to speak the local language at Roland Garros, Stephens has only uttered a tepid 'Merci Paris, je t'aime' in post-match discussions. Former player and American broadcaster Mary Carillo spent much time with Stephens last summer while working together at the Tennis Channel in the US. Carillo has offered a great insight into what Stephens is really like. She's not just the laid-back, unimpressed and unbothered individual she displays on the court. 1:39PM Halep's supporters Halep fans getting hyped outside Chatrier less an hour before the Women’s Final @rolandgarros ���� pic.twitter.com/uglLMFcyIl— Steve Weissman (@Steve_Weissman) June 9, 2018 1:33PM How will Halep cope with the pressure? Halep and Stephens have similar styles. Both glide around the back of the court, have an abundance of stamina and can switch from defence into attack. The biggest question mark hanging over Halep is the scar tissue of those defeats. When she came from a set down to beat Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals, Halep pointed her finger at her temple. She still has moments of anxiety and self doubt, but by and large she is starting to fix some of her self-inflicted issues. "She deals much better with pressure," 1978 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici who is also Halep's manager and the only woman from Romania to win a major. "The fact that she became No 1 has given her a different dimension, a different stature. She really deals with things better. Psychologically, she's also much better. ... And now she wants to win a Grand Slam. And now she says it. "Before, she didn't dare say it. Now she says it: 'I want to win a Grand Slam.'" Simona Halep, head in the game#RG18#Gettypic.twitter.com/70PQx2eI27— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 6, 2018 1:16PM Flashback to 2008 Halep shouldn't concern herself with the three grand slam finals lost but look back on a happy time when she was lifting the winners' trophy. Ten years ago, as ninth seed Halep won the junior girls' title beating compatriot Elena Bogdan in three sets. If the world No 1 prevails today, she would become the sixth player to win the women's singles title in Paris after winning the girls' title. The other five, you ask? Francoise Durr, Mima Jausovec, Hana Mandlikova, Jennifer Capriati and Justine Henin. Halep won the girls' title in Paris back in 2008 Credit: Getty Images 12:38PM Stephens' impeccable finals record Halep won't need reminding of Stephens' record in tournament finals. The American has proved herself a big-game player, most prominently during her charge to last year's US Open final where she became an unlikely champion so soon after returning from an 11-month injury lay-off. The 25-year-old's victory in Miami back in early April, was her sixth straight win from six finals. Of her impeccable form in finals, Stephens said in the lead up to today's showdown: "There is no formula. I didn't, like, try to do it. I'm not trying to break a record. It's just how it's happened for me." Halep has a mixed bag of results when it comes to finals - albeit competing in a far higher number than her rival. Stephens has won all six of her tournament finals Credit: Getty Images The Romanian is 16-14 overall but her experience hasn't helped her get over the line in the last 12 months. Halep has lost finals in Paris, Cincinnati, Beijing, Melbourne and Rome. Her only success was a smaller tournament in Shenzhen at the start of the year. Halep's 'always the bridesmaid never the bride' story makes her a favourite with neutral fans who are desperate to see the wounded 26-year-old put some painful defeats behind her and write a new chapter of positivity and success moving forward. 10:45AM And then there were two... Welcome all to coverage of the women's final at Roland Garros where Simona Halep looks to fulfil a career ambition of ending her grand slam drought by overcoming last year's US Open champion Sloane Stephens. Halep is well versed in the occasion of reaching the latter stages of a major, especially in Paris where she has won through to the final two other times in 2014 and last year, only to suffer defeat to Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko. This afternoon she must defy the brilliance and athleticism of American Stephens, who will be competing in her first final at Roland Garros, in order to get her hands on the Suzanne Lenglen cup. While the crowd are likely to get behind the world No 1 Halep, Stephens' nerveless approach to her game could prove a tough obstacle to clear. The Romanian has a superior head-to-head advantage, winning five of their seven battles - including winning all four of their last encounters. In fact Halep saw off the 10th seed Stephens during her run to the French Open final in 2014. If today's match goes to a third set, it will be the first time a decider has been required to determine the outcome of their battles. Who will you be supporting this afternoon and how do you see the final playing out? Vote in the poll below and send your thoughts to me at vicki.hodges@telegraph.co.uk
Simona Halep fights back from set and break down to end grand slam drought in Paris
World No 1 Simona Halep finally broke her grand-slam jinx at Roland Garros, producing an unforgettable comeback to burn past the reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens on the home straight. The fans in Paris had watched Halep come up just short of the title here twice before, and they have developed a warm relationship with her. Court Philippe Chatrier was rocking in the third set as Halep pulled away, producing some absurd recovery shots to exhaust the waning Stephens further. At the close of her 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win, Halep accepted a leg-up from a courtside official and climbed up to her player box, where she embraced the three men who have stood consistently at her side through her climb up the world rankings: physio Andrei Cristofor, fitness trainer Teo Cercel and coach Darren Cahill. As the Telegraph reported, in a pre-tournament interview with Halep: “I have people around me who are friends and I feel like they are there forever.” This comeback was surely all the sweeter because Halep was thoroughly outplayed in the opening set. Stephens was so smooth and so resourceful, mixing booming topspin with flatter, faster strikes in a way that made her look – for 40 minutes or so – virtually unbeatable. The apparent rout continued into the early stages of the second, as Stephens broke again to lead 6-3, 2-0. The scoreline then was curiously similar to the lead that Halep had held over Jelena Ostapenko here 12 months ago. Halep celebrates winning the French Open Credit: AP Halep wound up as the frustrated party that day, backing off at just the wrong moment and allowing the free-swinging Ostapenko to surge to a shock win. But she is never more dangerous than when she is trailing, because that is when she loosens up and starts playing like a woman with nothing to lose. “I thought ‘Everything is gone. I just have to relax,’” said Halep afterwards, grinning her way through her on-court interview, as she remembered the key moment. The switch was partly spiritual, as she tapped into her deepest wells of tenacity. But it was also tactical, as she decided to use the whole area of the court for the first time, darting forward to the net whenever Stephens was pushed into deep defence. Commentating for ITV, the former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli began yelling: “That’s the play! That’s the play!” whenever Halep put away a winning volley. There is a huge amount of warmth towards Halep around the sport, as she conducts herself with real class at all times. If Halep found her best self in her moment of crisis, Stephens began to show signs of weariness. The match was only an hour old but Halep was setting a demanding pace and giving fewer and fewer freebies away as the match wore on. No fewer than 55 rallies exceeded nine shots, more than a third of the total points, which is an unusually high figure. The average speed of Stephens’ forehand, which had been doing so much damage, dropped from 77mph in the first set to 70mph in the second. Halep came from a set and break down to end Stephens' 100 per cent record in finals Credit: AFP The third set might look like a non-event on the scorecard but some of the rallies were extraordinary. And none more so than the point Halep won to go a double break ahead at 4-0. This was a 16-shot extravaganza in which she had to dig out a couple of desperate retrievals from the back of the court, then sprint up to the net to dink back a drop-shot, and finally backpedal to make that most awkward of putaways, the backhand overhead. When she finally edged Stephens out in that one, the usually sphinx-like Cahill jumped up off his seat and punched the air in the most uncharacteristic manner. Stephens would win only eight more points from that moment, as Halep finally finished the job with an unreturned serve, dropped her racket and put her hands over her face. Considering what she has been through to reach this point, she was surprisingly restrained in her celebrations, although she spoke eloquently afterwards. “I felt your support,” said Halep told the crowd, as she spoke to Bartoli afterwards. “In the last game I felt that I could not breathe any more, so I just tried not to repeat the last year. I did everything I could. It’s amazing what is happening now. Honestly I can’t believe it. I have been dreaming of this moment since I started to play tennis. I’m really happy that it’s happened in Roland Garros in Paris, my special city.” Halep has loved playing here ever since she won the junior event in 2008. She also took the time out to namecheck her compatriot Virginia Ruzici, who won the French Open 40 years ago and was watching from the stands. Halep won the junior title in 2008 Credit: AFP Messages of congratulation were now flooding in on social media from rivals like Petra Kvitova and Johanna Konta. Later Martina Navratilova – who recently hinted that she will be returning to Wimbledon for the BBC this summer on improved terms – would come up with a neat summation. “It wasn’t a monkey off her back; this was an 800lb gorilla.” The upshot is that this was the seventh straight women’s grand slam with a different winner. The tour is certainly open at the moment, after a sequence that began with Angelique Kerber in New York two years ago and continued through Serena Williams, Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and now Halep. Stephens shakes Halep's hand after losing the final Credit: AFP The one thing we are still waiting for is for anyone to show that they can put a sequence of results together to match what Williams and some of her 2000s rivals – the likes of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin – achieved at their peak. Yet if a straightforward narrative is hard to pull out of this unpredictable string of results, the women keep on throwing up quality matches, while the men have not produced an outstanding major tournament since Melbourne last year. In final analysis, Halep’s heartwarming victory was another good-news story for the WTA tour. 4:31PM Halep talks It's emotional to talk as the winner. I've been waiting for this moment since I was 14. I wanted this trophy to be here in France. Many congrats to Sloane. You have done a great job after those injuries. I'm sure you'll play many more finals in the future. Good luck and take care of your body. I wish in the future to play another final here. It's my favourite one. Thank you and see you next year. 4:29PM Stephens speaks It's been an incredible couple of weeks. It's not the trophy I wanted but it's still beautiful so thank you guys. To Simona, congratulations on your first slam. There's no one else I'd rather lose to than the world No 1. 4:28PM Halep the champion The world No 1 strides on to the mini stage assembled on Philippe Chatrier to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in relief and excitement in equal measure. The national anthem of Romanian is played out while Halep embraces the trophy. 4:26PM Sanchez Vicario hands out the trophies Arantxa Sanchez Vicario has the honour of handing out the runners-up plate and Suzanne Lenglen Cup this afternoon 20 years after her last Roland Garros title. 4:23PM A first time champion at Wimbledon awaits? Tears! Honestly tears!! Congratulations @Simona_Halep .... as a former player to see this moment is heartwarming! Three in a row 1st time slam winners....Sloane, Woz and Simo. Women’s tennis is hot!!— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 4:18PM Halep embraces Cahill in the stands The French Open champion is hoisted into the stands on Philippe Chatrier to give coach Cahill a warm embrace and then cuddles her mum and dad. There isn't a more popular winner than Halep. She manages to find her way back on to the court and looks to the sunny skies in thanks. The monkey is finally off her back. Simonaaaaa! You did it. So happy for you. Enjoy every second. You deserve this moment so much ��❤️ #RG18— Petra Kvitova (@Petra_Kvitova) June 9, 2018 4:16PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 Stephens* Here we go then. Halep lets out a deep sigh at winning the first point. But then nervously strikes long when well placed. A timely ace, her first of the match, is just what the doctor and her psychologist ordered but Stephens reels her in again for 30-all. Halep waits an age for a big overhead clearance to land. Halep stays strong to thwack a smash home and brings up championship point. She takes it. Stephens slaps a service return into the net. Halep has finally, finally won her first grand slam. Well done Simona. Her coach Darren Cahill can't quite believe it. He puts his hands on his head. Halep can't comprehend it either, placing both hands covering her face briefly before soaking up the adulation. GAME, SET AND MATCH: HALEP WINS FRENCH OPEN WITH 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 VICTORY OVER STEPHENS. 4:11PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 5-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh dear, dear. Stephens' level has dropped massively as she hands a free point for Halep for 0-30. She digs deep, fighting back for 30-all and then wins a third straight point with a backhand into the corner. Halep won't allow Stephens of a free game this set and draws back to deuce. Stephens swings a volley into the corner to edge to game point and as the clock passes the two-hour mark, Stephens finally gets on the board this set. 4:04PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 5-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Too many errors from Stephens now as Halep keeping her foot on the gas. She holds to 15. Stephens faces an uphill battle to get back into proceedings Credit: AP 4:02PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 4-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens looking exacerbated now as a failed drop shot lands lamely at the net. The unforced errors are creeping up for the American while Halep's dogged style is taking the Romanian closer to a first title. The 10th seed isn't ready yet to give up the fight as she digs in with a cross court winner for 30-15. But Halep isn't giving her rival any free points and making her work for everything and the errors still come. Halep misreads a slower second serve to miss a chance to set up break point but then hits an unbelievable backhand winner cross court which gets the crowd on Philippe Chatrier purring again. We're back to deuce. Halep gets a slice of luck with a clip of the tape to throw Stephens at the net. The American reacts, gets her racket on the high ball but can't get her return in the court. Halep has another break point here. Stephens pushes Halep to all corners again and how does the Romanian even stay in this incredible point? Both players advance to net, Halep managing to get an overhead and finally finding space to push home the winner. HALEP BREAKS. 3:55PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 3-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens trying to gee herself up by slapping her thigh trailing 30-0. The physical pep talk has worked in the short term, winning the next two points. Halep is more aggressive on the next point and the low ball is difficult for Stephens to retrieve. And at game point another lengthy rally ensues and Stephens blinks first. 'That's a play', shouts Bartoli in the ITV studio again. We know which way Bartoli wants this final to play out. 36 64 30 �� Halep has kept her head. She has kept her aggression. She has not gone away. And now she is amazingly 12 points from the title!���� #RG18pic.twitter.com/ZvL2ZtDDvP— Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) June 9, 2018 3:50PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 2-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Superb ball-striking from both players again as Stephens just misses a forehand when she was making them regularly during the first set. Pressure now as Halep moves to 15-30 up but Stephens keeps calm this time to deliver a brilliant forehand winner cross court. That was a big point. And here's a bigger one now. Stephens can't make a first serve. She gets a second one in but then throws in a sloppy forehand. Her level has massively dropped. Halep, break point now. She takes it. A punched deep forehand is too much for Stephens to get back. The momentum is all with Halep. HALEP BREAKS. 3:45PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 1-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Both players left the court at the end of the second set and we're into unchartered territory now as all seven of their head-to-heads haven't gone the distance before. All three of Halep's last grand slam finals went into a decider. At the start of the third and that break in action has worked to Stephens' advantage as she moves to 0-30. A brilliant backhand winner down the line draws Halep back to 30-all and nerves get the better of Stephens on the next point as she strikes long. Despite great defensive play from the 10th seed, Halep stays strong to see out the game. Sloane Stephens’ adjustment steps have slowed— bad sign when your opponent in the third set is Simona Halep. What a match @rolandgarros— Gerry Marzorati (@marzoTennis) June 9, 2018 3:36PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep stays positive, switching play from corner to corner and biding her time from the baseline. She gets a let off when Halep makes one stretch out wide and looks on as Stephens sends a forehand into the tramlines for 15-30. Stephens clenches her fist as a Halep groundstroke lands long. But she can't back it up as Halep's power and pace proves too hard to deal with. Halep brings up set point. And she takes it as Stephens hits into the tramlines. HALEP WINS SECOND SET TO LEVEL THE MATCH. 3:31PM Halep 3-6, 5-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep throws Stephens off balance by taking a forehand early and catching the American out on the baseline. Stephens stays strong during the next point, firing deep, so deep at the lines and piling further pressure on Halep at 30-all. Halep takes advantage as a ball rears up off the clay and takes the pace off Stephens' reply. Halep is on the short ball in a flash, striking a volley into the corner. Halep moves Stephens side-to-side before unleashing the winner and crucially Halep edges back in front this set. Halep battles against Stephens Credit: AFP 3:27PM Halep* 3-6, 4-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep looks to her corner with her arms extended out wide at missing one groundstroke. Stephens sends down her first ace of the match to establish a 30-0 advantage and then watches as Halep pushes long. That last game might be playing on the world No 1's mind. Stephens misses two game points, the second missing the line with a backhand. But she outlasts Halep during the next rally and we're back level for the set. 3:22PM Halep 3-6, 4-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens has woken back into action. A floating forehand on the line takes her to three break points and when Halep pushes long, we're back on serve this set. Halep will be kicking herself. That was lost far too quickly. STEPHENS BREAKS. 3:20PM Halep* 3-6, 4-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens stops the rot as she watches a Halep forehand land wide. The world No 1 stays focused on Stephens' backhand, whipping forehands out of the American's reach. Stephens digs deep for 30-all but then floats a tired groundstroke into the middle to hand Halep another break point. Another unforced error from Stephens hands Halep a second break this set. How quickly this match has turned. HALEP BREAKS. 3:15PM Halep 3-6, 3-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens' concentration levels have taken a hit. The momentum has shifted, Halep winning 10 of their last 11 points. Stephens' range is off now, a couple of unforced errors allowing Halep of edging ahead this set. Too soon? Wikipedia already has Sloane winning: https://t.co/yLIoTSBndh— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 9, 2018 3:12PM Halep* 3-6, 2-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Marion Bartoli on the ITV commentary is struggling with impartiality this afternoon. 'Go, go, go, go, go' she cries in encouragement to Halep to rush the net. The Romanian's revival gathers pace moving to 0-30 and drawing the American into an error. Now she has three break points this game to draw level this set. And she makes it as Stephens drags a forehand into the tramlines. HALEP BREAKS. 3:08PM Halep 3-6, 1-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens gives one mark a serious look as Halep edges to 30-15 and is finally starting to hurt the American will some deep hitting and solid net play. The Romanian's best chance is to cut short the points and rush the net where possible. A forehand down the line sets Halep up for moving into court and she duly dispatches the volley. Great play Halep. Halep keeps fighting against Stephens Credit: Getty Images 3:05PM Halep* 3-6, 0-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A drop in concentration now from Stephens as Halep moves to 0-30. Stephens composes herself passing Halep at the net and then getting a bit of fortune with a mishit forehand that lands flush on the line. Halep's head drops. From 30-0 down, Stephens completes the comeback with four straight points. That will hurt Halep. This performance from Sloane Stephens in a Slam final is the equal of those from all-time greats like Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova and Rafael Nadal. That good.— David Law (@DavidLawTennis) June 9, 2018 3:01PM Halep 3-6, 0-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep will be praying that Stephens' level drops soon. But it isn't. The American continues to work her magic, spraying unbelievable winners. One backhand down the line brings up two break points. She misses the first with a backhand error. Halep delivers a crucial first serve to blot the second. But Stephens has a third bite of the cherry now. Halep whips a forehand winner down the line to keep Stephens waiting. The American doesn't mind waiting. She's the patient kind. She demonstrates her ability to draw winners from all acute angles by setting up break point No 4 and this time she cheekily goes for a high ball as Halep moves into the net. The Romanian gets her racket to the ball but it flies wide. Stephens is playing unbelievable tennis. Why now? Halep must be thinking. Why now. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:53PM Halep* 3-6 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens' footwork behind the baseline and effortlessness moving side-to-side is mesmorising. Halep is finding the corners, but Stephens is retrieving everything thrown at her and asking further questions of Halep. One punching forehand flashes cross court at a zippy 90 mph for 30-15 but she blinks first during the next lengthy rally. Now she is breathing heavily as she lines up for her next service rotation. Halep toys with Stephens as another rally ensues, chasing down a drop shot and delivering her own drop which Stephens can't retrieve. It's a first break point for Halep. Anxiousness appears to get the better of her. She stands rigid in disbelief at missing that chance. Stephens composes herself to get back on track with decent serving to bring up set point. She takes it as her power is again too much for the world No 1. STEPHENS WINS THE FIRST SET 6-3 2:47PM Halep 3-5 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep working hard for every point and building some rhythm on her serve now. A strong hold to 30, the world No 1 steps into a short return to deliver her own forehand winner. More cries of 'Si-mon-a' ring round Chatrier. Stephens will be serving for the set. 2:43PM Halep* 2-5 Stephens (*denotes next server) A poorly-executed drop shot from Stephens coupled with sound defensive play behind the baseline work Halep to 15-30. Stephens runs round a backhand to strike a powerful forehand and deceives the world No 1 who anticipated Stephens going down the line at game point, only to be watch Stephens strike a forehand winner cross court. @SloaneStephens power AND her topspin is hurting Simo ... their movement is incredible but Sloane’s power is the difference and will be throughout. Only chance Simo has is if Sloane gets tight.— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 Stephens in fantastic form at the start of the opening set Credit: Reuters 2:38PM Halep 2-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Wow. Just when Halep looks to be in control of a rally, Stephens finds a winner at such a cute angle. It draws the American to 30-all and keeps the heat on Halep. The world No 1 isn't playing badly, but Stephens is hitting the lines quite perfectly so far. Halep makes an important hold when Stephens makes an uncharacteristic unforced error. 2:34PM Halep* 1-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh. My. Word! Halep is quite brilliant, brilliant terrier. She makes two ridiculous gets out wide which she has no right to retrieve to send everything back but then strikes an unforced error into the net. She stares down the net in disbelief. At 40-15 Halep fires a winner down the line and looks if to say 'is this what I have to do just to win a point?' Stephens, in true smoking a cigar, feet up style, gets over the night to cement the break. Women's final so far = (fire emoji)(fire emoji)(fire emoji).#RG18— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 9, 2018 2:29PM Halep 1-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Some fantastic tennis being played by both women now, working each other from side to side and creating the space to go for the kill. Halep moves into the court for the first time, smashing a sublime overhead deep into the corner for 30-all. But Stephens has some zip on a second service return to throw Halep at the baseline. It brings up a first break point for Stephens. And she makes it. Stephens does brilliantly to switch the play from down the line to cross court and it forces Halep to strike the middle. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:23PM Halep* 1-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A couple of long forehands from Halep allow Stephens to progress to 40-15. But the swirling wind is causing problems for both players and the American pushes one groundstroke behind the line to allow Halep to hang around in the game. The 10th seed stays on the front foot during the next rally and draws another error from Halep's forehand. It remains on serve. 2:19PM Halep 1-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Beautiful ball-striking from Stephens as the American strikes a clean forehand winner down the line after moving Halep at the baseline to create an opening. It's effortless from Stephens as she draws Halep wide to draw level at 30-all. Halep takes the crucial next point, relieved as Stephens' reply flies off the top of her racket. A cross court exchange during the next rally of 14 shots ends when Halep strikes into the tape. Cries of 'Simona' ring round at deuce. Stephens can't jump on a slower second serve but Halep finally holds when she outlasts Stephens during a brutal baseline duel. 2:13PM Halep* 0-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens opens up the final, watches a couple of service returns land long for 30-0. Halep drags a backhand into the tramlines but then gets a first point on the board when Stephens makes an unforced error. Stephens takes a comfortable hold with a backhand winner down the line. The American looks calm and focused early on as expected. 2:03PM Here they come Stephens, with headphones nestled in her ears, heads out to the Philippe Chatrier Court first. Halep follows and unsurprisingly draws a louder cheer from the crowd. Here she is! What Simona and Sloane are playing for today...#RG18pic.twitter.com/5Xq1GGbICc— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2018 1:56PM Getting to know Stephens Stephens' aloof and seemingly can't be bothered attitude hasn't won her too many additional followers and supporters in Paris. Our tennis correspondent Simon Briggs tweeted after Stephens' semi-final win over good friend Madison Keys that she looked like she would rather be "flossing her teeth" than giving her on-court interview. Her lack of French hasn't helped with making friends either. While many of the top level players have gone to great lengths to speak the local language at Roland Garros, Stephens has only uttered a tepid 'Merci Paris, je t'aime' in post-match discussions. Former player and American broadcaster Mary Carillo spent much time with Stephens last summer while working together at the Tennis Channel in the US. Carillo has offered a great insight into what Stephens is really like. She's not just the laid-back, unimpressed and unbothered individual she displays on the court. 1:39PM Halep's supporters Halep fans getting hyped outside Chatrier less an hour before the Women’s Final @rolandgarros ���� pic.twitter.com/uglLMFcyIl— Steve Weissman (@Steve_Weissman) June 9, 2018 1:33PM How will Halep cope with the pressure? Halep and Stephens have similar styles. Both glide around the back of the court, have an abundance of stamina and can switch from defence into attack. The biggest question mark hanging over Halep is the scar tissue of those defeats. When she came from a set down to beat Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals, Halep pointed her finger at her temple. She still has moments of anxiety and self doubt, but by and large she is starting to fix some of her self-inflicted issues. "She deals much better with pressure," 1978 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici who is also Halep's manager and the only woman from Romania to win a major. "The fact that she became No 1 has given her a different dimension, a different stature. She really deals with things better. Psychologically, she's also much better. ... And now she wants to win a Grand Slam. And now she says it. "Before, she didn't dare say it. Now she says it: 'I want to win a Grand Slam.'" Simona Halep, head in the game#RG18#Gettypic.twitter.com/70PQx2eI27— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 6, 2018 1:16PM Flashback to 2008 Halep shouldn't concern herself with the three grand slam finals lost but look back on a happy time when she was lifting the winners' trophy. Ten years ago, as ninth seed Halep won the junior girls' title beating compatriot Elena Bogdan in three sets. If the world No 1 prevails today, she would become the sixth player to win the women's singles title in Paris after winning the girls' title. The other five, you ask? Francoise Durr, Mima Jausovec, Hana Mandlikova, Jennifer Capriati and Justine Henin. Halep won the girls' title in Paris back in 2008 Credit: Getty Images 12:38PM Stephens' impeccable finals record Halep won't need reminding of Stephens' record in tournament finals. The American has proved herself a big-game player, most prominently during her charge to last year's US Open final where she became an unlikely champion so soon after returning from an 11-month injury lay-off. The 25-year-old's victory in Miami back in early April, was her sixth straight win from six finals. Of her impeccable form in finals, Stephens said in the lead up to today's showdown: "There is no formula. I didn't, like, try to do it. I'm not trying to break a record. It's just how it's happened for me." Halep has a mixed bag of results when it comes to finals - albeit competing in a far higher number than her rival. Stephens has won all six of her tournament finals Credit: Getty Images The Romanian is 16-14 overall but her experience hasn't helped her get over the line in the last 12 months. Halep has lost finals in Paris, Cincinnati, Beijing, Melbourne and Rome. Her only success was a smaller tournament in Shenzhen at the start of the year. Halep's 'always the bridesmaid never the bride' story makes her a favourite with neutral fans who are desperate to see the wounded 26-year-old put some painful defeats behind her and write a new chapter of positivity and success moving forward. 10:45AM And then there were two... Welcome all to coverage of the women's final at Roland Garros where Simona Halep looks to fulfil a career ambition of ending her grand slam drought by overcoming last year's US Open champion Sloane Stephens. Halep is well versed in the occasion of reaching the latter stages of a major, especially in Paris where she has won through to the final two other times in 2014 and last year, only to suffer defeat to Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko. This afternoon she must defy the brilliance and athleticism of American Stephens, who will be competing in her first final at Roland Garros, in order to get her hands on the Suzanne Lenglen cup. While the crowd are likely to get behind the world No 1 Halep, Stephens' nerveless approach to her game could prove a tough obstacle to clear. The Romanian has a superior head-to-head advantage, winning five of their seven battles - including winning all four of their last encounters. In fact Halep saw off the 10th seed Stephens during her run to the French Open final in 2014. If today's match goes to a third set, it will be the first time a decider has been required to determine the outcome of their battles. Who will you be supporting this afternoon and how do you see the final playing out? Vote in the poll below and send your thoughts to me at vicki.hodges@telegraph.co.uk
World No 1 Simona Halep finally broke her grand-slam jinx at Roland Garros, producing an unforgettable comeback to burn past the reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens on the home straight. The fans in Paris had watched Halep come up just short of the title here twice before, and they have developed a warm relationship with her. Court Philippe Chatrier was rocking in the third set as Halep pulled away, producing some absurd recovery shots to exhaust the waning Stephens further. At the close of her 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win, Halep accepted a leg-up from a courtside official and climbed up to her player box, where she embraced the three men who have stood consistently at her side through her climb up the world rankings: physio Andrei Cristofor, fitness trainer Teo Cercel and coach Darren Cahill. As the Telegraph reported, in a pre-tournament interview with Halep: “I have people around me who are friends and I feel like they are there forever.” This comeback was surely all the sweeter because Halep was thoroughly outplayed in the opening set. Stephens was so smooth and so resourceful, mixing booming topspin with flatter, faster strikes in a way that made her look – for 40 minutes or so – virtually unbeatable. The apparent rout continued into the early stages of the second, as Stephens broke again to lead 6-3, 2-0. The scoreline then was curiously similar to the lead that Halep had held over Jelena Ostapenko here 12 months ago. Halep celebrates winning the French Open Credit: AP Halep wound up as the frustrated party that day, backing off at just the wrong moment and allowing the free-swinging Ostapenko to surge to a shock win. But she is never more dangerous than when she is trailing, because that is when she loosens up and starts playing like a woman with nothing to lose. “I thought ‘Everything is gone. I just have to relax,’” said Halep afterwards, grinning her way through her on-court interview, as she remembered the key moment. The switch was partly spiritual, as she tapped into her deepest wells of tenacity. But it was also tactical, as she decided to use the whole area of the court for the first time, darting forward to the net whenever Stephens was pushed into deep defence. Commentating for ITV, the former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli began yelling: “That’s the play! That’s the play!” whenever Halep put away a winning volley. There is a huge amount of warmth towards Halep around the sport, as she conducts herself with real class at all times. If Halep found her best self in her moment of crisis, Stephens began to show signs of weariness. The match was only an hour old but Halep was setting a demanding pace and giving fewer and fewer freebies away as the match wore on. No fewer than 55 rallies exceeded nine shots, more than a third of the total points, which is an unusually high figure. The average speed of Stephens’ forehand, which had been doing so much damage, dropped from 77mph in the first set to 70mph in the second. Halep came from a set and break down to end Stephens' 100 per cent record in finals Credit: AFP The third set might look like a non-event on the scorecard but some of the rallies were extraordinary. And none more so than the point Halep won to go a double break ahead at 4-0. This was a 16-shot extravaganza in which she had to dig out a couple of desperate retrievals from the back of the court, then sprint up to the net to dink back a drop-shot, and finally backpedal to make that most awkward of putaways, the backhand overhead. When she finally edged Stephens out in that one, the usually sphinx-like Cahill jumped up off his seat and punched the air in the most uncharacteristic manner. Stephens would win only eight more points from that moment, as Halep finally finished the job with an unreturned serve, dropped her racket and put her hands over her face. Considering what she has been through to reach this point, she was surprisingly restrained in her celebrations, although she spoke eloquently afterwards. “I felt your support,” said Halep told the crowd, as she spoke to Bartoli afterwards. “In the last game I felt that I could not breathe any more, so I just tried not to repeat the last year. I did everything I could. It’s amazing what is happening now. Honestly I can’t believe it. I have been dreaming of this moment since I started to play tennis. I’m really happy that it’s happened in Roland Garros in Paris, my special city.” Halep has loved playing here ever since she won the junior event in 2008. She also took the time out to namecheck her compatriot Virginia Ruzici, who won the French Open 40 years ago and was watching from the stands. Halep won the junior title in 2008 Credit: AFP Messages of congratulation were now flooding in on social media from rivals like Petra Kvitova and Johanna Konta. Later Martina Navratilova – who recently hinted that she will be returning to Wimbledon for the BBC this summer on improved terms – would come up with a neat summation. “It wasn’t a monkey off her back; this was an 800lb gorilla.” The upshot is that this was the seventh straight women’s grand slam with a different winner. The tour is certainly open at the moment, after a sequence that began with Angelique Kerber in New York two years ago and continued through Serena Williams, Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and now Halep. Stephens shakes Halep's hand after losing the final Credit: AFP The one thing we are still waiting for is for anyone to show that they can put a sequence of results together to match what Williams and some of her 2000s rivals – the likes of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin – achieved at their peak. Yet if a straightforward narrative is hard to pull out of this unpredictable string of results, the women keep on throwing up quality matches, while the men have not produced an outstanding major tournament since Melbourne last year. In final analysis, Halep’s heartwarming victory was another good-news story for the WTA tour. 4:31PM Halep talks It's emotional to talk as the winner. I've been waiting for this moment since I was 14. I wanted this trophy to be here in France. Many congrats to Sloane. You have done a great job after those injuries. I'm sure you'll play many more finals in the future. Good luck and take care of your body. I wish in the future to play another final here. It's my favourite one. Thank you and see you next year. 4:29PM Stephens speaks It's been an incredible couple of weeks. It's not the trophy I wanted but it's still beautiful so thank you guys. To Simona, congratulations on your first slam. There's no one else I'd rather lose to than the world No 1. 4:28PM Halep the champion The world No 1 strides on to the mini stage assembled on Philippe Chatrier to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in relief and excitement in equal measure. The national anthem of Romanian is played out while Halep embraces the trophy. 4:26PM Sanchez Vicario hands out the trophies Arantxa Sanchez Vicario has the honour of handing out the runners-up plate and Suzanne Lenglen Cup this afternoon 20 years after her last Roland Garros title. 4:23PM A first time champion at Wimbledon awaits? Tears! Honestly tears!! Congratulations @Simona_Halep .... as a former player to see this moment is heartwarming! Three in a row 1st time slam winners....Sloane, Woz and Simo. Women’s tennis is hot!!— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 4:18PM Halep embraces Cahill in the stands The French Open champion is hoisted into the stands on Philippe Chatrier to give coach Cahill a warm embrace and then cuddles her mum and dad. There isn't a more popular winner than Halep. She manages to find her way back on to the court and looks to the sunny skies in thanks. The monkey is finally off her back. Simonaaaaa! You did it. So happy for you. Enjoy every second. You deserve this moment so much ��❤️ #RG18— Petra Kvitova (@Petra_Kvitova) June 9, 2018 4:16PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 Stephens* Here we go then. Halep lets out a deep sigh at winning the first point. But then nervously strikes long when well placed. A timely ace, her first of the match, is just what the doctor and her psychologist ordered but Stephens reels her in again for 30-all. Halep waits an age for a big overhead clearance to land. Halep stays strong to thwack a smash home and brings up championship point. She takes it. Stephens slaps a service return into the net. Halep has finally, finally won her first grand slam. Well done Simona. Her coach Darren Cahill can't quite believe it. He puts his hands on his head. Halep can't comprehend it either, placing both hands covering her face briefly before soaking up the adulation. GAME, SET AND MATCH: HALEP WINS FRENCH OPEN WITH 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 VICTORY OVER STEPHENS. 4:11PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 5-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh dear, dear. Stephens' level has dropped massively as she hands a free point for Halep for 0-30. She digs deep, fighting back for 30-all and then wins a third straight point with a backhand into the corner. Halep won't allow Stephens of a free game this set and draws back to deuce. Stephens swings a volley into the corner to edge to game point and as the clock passes the two-hour mark, Stephens finally gets on the board this set. 4:04PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 5-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Too many errors from Stephens now as Halep keeping her foot on the gas. She holds to 15. Stephens faces an uphill battle to get back into proceedings Credit: AP 4:02PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 4-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens looking exacerbated now as a failed drop shot lands lamely at the net. The unforced errors are creeping up for the American while Halep's dogged style is taking the Romanian closer to a first title. The 10th seed isn't ready yet to give up the fight as she digs in with a cross court winner for 30-15. But Halep isn't giving her rival any free points and making her work for everything and the errors still come. Halep misreads a slower second serve to miss a chance to set up break point but then hits an unbelievable backhand winner cross court which gets the crowd on Philippe Chatrier purring again. We're back to deuce. Halep gets a slice of luck with a clip of the tape to throw Stephens at the net. The American reacts, gets her racket on the high ball but can't get her return in the court. Halep has another break point here. Stephens pushes Halep to all corners again and how does the Romanian even stay in this incredible point? Both players advance to net, Halep managing to get an overhead and finally finding space to push home the winner. HALEP BREAKS. 3:55PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 3-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens trying to gee herself up by slapping her thigh trailing 30-0. The physical pep talk has worked in the short term, winning the next two points. Halep is more aggressive on the next point and the low ball is difficult for Stephens to retrieve. And at game point another lengthy rally ensues and Stephens blinks first. 'That's a play', shouts Bartoli in the ITV studio again. We know which way Bartoli wants this final to play out. 36 64 30 �� Halep has kept her head. She has kept her aggression. She has not gone away. And now she is amazingly 12 points from the title!���� #RG18pic.twitter.com/ZvL2ZtDDvP— Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) June 9, 2018 3:50PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 2-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Superb ball-striking from both players again as Stephens just misses a forehand when she was making them regularly during the first set. Pressure now as Halep moves to 15-30 up but Stephens keeps calm this time to deliver a brilliant forehand winner cross court. That was a big point. And here's a bigger one now. Stephens can't make a first serve. She gets a second one in but then throws in a sloppy forehand. Her level has massively dropped. Halep, break point now. She takes it. A punched deep forehand is too much for Stephens to get back. The momentum is all with Halep. HALEP BREAKS. 3:45PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 1-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Both players left the court at the end of the second set and we're into unchartered territory now as all seven of their head-to-heads haven't gone the distance before. All three of Halep's last grand slam finals went into a decider. At the start of the third and that break in action has worked to Stephens' advantage as she moves to 0-30. A brilliant backhand winner down the line draws Halep back to 30-all and nerves get the better of Stephens on the next point as she strikes long. Despite great defensive play from the 10th seed, Halep stays strong to see out the game. Sloane Stephens’ adjustment steps have slowed— bad sign when your opponent in the third set is Simona Halep. What a match @rolandgarros— Gerry Marzorati (@marzoTennis) June 9, 2018 3:36PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep stays positive, switching play from corner to corner and biding her time from the baseline. She gets a let off when Halep makes one stretch out wide and looks on as Stephens sends a forehand into the tramlines for 15-30. Stephens clenches her fist as a Halep groundstroke lands long. But she can't back it up as Halep's power and pace proves too hard to deal with. Halep brings up set point. And she takes it as Stephens hits into the tramlines. HALEP WINS SECOND SET TO LEVEL THE MATCH. 3:31PM Halep 3-6, 5-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep throws Stephens off balance by taking a forehand early and catching the American out on the baseline. Stephens stays strong during the next point, firing deep, so deep at the lines and piling further pressure on Halep at 30-all. Halep takes advantage as a ball rears up off the clay and takes the pace off Stephens' reply. Halep is on the short ball in a flash, striking a volley into the corner. Halep moves Stephens side-to-side before unleashing the winner and crucially Halep edges back in front this set. Halep battles against Stephens Credit: AFP 3:27PM Halep* 3-6, 4-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep looks to her corner with her arms extended out wide at missing one groundstroke. Stephens sends down her first ace of the match to establish a 30-0 advantage and then watches as Halep pushes long. That last game might be playing on the world No 1's mind. Stephens misses two game points, the second missing the line with a backhand. But she outlasts Halep during the next rally and we're back level for the set. 3:22PM Halep 3-6, 4-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens has woken back into action. A floating forehand on the line takes her to three break points and when Halep pushes long, we're back on serve this set. Halep will be kicking herself. That was lost far too quickly. STEPHENS BREAKS. 3:20PM Halep* 3-6, 4-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens stops the rot as she watches a Halep forehand land wide. The world No 1 stays focused on Stephens' backhand, whipping forehands out of the American's reach. Stephens digs deep for 30-all but then floats a tired groundstroke into the middle to hand Halep another break point. Another unforced error from Stephens hands Halep a second break this set. How quickly this match has turned. HALEP BREAKS. 3:15PM Halep 3-6, 3-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens' concentration levels have taken a hit. The momentum has shifted, Halep winning 10 of their last 11 points. Stephens' range is off now, a couple of unforced errors allowing Halep of edging ahead this set. Too soon? Wikipedia already has Sloane winning: https://t.co/yLIoTSBndh— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 9, 2018 3:12PM Halep* 3-6, 2-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Marion Bartoli on the ITV commentary is struggling with impartiality this afternoon. 'Go, go, go, go, go' she cries in encouragement to Halep to rush the net. The Romanian's revival gathers pace moving to 0-30 and drawing the American into an error. Now she has three break points this game to draw level this set. And she makes it as Stephens drags a forehand into the tramlines. HALEP BREAKS. 3:08PM Halep 3-6, 1-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens gives one mark a serious look as Halep edges to 30-15 and is finally starting to hurt the American will some deep hitting and solid net play. The Romanian's best chance is to cut short the points and rush the net where possible. A forehand down the line sets Halep up for moving into court and she duly dispatches the volley. Great play Halep. Halep keeps fighting against Stephens Credit: Getty Images 3:05PM Halep* 3-6, 0-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A drop in concentration now from Stephens as Halep moves to 0-30. Stephens composes herself passing Halep at the net and then getting a bit of fortune with a mishit forehand that lands flush on the line. Halep's head drops. From 30-0 down, Stephens completes the comeback with four straight points. That will hurt Halep. This performance from Sloane Stephens in a Slam final is the equal of those from all-time greats like Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova and Rafael Nadal. That good.— David Law (@DavidLawTennis) June 9, 2018 3:01PM Halep 3-6, 0-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep will be praying that Stephens' level drops soon. But it isn't. The American continues to work her magic, spraying unbelievable winners. One backhand down the line brings up two break points. She misses the first with a backhand error. Halep delivers a crucial first serve to blot the second. But Stephens has a third bite of the cherry now. Halep whips a forehand winner down the line to keep Stephens waiting. The American doesn't mind waiting. She's the patient kind. She demonstrates her ability to draw winners from all acute angles by setting up break point No 4 and this time she cheekily goes for a high ball as Halep moves into the net. The Romanian gets her racket to the ball but it flies wide. Stephens is playing unbelievable tennis. Why now? Halep must be thinking. Why now. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:53PM Halep* 3-6 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens' footwork behind the baseline and effortlessness moving side-to-side is mesmorising. Halep is finding the corners, but Stephens is retrieving everything thrown at her and asking further questions of Halep. One punching forehand flashes cross court at a zippy 90 mph for 30-15 but she blinks first during the next lengthy rally. Now she is breathing heavily as she lines up for her next service rotation. Halep toys with Stephens as another rally ensues, chasing down a drop shot and delivering her own drop which Stephens can't retrieve. It's a first break point for Halep. Anxiousness appears to get the better of her. She stands rigid in disbelief at missing that chance. Stephens composes herself to get back on track with decent serving to bring up set point. She takes it as her power is again too much for the world No 1. STEPHENS WINS THE FIRST SET 6-3 2:47PM Halep 3-5 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep working hard for every point and building some rhythm on her serve now. A strong hold to 30, the world No 1 steps into a short return to deliver her own forehand winner. More cries of 'Si-mon-a' ring round Chatrier. Stephens will be serving for the set. 2:43PM Halep* 2-5 Stephens (*denotes next server) A poorly-executed drop shot from Stephens coupled with sound defensive play behind the baseline work Halep to 15-30. Stephens runs round a backhand to strike a powerful forehand and deceives the world No 1 who anticipated Stephens going down the line at game point, only to be watch Stephens strike a forehand winner cross court. @SloaneStephens power AND her topspin is hurting Simo ... their movement is incredible but Sloane’s power is the difference and will be throughout. Only chance Simo has is if Sloane gets tight.— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 Stephens in fantastic form at the start of the opening set Credit: Reuters 2:38PM Halep 2-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Wow. Just when Halep looks to be in control of a rally, Stephens finds a winner at such a cute angle. It draws the American to 30-all and keeps the heat on Halep. The world No 1 isn't playing badly, but Stephens is hitting the lines quite perfectly so far. Halep makes an important hold when Stephens makes an uncharacteristic unforced error. 2:34PM Halep* 1-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh. My. Word! Halep is quite brilliant, brilliant terrier. She makes two ridiculous gets out wide which she has no right to retrieve to send everything back but then strikes an unforced error into the net. She stares down the net in disbelief. At 40-15 Halep fires a winner down the line and looks if to say 'is this what I have to do just to win a point?' Stephens, in true smoking a cigar, feet up style, gets over the night to cement the break. Women's final so far = (fire emoji)(fire emoji)(fire emoji).#RG18— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 9, 2018 2:29PM Halep 1-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Some fantastic tennis being played by both women now, working each other from side to side and creating the space to go for the kill. Halep moves into the court for the first time, smashing a sublime overhead deep into the corner for 30-all. But Stephens has some zip on a second service return to throw Halep at the baseline. It brings up a first break point for Stephens. And she makes it. Stephens does brilliantly to switch the play from down the line to cross court and it forces Halep to strike the middle. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:23PM Halep* 1-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A couple of long forehands from Halep allow Stephens to progress to 40-15. But the swirling wind is causing problems for both players and the American pushes one groundstroke behind the line to allow Halep to hang around in the game. The 10th seed stays on the front foot during the next rally and draws another error from Halep's forehand. It remains on serve. 2:19PM Halep 1-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Beautiful ball-striking from Stephens as the American strikes a clean forehand winner down the line after moving Halep at the baseline to create an opening. It's effortless from Stephens as she draws Halep wide to draw level at 30-all. Halep takes the crucial next point, relieved as Stephens' reply flies off the top of her racket. A cross court exchange during the next rally of 14 shots ends when Halep strikes into the tape. Cries of 'Simona' ring round at deuce. Stephens can't jump on a slower second serve but Halep finally holds when she outlasts Stephens during a brutal baseline duel. 2:13PM Halep* 0-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens opens up the final, watches a couple of service returns land long for 30-0. Halep drags a backhand into the tramlines but then gets a first point on the board when Stephens makes an unforced error. Stephens takes a comfortable hold with a backhand winner down the line. The American looks calm and focused early on as expected. 2:03PM Here they come Stephens, with headphones nestled in her ears, heads out to the Philippe Chatrier Court first. Halep follows and unsurprisingly draws a louder cheer from the crowd. Here she is! What Simona and Sloane are playing for today...#RG18pic.twitter.com/5Xq1GGbICc— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2018 1:56PM Getting to know Stephens Stephens' aloof and seemingly can't be bothered attitude hasn't won her too many additional followers and supporters in Paris. Our tennis correspondent Simon Briggs tweeted after Stephens' semi-final win over good friend Madison Keys that she looked like she would rather be "flossing her teeth" than giving her on-court interview. Her lack of French hasn't helped with making friends either. While many of the top level players have gone to great lengths to speak the local language at Roland Garros, Stephens has only uttered a tepid 'Merci Paris, je t'aime' in post-match discussions. Former player and American broadcaster Mary Carillo spent much time with Stephens last summer while working together at the Tennis Channel in the US. Carillo has offered a great insight into what Stephens is really like. She's not just the laid-back, unimpressed and unbothered individual she displays on the court. 1:39PM Halep's supporters Halep fans getting hyped outside Chatrier less an hour before the Women’s Final @rolandgarros ���� pic.twitter.com/uglLMFcyIl— Steve Weissman (@Steve_Weissman) June 9, 2018 1:33PM How will Halep cope with the pressure? Halep and Stephens have similar styles. Both glide around the back of the court, have an abundance of stamina and can switch from defence into attack. The biggest question mark hanging over Halep is the scar tissue of those defeats. When she came from a set down to beat Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals, Halep pointed her finger at her temple. She still has moments of anxiety and self doubt, but by and large she is starting to fix some of her self-inflicted issues. "She deals much better with pressure," 1978 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici who is also Halep's manager and the only woman from Romania to win a major. "The fact that she became No 1 has given her a different dimension, a different stature. She really deals with things better. Psychologically, she's also much better. ... And now she wants to win a Grand Slam. And now she says it. "Before, she didn't dare say it. Now she says it: 'I want to win a Grand Slam.'" Simona Halep, head in the game#RG18#Gettypic.twitter.com/70PQx2eI27— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 6, 2018 1:16PM Flashback to 2008 Halep shouldn't concern herself with the three grand slam finals lost but look back on a happy time when she was lifting the winners' trophy. Ten years ago, as ninth seed Halep won the junior girls' title beating compatriot Elena Bogdan in three sets. If the world No 1 prevails today, she would become the sixth player to win the women's singles title in Paris after winning the girls' title. The other five, you ask? Francoise Durr, Mima Jausovec, Hana Mandlikova, Jennifer Capriati and Justine Henin. Halep won the girls' title in Paris back in 2008 Credit: Getty Images 12:38PM Stephens' impeccable finals record Halep won't need reminding of Stephens' record in tournament finals. The American has proved herself a big-game player, most prominently during her charge to last year's US Open final where she became an unlikely champion so soon after returning from an 11-month injury lay-off. The 25-year-old's victory in Miami back in early April, was her sixth straight win from six finals. Of her impeccable form in finals, Stephens said in the lead up to today's showdown: "There is no formula. I didn't, like, try to do it. I'm not trying to break a record. It's just how it's happened for me." Halep has a mixed bag of results when it comes to finals - albeit competing in a far higher number than her rival. Stephens has won all six of her tournament finals Credit: Getty Images The Romanian is 16-14 overall but her experience hasn't helped her get over the line in the last 12 months. Halep has lost finals in Paris, Cincinnati, Beijing, Melbourne and Rome. Her only success was a smaller tournament in Shenzhen at the start of the year. Halep's 'always the bridesmaid never the bride' story makes her a favourite with neutral fans who are desperate to see the wounded 26-year-old put some painful defeats behind her and write a new chapter of positivity and success moving forward. 10:45AM And then there were two... Welcome all to coverage of the women's final at Roland Garros where Simona Halep looks to fulfil a career ambition of ending her grand slam drought by overcoming last year's US Open champion Sloane Stephens. Halep is well versed in the occasion of reaching the latter stages of a major, especially in Paris where she has won through to the final two other times in 2014 and last year, only to suffer defeat to Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko. This afternoon she must defy the brilliance and athleticism of American Stephens, who will be competing in her first final at Roland Garros, in order to get her hands on the Suzanne Lenglen cup. While the crowd are likely to get behind the world No 1 Halep, Stephens' nerveless approach to her game could prove a tough obstacle to clear. The Romanian has a superior head-to-head advantage, winning five of their seven battles - including winning all four of their last encounters. In fact Halep saw off the 10th seed Stephens during her run to the French Open final in 2014. If today's match goes to a third set, it will be the first time a decider has been required to determine the outcome of their battles. Who will you be supporting this afternoon and how do you see the final playing out? Vote in the poll below and send your thoughts to me at vicki.hodges@telegraph.co.uk
Simona Halep fights back from set and break down to end grand slam drought in Paris
World No 1 Simona Halep finally broke her grand-slam jinx at Roland Garros, producing an unforgettable comeback to burn past the reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens on the home straight. The fans in Paris had watched Halep come up just short of the title here twice before, and they have developed a warm relationship with her. Court Philippe Chatrier was rocking in the third set as Halep pulled away, producing some absurd recovery shots to exhaust the waning Stephens further. At the close of her 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win, Halep accepted a leg-up from a courtside official and climbed up to her player box, where she embraced the three men who have stood consistently at her side through her climb up the world rankings: physio Andrei Cristofor, fitness trainer Teo Cercel and coach Darren Cahill. As the Telegraph reported, in a pre-tournament interview with Halep: “I have people around me who are friends and I feel like they are there forever.” This comeback was surely all the sweeter because Halep was thoroughly outplayed in the opening set. Stephens was so smooth and so resourceful, mixing booming topspin with flatter, faster strikes in a way that made her look – for 40 minutes or so – virtually unbeatable. The apparent rout continued into the early stages of the second, as Stephens broke again to lead 6-3, 2-0. The scoreline then was curiously similar to the lead that Halep had held over Jelena Ostapenko here 12 months ago. Halep celebrates winning the French Open Credit: AP Halep wound up as the frustrated party that day, backing off at just the wrong moment and allowing the free-swinging Ostapenko to surge to a shock win. But she is never more dangerous than when she is trailing, because that is when she loosens up and starts playing like a woman with nothing to lose. “I thought ‘Everything is gone. I just have to relax,’” said Halep afterwards, grinning her way through her on-court interview, as she remembered the key moment. The switch was partly spiritual, as she tapped into her deepest wells of tenacity. But it was also tactical, as she decided to use the whole area of the court for the first time, darting forward to the net whenever Stephens was pushed into deep defence. Commentating for ITV, the former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli began yelling: “That’s the play! That’s the play!” whenever Halep put away a winning volley. There is a huge amount of warmth towards Halep around the sport, as she conducts herself with real class at all times. If Halep found her best self in her moment of crisis, Stephens began to show signs of weariness. The match was only an hour old but Halep was setting a demanding pace and giving fewer and fewer freebies away as the match wore on. No fewer than 55 rallies exceeded nine shots, more than a third of the total points, which is an unusually high figure. The average speed of Stephens’ forehand, which had been doing so much damage, dropped from 77mph in the first set to 70mph in the second. Halep came from a set and break down to end Stephens' 100 per cent record in finals Credit: AFP The third set might look like a non-event on the scorecard but some of the rallies were extraordinary. And none more so than the point Halep won to go a double break ahead at 4-0. This was a 16-shot extravaganza in which she had to dig out a couple of desperate retrievals from the back of the court, then sprint up to the net to dink back a drop-shot, and finally backpedal to make that most awkward of putaways, the backhand overhead. When she finally edged Stephens out in that one, the usually sphinx-like Cahill jumped up off his seat and punched the air in the most uncharacteristic manner. Stephens would win only eight more points from that moment, as Halep finally finished the job with an unreturned serve, dropped her racket and put her hands over her face. Considering what she has been through to reach this point, she was surprisingly restrained in her celebrations, although she spoke eloquently afterwards. “I felt your support,” said Halep told the crowd, as she spoke to Bartoli afterwards. “In the last game I felt that I could not breathe any more, so I just tried not to repeat the last year. I did everything I could. It’s amazing what is happening now. Honestly I can’t believe it. I have been dreaming of this moment since I started to play tennis. I’m really happy that it’s happened in Roland Garros in Paris, my special city.” Halep has loved playing here ever since she won the junior event in 2008. She also took the time out to namecheck her compatriot Virginia Ruzici, who won the French Open 40 years ago and was watching from the stands. Halep won the junior title in 2008 Credit: AFP Messages of congratulation were now flooding in on social media from rivals like Petra Kvitova and Johanna Konta. Later Martina Navratilova – who recently hinted that she will be returning to Wimbledon for the BBC this summer on improved terms – would come up with a neat summation. “It wasn’t a monkey off her back; this was an 800lb gorilla.” The upshot is that this was the seventh straight women’s grand slam with a different winner. The tour is certainly open at the moment, after a sequence that began with Angelique Kerber in New York two years ago and continued through Serena Williams, Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and now Halep. Stephens shakes Halep's hand after losing the final Credit: AFP The one thing we are still waiting for is for anyone to show that they can put a sequence of results together to match what Williams and some of her 2000s rivals – the likes of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin – achieved at their peak. Yet if a straightforward narrative is hard to pull out of this unpredictable string of results, the women keep on throwing up quality matches, while the men have not produced an outstanding major tournament since Melbourne last year. In final analysis, Halep’s heartwarming victory was another good-news story for the WTA tour. 4:31PM Halep talks It's emotional to talk as the winner. I've been waiting for this moment since I was 14. I wanted this trophy to be here in France. Many congrats to Sloane. You have done a great job after those injuries. I'm sure you'll play many more finals in the future. Good luck and take care of your body. I wish in the future to play another final here. It's my favourite one. Thank you and see you next year. 4:29PM Stephens speaks It's been an incredible couple of weeks. It's not the trophy I wanted but it's still beautiful so thank you guys. To Simona, congratulations on your first slam. There's no one else I'd rather lose to than the world No 1. 4:28PM Halep the champion The world No 1 strides on to the mini stage assembled on Philippe Chatrier to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in relief and excitement in equal measure. The national anthem of Romanian is played out while Halep embraces the trophy. 4:26PM Sanchez Vicario hands out the trophies Arantxa Sanchez Vicario has the honour of handing out the runners-up plate and Suzanne Lenglen Cup this afternoon 20 years after her last Roland Garros title. 4:23PM A first time champion at Wimbledon awaits? Tears! Honestly tears!! Congratulations @Simona_Halep .... as a former player to see this moment is heartwarming! Three in a row 1st time slam winners....Sloane, Woz and Simo. Women’s tennis is hot!!— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 4:18PM Halep embraces Cahill in the stands The French Open champion is hoisted into the stands on Philippe Chatrier to give coach Cahill a warm embrace and then cuddles her mum and dad. There isn't a more popular winner than Halep. She manages to find her way back on to the court and looks to the sunny skies in thanks. The monkey is finally off her back. Simonaaaaa! You did it. So happy for you. Enjoy every second. You deserve this moment so much ��❤️ #RG18— Petra Kvitova (@Petra_Kvitova) June 9, 2018 4:16PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 Stephens* Here we go then. Halep lets out a deep sigh at winning the first point. But then nervously strikes long when well placed. A timely ace, her first of the match, is just what the doctor and her psychologist ordered but Stephens reels her in again for 30-all. Halep waits an age for a big overhead clearance to land. Halep stays strong to thwack a smash home and brings up championship point. She takes it. Stephens slaps a service return into the net. Halep has finally, finally won her first grand slam. Well done Simona. Her coach Darren Cahill can't quite believe it. He puts his hands on his head. Halep can't comprehend it either, placing both hands covering her face briefly before soaking up the adulation. GAME, SET AND MATCH: HALEP WINS FRENCH OPEN WITH 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 VICTORY OVER STEPHENS. 4:11PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 5-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh dear, dear. Stephens' level has dropped massively as she hands a free point for Halep for 0-30. She digs deep, fighting back for 30-all and then wins a third straight point with a backhand into the corner. Halep won't allow Stephens of a free game this set and draws back to deuce. Stephens swings a volley into the corner to edge to game point and as the clock passes the two-hour mark, Stephens finally gets on the board this set. 4:04PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 5-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Too many errors from Stephens now as Halep keeping her foot on the gas. She holds to 15. Stephens faces an uphill battle to get back into proceedings Credit: AP 4:02PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 4-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens looking exacerbated now as a failed drop shot lands lamely at the net. The unforced errors are creeping up for the American while Halep's dogged style is taking the Romanian closer to a first title. The 10th seed isn't ready yet to give up the fight as she digs in with a cross court winner for 30-15. But Halep isn't giving her rival any free points and making her work for everything and the errors still come. Halep misreads a slower second serve to miss a chance to set up break point but then hits an unbelievable backhand winner cross court which gets the crowd on Philippe Chatrier purring again. We're back to deuce. Halep gets a slice of luck with a clip of the tape to throw Stephens at the net. The American reacts, gets her racket on the high ball but can't get her return in the court. Halep has another break point here. Stephens pushes Halep to all corners again and how does the Romanian even stay in this incredible point? Both players advance to net, Halep managing to get an overhead and finally finding space to push home the winner. HALEP BREAKS. 3:55PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 3-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens trying to gee herself up by slapping her thigh trailing 30-0. The physical pep talk has worked in the short term, winning the next two points. Halep is more aggressive on the next point and the low ball is difficult for Stephens to retrieve. And at game point another lengthy rally ensues and Stephens blinks first. 'That's a play', shouts Bartoli in the ITV studio again. We know which way Bartoli wants this final to play out. 36 64 30 �� Halep has kept her head. She has kept her aggression. She has not gone away. And now she is amazingly 12 points from the title!���� #RG18pic.twitter.com/ZvL2ZtDDvP— Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) June 9, 2018 3:50PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 2-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Superb ball-striking from both players again as Stephens just misses a forehand when she was making them regularly during the first set. Pressure now as Halep moves to 15-30 up but Stephens keeps calm this time to deliver a brilliant forehand winner cross court. That was a big point. And here's a bigger one now. Stephens can't make a first serve. She gets a second one in but then throws in a sloppy forehand. Her level has massively dropped. Halep, break point now. She takes it. A punched deep forehand is too much for Stephens to get back. The momentum is all with Halep. HALEP BREAKS. 3:45PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 1-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Both players left the court at the end of the second set and we're into unchartered territory now as all seven of their head-to-heads haven't gone the distance before. All three of Halep's last grand slam finals went into a decider. At the start of the third and that break in action has worked to Stephens' advantage as she moves to 0-30. A brilliant backhand winner down the line draws Halep back to 30-all and nerves get the better of Stephens on the next point as she strikes long. Despite great defensive play from the 10th seed, Halep stays strong to see out the game. Sloane Stephens’ adjustment steps have slowed— bad sign when your opponent in the third set is Simona Halep. What a match @rolandgarros— Gerry Marzorati (@marzoTennis) June 9, 2018 3:36PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep stays positive, switching play from corner to corner and biding her time from the baseline. She gets a let off when Halep makes one stretch out wide and looks on as Stephens sends a forehand into the tramlines for 15-30. Stephens clenches her fist as a Halep groundstroke lands long. But she can't back it up as Halep's power and pace proves too hard to deal with. Halep brings up set point. And she takes it as Stephens hits into the tramlines. HALEP WINS SECOND SET TO LEVEL THE MATCH. 3:31PM Halep 3-6, 5-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep throws Stephens off balance by taking a forehand early and catching the American out on the baseline. Stephens stays strong during the next point, firing deep, so deep at the lines and piling further pressure on Halep at 30-all. Halep takes advantage as a ball rears up off the clay and takes the pace off Stephens' reply. Halep is on the short ball in a flash, striking a volley into the corner. Halep moves Stephens side-to-side before unleashing the winner and crucially Halep edges back in front this set. Halep battles against Stephens Credit: AFP 3:27PM Halep* 3-6, 4-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep looks to her corner with her arms extended out wide at missing one groundstroke. Stephens sends down her first ace of the match to establish a 30-0 advantage and then watches as Halep pushes long. That last game might be playing on the world No 1's mind. Stephens misses two game points, the second missing the line with a backhand. But she outlasts Halep during the next rally and we're back level for the set. 3:22PM Halep 3-6, 4-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens has woken back into action. A floating forehand on the line takes her to three break points and when Halep pushes long, we're back on serve this set. Halep will be kicking herself. That was lost far too quickly. STEPHENS BREAKS. 3:20PM Halep* 3-6, 4-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens stops the rot as she watches a Halep forehand land wide. The world No 1 stays focused on Stephens' backhand, whipping forehands out of the American's reach. Stephens digs deep for 30-all but then floats a tired groundstroke into the middle to hand Halep another break point. Another unforced error from Stephens hands Halep a second break this set. How quickly this match has turned. HALEP BREAKS. 3:15PM Halep 3-6, 3-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens' concentration levels have taken a hit. The momentum has shifted, Halep winning 10 of their last 11 points. Stephens' range is off now, a couple of unforced errors allowing Halep of edging ahead this set. Too soon? Wikipedia already has Sloane winning: https://t.co/yLIoTSBndh— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 9, 2018 3:12PM Halep* 3-6, 2-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Marion Bartoli on the ITV commentary is struggling with impartiality this afternoon. 'Go, go, go, go, go' she cries in encouragement to Halep to rush the net. The Romanian's revival gathers pace moving to 0-30 and drawing the American into an error. Now she has three break points this game to draw level this set. And she makes it as Stephens drags a forehand into the tramlines. HALEP BREAKS. 3:08PM Halep 3-6, 1-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens gives one mark a serious look as Halep edges to 30-15 and is finally starting to hurt the American will some deep hitting and solid net play. The Romanian's best chance is to cut short the points and rush the net where possible. A forehand down the line sets Halep up for moving into court and she duly dispatches the volley. Great play Halep. Halep keeps fighting against Stephens Credit: Getty Images 3:05PM Halep* 3-6, 0-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A drop in concentration now from Stephens as Halep moves to 0-30. Stephens composes herself passing Halep at the net and then getting a bit of fortune with a mishit forehand that lands flush on the line. Halep's head drops. From 30-0 down, Stephens completes the comeback with four straight points. That will hurt Halep. This performance from Sloane Stephens in a Slam final is the equal of those from all-time greats like Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova and Rafael Nadal. That good.— David Law (@DavidLawTennis) June 9, 2018 3:01PM Halep 3-6, 0-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep will be praying that Stephens' level drops soon. But it isn't. The American continues to work her magic, spraying unbelievable winners. One backhand down the line brings up two break points. She misses the first with a backhand error. Halep delivers a crucial first serve to blot the second. But Stephens has a third bite of the cherry now. Halep whips a forehand winner down the line to keep Stephens waiting. The American doesn't mind waiting. She's the patient kind. She demonstrates her ability to draw winners from all acute angles by setting up break point No 4 and this time she cheekily goes for a high ball as Halep moves into the net. The Romanian gets her racket to the ball but it flies wide. Stephens is playing unbelievable tennis. Why now? Halep must be thinking. Why now. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:53PM Halep* 3-6 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens' footwork behind the baseline and effortlessness moving side-to-side is mesmorising. Halep is finding the corners, but Stephens is retrieving everything thrown at her and asking further questions of Halep. One punching forehand flashes cross court at a zippy 90 mph for 30-15 but she blinks first during the next lengthy rally. Now she is breathing heavily as she lines up for her next service rotation. Halep toys with Stephens as another rally ensues, chasing down a drop shot and delivering her own drop which Stephens can't retrieve. It's a first break point for Halep. Anxiousness appears to get the better of her. She stands rigid in disbelief at missing that chance. Stephens composes herself to get back on track with decent serving to bring up set point. She takes it as her power is again too much for the world No 1. STEPHENS WINS THE FIRST SET 6-3 2:47PM Halep 3-5 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep working hard for every point and building some rhythm on her serve now. A strong hold to 30, the world No 1 steps into a short return to deliver her own forehand winner. More cries of 'Si-mon-a' ring round Chatrier. Stephens will be serving for the set. 2:43PM Halep* 2-5 Stephens (*denotes next server) A poorly-executed drop shot from Stephens coupled with sound defensive play behind the baseline work Halep to 15-30. Stephens runs round a backhand to strike a powerful forehand and deceives the world No 1 who anticipated Stephens going down the line at game point, only to be watch Stephens strike a forehand winner cross court. @SloaneStephens power AND her topspin is hurting Simo ... their movement is incredible but Sloane’s power is the difference and will be throughout. Only chance Simo has is if Sloane gets tight.— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 Stephens in fantastic form at the start of the opening set Credit: Reuters 2:38PM Halep 2-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Wow. Just when Halep looks to be in control of a rally, Stephens finds a winner at such a cute angle. It draws the American to 30-all and keeps the heat on Halep. The world No 1 isn't playing badly, but Stephens is hitting the lines quite perfectly so far. Halep makes an important hold when Stephens makes an uncharacteristic unforced error. 2:34PM Halep* 1-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh. My. Word! Halep is quite brilliant, brilliant terrier. She makes two ridiculous gets out wide which she has no right to retrieve to send everything back but then strikes an unforced error into the net. She stares down the net in disbelief. At 40-15 Halep fires a winner down the line and looks if to say 'is this what I have to do just to win a point?' Stephens, in true smoking a cigar, feet up style, gets over the night to cement the break. Women's final so far = (fire emoji)(fire emoji)(fire emoji).#RG18— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 9, 2018 2:29PM Halep 1-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Some fantastic tennis being played by both women now, working each other from side to side and creating the space to go for the kill. Halep moves into the court for the first time, smashing a sublime overhead deep into the corner for 30-all. But Stephens has some zip on a second service return to throw Halep at the baseline. It brings up a first break point for Stephens. And she makes it. Stephens does brilliantly to switch the play from down the line to cross court and it forces Halep to strike the middle. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:23PM Halep* 1-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A couple of long forehands from Halep allow Stephens to progress to 40-15. But the swirling wind is causing problems for both players and the American pushes one groundstroke behind the line to allow Halep to hang around in the game. The 10th seed stays on the front foot during the next rally and draws another error from Halep's forehand. It remains on serve. 2:19PM Halep 1-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Beautiful ball-striking from Stephens as the American strikes a clean forehand winner down the line after moving Halep at the baseline to create an opening. It's effortless from Stephens as she draws Halep wide to draw level at 30-all. Halep takes the crucial next point, relieved as Stephens' reply flies off the top of her racket. A cross court exchange during the next rally of 14 shots ends when Halep strikes into the tape. Cries of 'Simona' ring round at deuce. Stephens can't jump on a slower second serve but Halep finally holds when she outlasts Stephens during a brutal baseline duel. 2:13PM Halep* 0-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens opens up the final, watches a couple of service returns land long for 30-0. Halep drags a backhand into the tramlines but then gets a first point on the board when Stephens makes an unforced error. Stephens takes a comfortable hold with a backhand winner down the line. The American looks calm and focused early on as expected. 2:03PM Here they come Stephens, with headphones nestled in her ears, heads out to the Philippe Chatrier Court first. Halep follows and unsurprisingly draws a louder cheer from the crowd. Here she is! What Simona and Sloane are playing for today...#RG18pic.twitter.com/5Xq1GGbICc— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2018 1:56PM Getting to know Stephens Stephens' aloof and seemingly can't be bothered attitude hasn't won her too many additional followers and supporters in Paris. Our tennis correspondent Simon Briggs tweeted after Stephens' semi-final win over good friend Madison Keys that she looked like she would rather be "flossing her teeth" than giving her on-court interview. Her lack of French hasn't helped with making friends either. While many of the top level players have gone to great lengths to speak the local language at Roland Garros, Stephens has only uttered a tepid 'Merci Paris, je t'aime' in post-match discussions. Former player and American broadcaster Mary Carillo spent much time with Stephens last summer while working together at the Tennis Channel in the US. Carillo has offered a great insight into what Stephens is really like. She's not just the laid-back, unimpressed and unbothered individual she displays on the court. 1:39PM Halep's supporters Halep fans getting hyped outside Chatrier less an hour before the Women’s Final @rolandgarros ���� pic.twitter.com/uglLMFcyIl— Steve Weissman (@Steve_Weissman) June 9, 2018 1:33PM How will Halep cope with the pressure? Halep and Stephens have similar styles. Both glide around the back of the court, have an abundance of stamina and can switch from defence into attack. The biggest question mark hanging over Halep is the scar tissue of those defeats. When she came from a set down to beat Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals, Halep pointed her finger at her temple. She still has moments of anxiety and self doubt, but by and large she is starting to fix some of her self-inflicted issues. "She deals much better with pressure," 1978 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici who is also Halep's manager and the only woman from Romania to win a major. "The fact that she became No 1 has given her a different dimension, a different stature. She really deals with things better. Psychologically, she's also much better. ... And now she wants to win a Grand Slam. And now she says it. "Before, she didn't dare say it. Now she says it: 'I want to win a Grand Slam.'" Simona Halep, head in the game#RG18#Gettypic.twitter.com/70PQx2eI27— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 6, 2018 1:16PM Flashback to 2008 Halep shouldn't concern herself with the three grand slam finals lost but look back on a happy time when she was lifting the winners' trophy. Ten years ago, as ninth seed Halep won the junior girls' title beating compatriot Elena Bogdan in three sets. If the world No 1 prevails today, she would become the sixth player to win the women's singles title in Paris after winning the girls' title. The other five, you ask? Francoise Durr, Mima Jausovec, Hana Mandlikova, Jennifer Capriati and Justine Henin. Halep won the girls' title in Paris back in 2008 Credit: Getty Images 12:38PM Stephens' impeccable finals record Halep won't need reminding of Stephens' record in tournament finals. The American has proved herself a big-game player, most prominently during her charge to last year's US Open final where she became an unlikely champion so soon after returning from an 11-month injury lay-off. The 25-year-old's victory in Miami back in early April, was her sixth straight win from six finals. Of her impeccable form in finals, Stephens said in the lead up to today's showdown: "There is no formula. I didn't, like, try to do it. I'm not trying to break a record. It's just how it's happened for me." Halep has a mixed bag of results when it comes to finals - albeit competing in a far higher number than her rival. Stephens has won all six of her tournament finals Credit: Getty Images The Romanian is 16-14 overall but her experience hasn't helped her get over the line in the last 12 months. Halep has lost finals in Paris, Cincinnati, Beijing, Melbourne and Rome. Her only success was a smaller tournament in Shenzhen at the start of the year. Halep's 'always the bridesmaid never the bride' story makes her a favourite with neutral fans who are desperate to see the wounded 26-year-old put some painful defeats behind her and write a new chapter of positivity and success moving forward. 10:45AM And then there were two... Welcome all to coverage of the women's final at Roland Garros where Simona Halep looks to fulfil a career ambition of ending her grand slam drought by overcoming last year's US Open champion Sloane Stephens. Halep is well versed in the occasion of reaching the latter stages of a major, especially in Paris where she has won through to the final two other times in 2014 and last year, only to suffer defeat to Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko. This afternoon she must defy the brilliance and athleticism of American Stephens, who will be competing in her first final at Roland Garros, in order to get her hands on the Suzanne Lenglen cup. While the crowd are likely to get behind the world No 1 Halep, Stephens' nerveless approach to her game could prove a tough obstacle to clear. The Romanian has a superior head-to-head advantage, winning five of their seven battles - including winning all four of their last encounters. In fact Halep saw off the 10th seed Stephens during her run to the French Open final in 2014. If today's match goes to a third set, it will be the first time a decider has been required to determine the outcome of their battles. Who will you be supporting this afternoon and how do you see the final playing out? Vote in the poll below and send your thoughts to me at vicki.hodges@telegraph.co.uk
World No 1 Simona Halep finally broke her grand-slam jinx at Roland Garros, producing an unforgettable comeback to burn past the reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens on the home straight. The fans in Paris had watched Halep come up just short of the title here twice before, and they have developed a warm relationship with her. Court Philippe Chatrier was rocking in the third set as Halep pulled away, producing some absurd recovery shots to exhaust the waning Stephens further. At the close of her 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win, Halep accepted a leg-up from a courtside official and climbed up to her player box, where she embraced the three men who have stood consistently at her side through her climb up the world rankings: physio Andrei Cristofor, fitness trainer Teo Cercel and coach Darren Cahill. As the Telegraph reported, in a pre-tournament interview with Halep: “I have people around me who are friends and I feel like they are there forever.” This comeback was surely all the sweeter because Halep was thoroughly outplayed in the opening set. Stephens was so smooth and so resourceful, mixing booming topspin with flatter, faster strikes in a way that made her look – for 40 minutes or so – virtually unbeatable. The apparent rout continued into the early stages of the second, as Stephens broke again to lead 6-3, 2-0. The scoreline then was curiously similar to the lead that Halep had held over Jelena Ostapenko here 12 months ago. Halep celebrates winning the French Open Credit: AP Halep wound up as the frustrated party that day, backing off at just the wrong moment and allowing the free-swinging Ostapenko to surge to a shock win. But she is never more dangerous than when she is trailing, because that is when she loosens up and starts playing like a woman with nothing to lose. “I thought ‘Everything is gone. I just have to relax,’” said Halep afterwards, grinning her way through her on-court interview, as she remembered the key moment. The switch was partly spiritual, as she tapped into her deepest wells of tenacity. But it was also tactical, as she decided to use the whole area of the court for the first time, darting forward to the net whenever Stephens was pushed into deep defence. Commentating for ITV, the former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli began yelling: “That’s the play! That’s the play!” whenever Halep put away a winning volley. There is a huge amount of warmth towards Halep around the sport, as she conducts herself with real class at all times. If Halep found her best self in her moment of crisis, Stephens began to show signs of weariness. The match was only an hour old but Halep was setting a demanding pace and giving fewer and fewer freebies away as the match wore on. No fewer than 55 rallies exceeded nine shots, more than a third of the total points, which is an unusually high figure. The average speed of Stephens’ forehand, which had been doing so much damage, dropped from 77mph in the first set to 70mph in the second. Halep came from a set and break down to end Stephens' 100 per cent record in finals Credit: AFP The third set might look like a non-event on the scorecard but some of the rallies were extraordinary. And none more so than the point Halep won to go a double break ahead at 4-0. This was a 16-shot extravaganza in which she had to dig out a couple of desperate retrievals from the back of the court, then sprint up to the net to dink back a drop-shot, and finally backpedal to make that most awkward of putaways, the backhand overhead. When she finally edged Stephens out in that one, the usually sphinx-like Cahill jumped up off his seat and punched the air in the most uncharacteristic manner. Stephens would win only eight more points from that moment, as Halep finally finished the job with an unreturned serve, dropped her racket and put her hands over her face. Considering what she has been through to reach this point, she was surprisingly restrained in her celebrations, although she spoke eloquently afterwards. “I felt your support,” said Halep told the crowd, as she spoke to Bartoli afterwards. “In the last game I felt that I could not breathe any more, so I just tried not to repeat the last year. I did everything I could. It’s amazing what is happening now. Honestly I can’t believe it. I have been dreaming of this moment since I started to play tennis. I’m really happy that it’s happened in Roland Garros in Paris, my special city.” Halep has loved playing here ever since she won the junior event in 2008. She also took the time out to namecheck her compatriot Virginia Ruzici, who won the French Open 40 years ago and was watching from the stands. Halep won the junior title in 2008 Credit: AFP Messages of congratulation were now flooding in on social media from rivals like Petra Kvitova and Johanna Konta. Later Martina Navratilova – who recently hinted that she will be returning to Wimbledon for the BBC this summer on improved terms – would come up with a neat summation. “It wasn’t a monkey off her back; this was an 800lb gorilla.” The upshot is that this was the seventh straight women’s grand slam with a different winner. The tour is certainly open at the moment, after a sequence that began with Angelique Kerber in New York two years ago and continued through Serena Williams, Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and now Halep. Stephens shakes Halep's hand after losing the final Credit: AFP The one thing we are still waiting for is for anyone to show that they can put a sequence of results together to match what Williams and some of her 2000s rivals – the likes of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin – achieved at their peak. Yet if a straightforward narrative is hard to pull out of this unpredictable string of results, the women keep on throwing up quality matches, while the men have not produced an outstanding major tournament since Melbourne last year. In final analysis, Halep’s heartwarming victory was another good-news story for the WTA tour. 4:31PM Halep talks It's emotional to talk as the winner. I've been waiting for this moment since I was 14. I wanted this trophy to be here in France. Many congrats to Sloane. You have done a great job after those injuries. I'm sure you'll play many more finals in the future. Good luck and take care of your body. I wish in the future to play another final here. It's my favourite one. Thank you and see you next year. 4:29PM Stephens speaks It's been an incredible couple of weeks. It's not the trophy I wanted but it's still beautiful so thank you guys. To Simona, congratulations on your first slam. There's no one else I'd rather lose to than the world No 1. 4:28PM Halep the champion The world No 1 strides on to the mini stage assembled on Philippe Chatrier to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in relief and excitement in equal measure. The national anthem of Romanian is played out while Halep embraces the trophy. 4:26PM Sanchez Vicario hands out the trophies Arantxa Sanchez Vicario has the honour of handing out the runners-up plate and Suzanne Lenglen Cup this afternoon 20 years after her last Roland Garros title. 4:23PM A first time champion at Wimbledon awaits? Tears! Honestly tears!! Congratulations @Simona_Halep .... as a former player to see this moment is heartwarming! Three in a row 1st time slam winners....Sloane, Woz and Simo. Women’s tennis is hot!!— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 4:18PM Halep embraces Cahill in the stands The French Open champion is hoisted into the stands on Philippe Chatrier to give coach Cahill a warm embrace and then cuddles her mum and dad. There isn't a more popular winner than Halep. She manages to find her way back on to the court and looks to the sunny skies in thanks. The monkey is finally off her back. Simonaaaaa! You did it. So happy for you. Enjoy every second. You deserve this moment so much ��❤️ #RG18— Petra Kvitova (@Petra_Kvitova) June 9, 2018 4:16PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 Stephens* Here we go then. Halep lets out a deep sigh at winning the first point. But then nervously strikes long when well placed. A timely ace, her first of the match, is just what the doctor and her psychologist ordered but Stephens reels her in again for 30-all. Halep waits an age for a big overhead clearance to land. Halep stays strong to thwack a smash home and brings up championship point. She takes it. Stephens slaps a service return into the net. Halep has finally, finally won her first grand slam. Well done Simona. Her coach Darren Cahill can't quite believe it. He puts his hands on his head. Halep can't comprehend it either, placing both hands covering her face briefly before soaking up the adulation. GAME, SET AND MATCH: HALEP WINS FRENCH OPEN WITH 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 VICTORY OVER STEPHENS. 4:11PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 5-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh dear, dear. Stephens' level has dropped massively as she hands a free point for Halep for 0-30. She digs deep, fighting back for 30-all and then wins a third straight point with a backhand into the corner. Halep won't allow Stephens of a free game this set and draws back to deuce. Stephens swings a volley into the corner to edge to game point and as the clock passes the two-hour mark, Stephens finally gets on the board this set. 4:04PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 5-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Too many errors from Stephens now as Halep keeping her foot on the gas. She holds to 15. Stephens faces an uphill battle to get back into proceedings Credit: AP 4:02PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 4-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens looking exacerbated now as a failed drop shot lands lamely at the net. The unforced errors are creeping up for the American while Halep's dogged style is taking the Romanian closer to a first title. The 10th seed isn't ready yet to give up the fight as she digs in with a cross court winner for 30-15. But Halep isn't giving her rival any free points and making her work for everything and the errors still come. Halep misreads a slower second serve to miss a chance to set up break point but then hits an unbelievable backhand winner cross court which gets the crowd on Philippe Chatrier purring again. We're back to deuce. Halep gets a slice of luck with a clip of the tape to throw Stephens at the net. The American reacts, gets her racket on the high ball but can't get her return in the court. Halep has another break point here. Stephens pushes Halep to all corners again and how does the Romanian even stay in this incredible point? Both players advance to net, Halep managing to get an overhead and finally finding space to push home the winner. HALEP BREAKS. 3:55PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 3-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens trying to gee herself up by slapping her thigh trailing 30-0. The physical pep talk has worked in the short term, winning the next two points. Halep is more aggressive on the next point and the low ball is difficult for Stephens to retrieve. And at game point another lengthy rally ensues and Stephens blinks first. 'That's a play', shouts Bartoli in the ITV studio again. We know which way Bartoli wants this final to play out. 36 64 30 �� Halep has kept her head. She has kept her aggression. She has not gone away. And now she is amazingly 12 points from the title!���� #RG18pic.twitter.com/ZvL2ZtDDvP— Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) June 9, 2018 3:50PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 2-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Superb ball-striking from both players again as Stephens just misses a forehand when she was making them regularly during the first set. Pressure now as Halep moves to 15-30 up but Stephens keeps calm this time to deliver a brilliant forehand winner cross court. That was a big point. And here's a bigger one now. Stephens can't make a first serve. She gets a second one in but then throws in a sloppy forehand. Her level has massively dropped. Halep, break point now. She takes it. A punched deep forehand is too much for Stephens to get back. The momentum is all with Halep. HALEP BREAKS. 3:45PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 1-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Both players left the court at the end of the second set and we're into unchartered territory now as all seven of their head-to-heads haven't gone the distance before. All three of Halep's last grand slam finals went into a decider. At the start of the third and that break in action has worked to Stephens' advantage as she moves to 0-30. A brilliant backhand winner down the line draws Halep back to 30-all and nerves get the better of Stephens on the next point as she strikes long. Despite great defensive play from the 10th seed, Halep stays strong to see out the game. Sloane Stephens’ adjustment steps have slowed— bad sign when your opponent in the third set is Simona Halep. What a match @rolandgarros— Gerry Marzorati (@marzoTennis) June 9, 2018 3:36PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep stays positive, switching play from corner to corner and biding her time from the baseline. She gets a let off when Halep makes one stretch out wide and looks on as Stephens sends a forehand into the tramlines for 15-30. Stephens clenches her fist as a Halep groundstroke lands long. But she can't back it up as Halep's power and pace proves too hard to deal with. Halep brings up set point. And she takes it as Stephens hits into the tramlines. HALEP WINS SECOND SET TO LEVEL THE MATCH. 3:31PM Halep 3-6, 5-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep throws Stephens off balance by taking a forehand early and catching the American out on the baseline. Stephens stays strong during the next point, firing deep, so deep at the lines and piling further pressure on Halep at 30-all. Halep takes advantage as a ball rears up off the clay and takes the pace off Stephens' reply. Halep is on the short ball in a flash, striking a volley into the corner. Halep moves Stephens side-to-side before unleashing the winner and crucially Halep edges back in front this set. Halep battles against Stephens Credit: AFP 3:27PM Halep* 3-6, 4-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep looks to her corner with her arms extended out wide at missing one groundstroke. Stephens sends down her first ace of the match to establish a 30-0 advantage and then watches as Halep pushes long. That last game might be playing on the world No 1's mind. Stephens misses two game points, the second missing the line with a backhand. But she outlasts Halep during the next rally and we're back level for the set. 3:22PM Halep 3-6, 4-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens has woken back into action. A floating forehand on the line takes her to three break points and when Halep pushes long, we're back on serve this set. Halep will be kicking herself. That was lost far too quickly. STEPHENS BREAKS. 3:20PM Halep* 3-6, 4-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens stops the rot as she watches a Halep forehand land wide. The world No 1 stays focused on Stephens' backhand, whipping forehands out of the American's reach. Stephens digs deep for 30-all but then floats a tired groundstroke into the middle to hand Halep another break point. Another unforced error from Stephens hands Halep a second break this set. How quickly this match has turned. HALEP BREAKS. 3:15PM Halep 3-6, 3-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens' concentration levels have taken a hit. The momentum has shifted, Halep winning 10 of their last 11 points. Stephens' range is off now, a couple of unforced errors allowing Halep of edging ahead this set. Too soon? Wikipedia already has Sloane winning: https://t.co/yLIoTSBndh— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 9, 2018 3:12PM Halep* 3-6, 2-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Marion Bartoli on the ITV commentary is struggling with impartiality this afternoon. 'Go, go, go, go, go' she cries in encouragement to Halep to rush the net. The Romanian's revival gathers pace moving to 0-30 and drawing the American into an error. Now she has three break points this game to draw level this set. And she makes it as Stephens drags a forehand into the tramlines. HALEP BREAKS. 3:08PM Halep 3-6, 1-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens gives one mark a serious look as Halep edges to 30-15 and is finally starting to hurt the American will some deep hitting and solid net play. The Romanian's best chance is to cut short the points and rush the net where possible. A forehand down the line sets Halep up for moving into court and she duly dispatches the volley. Great play Halep. Halep keeps fighting against Stephens Credit: Getty Images 3:05PM Halep* 3-6, 0-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A drop in concentration now from Stephens as Halep moves to 0-30. Stephens composes herself passing Halep at the net and then getting a bit of fortune with a mishit forehand that lands flush on the line. Halep's head drops. From 30-0 down, Stephens completes the comeback with four straight points. That will hurt Halep. This performance from Sloane Stephens in a Slam final is the equal of those from all-time greats like Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova and Rafael Nadal. That good.— David Law (@DavidLawTennis) June 9, 2018 3:01PM Halep 3-6, 0-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep will be praying that Stephens' level drops soon. But it isn't. The American continues to work her magic, spraying unbelievable winners. One backhand down the line brings up two break points. She misses the first with a backhand error. Halep delivers a crucial first serve to blot the second. But Stephens has a third bite of the cherry now. Halep whips a forehand winner down the line to keep Stephens waiting. The American doesn't mind waiting. She's the patient kind. She demonstrates her ability to draw winners from all acute angles by setting up break point No 4 and this time she cheekily goes for a high ball as Halep moves into the net. The Romanian gets her racket to the ball but it flies wide. Stephens is playing unbelievable tennis. Why now? Halep must be thinking. Why now. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:53PM Halep* 3-6 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens' footwork behind the baseline and effortlessness moving side-to-side is mesmorising. Halep is finding the corners, but Stephens is retrieving everything thrown at her and asking further questions of Halep. One punching forehand flashes cross court at a zippy 90 mph for 30-15 but she blinks first during the next lengthy rally. Now she is breathing heavily as she lines up for her next service rotation. Halep toys with Stephens as another rally ensues, chasing down a drop shot and delivering her own drop which Stephens can't retrieve. It's a first break point for Halep. Anxiousness appears to get the better of her. She stands rigid in disbelief at missing that chance. Stephens composes herself to get back on track with decent serving to bring up set point. She takes it as her power is again too much for the world No 1. STEPHENS WINS THE FIRST SET 6-3 2:47PM Halep 3-5 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep working hard for every point and building some rhythm on her serve now. A strong hold to 30, the world No 1 steps into a short return to deliver her own forehand winner. More cries of 'Si-mon-a' ring round Chatrier. Stephens will be serving for the set. 2:43PM Halep* 2-5 Stephens (*denotes next server) A poorly-executed drop shot from Stephens coupled with sound defensive play behind the baseline work Halep to 15-30. Stephens runs round a backhand to strike a powerful forehand and deceives the world No 1 who anticipated Stephens going down the line at game point, only to be watch Stephens strike a forehand winner cross court. @SloaneStephens power AND her topspin is hurting Simo ... their movement is incredible but Sloane’s power is the difference and will be throughout. Only chance Simo has is if Sloane gets tight.— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 Stephens in fantastic form at the start of the opening set Credit: Reuters 2:38PM Halep 2-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Wow. Just when Halep looks to be in control of a rally, Stephens finds a winner at such a cute angle. It draws the American to 30-all and keeps the heat on Halep. The world No 1 isn't playing badly, but Stephens is hitting the lines quite perfectly so far. Halep makes an important hold when Stephens makes an uncharacteristic unforced error. 2:34PM Halep* 1-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh. My. Word! Halep is quite brilliant, brilliant terrier. She makes two ridiculous gets out wide which she has no right to retrieve to send everything back but then strikes an unforced error into the net. She stares down the net in disbelief. At 40-15 Halep fires a winner down the line and looks if to say 'is this what I have to do just to win a point?' Stephens, in true smoking a cigar, feet up style, gets over the night to cement the break. Women's final so far = (fire emoji)(fire emoji)(fire emoji).#RG18— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 9, 2018 2:29PM Halep 1-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Some fantastic tennis being played by both women now, working each other from side to side and creating the space to go for the kill. Halep moves into the court for the first time, smashing a sublime overhead deep into the corner for 30-all. But Stephens has some zip on a second service return to throw Halep at the baseline. It brings up a first break point for Stephens. And she makes it. Stephens does brilliantly to switch the play from down the line to cross court and it forces Halep to strike the middle. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:23PM Halep* 1-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A couple of long forehands from Halep allow Stephens to progress to 40-15. But the swirling wind is causing problems for both players and the American pushes one groundstroke behind the line to allow Halep to hang around in the game. The 10th seed stays on the front foot during the next rally and draws another error from Halep's forehand. It remains on serve. 2:19PM Halep 1-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Beautiful ball-striking from Stephens as the American strikes a clean forehand winner down the line after moving Halep at the baseline to create an opening. It's effortless from Stephens as she draws Halep wide to draw level at 30-all. Halep takes the crucial next point, relieved as Stephens' reply flies off the top of her racket. A cross court exchange during the next rally of 14 shots ends when Halep strikes into the tape. Cries of 'Simona' ring round at deuce. Stephens can't jump on a slower second serve but Halep finally holds when she outlasts Stephens during a brutal baseline duel. 2:13PM Halep* 0-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens opens up the final, watches a couple of service returns land long for 30-0. Halep drags a backhand into the tramlines but then gets a first point on the board when Stephens makes an unforced error. Stephens takes a comfortable hold with a backhand winner down the line. The American looks calm and focused early on as expected. 2:03PM Here they come Stephens, with headphones nestled in her ears, heads out to the Philippe Chatrier Court first. Halep follows and unsurprisingly draws a louder cheer from the crowd. Here she is! What Simona and Sloane are playing for today...#RG18pic.twitter.com/5Xq1GGbICc— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2018 1:56PM Getting to know Stephens Stephens' aloof and seemingly can't be bothered attitude hasn't won her too many additional followers and supporters in Paris. Our tennis correspondent Simon Briggs tweeted after Stephens' semi-final win over good friend Madison Keys that she looked like she would rather be "flossing her teeth" than giving her on-court interview. Her lack of French hasn't helped with making friends either. While many of the top level players have gone to great lengths to speak the local language at Roland Garros, Stephens has only uttered a tepid 'Merci Paris, je t'aime' in post-match discussions. Former player and American broadcaster Mary Carillo spent much time with Stephens last summer while working together at the Tennis Channel in the US. Carillo has offered a great insight into what Stephens is really like. She's not just the laid-back, unimpressed and unbothered individual she displays on the court. 1:39PM Halep's supporters Halep fans getting hyped outside Chatrier less an hour before the Women’s Final @rolandgarros ���� pic.twitter.com/uglLMFcyIl— Steve Weissman (@Steve_Weissman) June 9, 2018 1:33PM How will Halep cope with the pressure? Halep and Stephens have similar styles. Both glide around the back of the court, have an abundance of stamina and can switch from defence into attack. The biggest question mark hanging over Halep is the scar tissue of those defeats. When she came from a set down to beat Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals, Halep pointed her finger at her temple. She still has moments of anxiety and self doubt, but by and large she is starting to fix some of her self-inflicted issues. "She deals much better with pressure," 1978 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici who is also Halep's manager and the only woman from Romania to win a major. "The fact that she became No 1 has given her a different dimension, a different stature. She really deals with things better. Psychologically, she's also much better. ... And now she wants to win a Grand Slam. And now she says it. "Before, she didn't dare say it. Now she says it: 'I want to win a Grand Slam.'" Simona Halep, head in the game#RG18#Gettypic.twitter.com/70PQx2eI27— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 6, 2018 1:16PM Flashback to 2008 Halep shouldn't concern herself with the three grand slam finals lost but look back on a happy time when she was lifting the winners' trophy. Ten years ago, as ninth seed Halep won the junior girls' title beating compatriot Elena Bogdan in three sets. If the world No 1 prevails today, she would become the sixth player to win the women's singles title in Paris after winning the girls' title. The other five, you ask? Francoise Durr, Mima Jausovec, Hana Mandlikova, Jennifer Capriati and Justine Henin. Halep won the girls' title in Paris back in 2008 Credit: Getty Images 12:38PM Stephens' impeccable finals record Halep won't need reminding of Stephens' record in tournament finals. The American has proved herself a big-game player, most prominently during her charge to last year's US Open final where she became an unlikely champion so soon after returning from an 11-month injury lay-off. The 25-year-old's victory in Miami back in early April, was her sixth straight win from six finals. Of her impeccable form in finals, Stephens said in the lead up to today's showdown: "There is no formula. I didn't, like, try to do it. I'm not trying to break a record. It's just how it's happened for me." Halep has a mixed bag of results when it comes to finals - albeit competing in a far higher number than her rival. Stephens has won all six of her tournament finals Credit: Getty Images The Romanian is 16-14 overall but her experience hasn't helped her get over the line in the last 12 months. Halep has lost finals in Paris, Cincinnati, Beijing, Melbourne and Rome. Her only success was a smaller tournament in Shenzhen at the start of the year. Halep's 'always the bridesmaid never the bride' story makes her a favourite with neutral fans who are desperate to see the wounded 26-year-old put some painful defeats behind her and write a new chapter of positivity and success moving forward. 10:45AM And then there were two... Welcome all to coverage of the women's final at Roland Garros where Simona Halep looks to fulfil a career ambition of ending her grand slam drought by overcoming last year's US Open champion Sloane Stephens. Halep is well versed in the occasion of reaching the latter stages of a major, especially in Paris where she has won through to the final two other times in 2014 and last year, only to suffer defeat to Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko. This afternoon she must defy the brilliance and athleticism of American Stephens, who will be competing in her first final at Roland Garros, in order to get her hands on the Suzanne Lenglen cup. While the crowd are likely to get behind the world No 1 Halep, Stephens' nerveless approach to her game could prove a tough obstacle to clear. The Romanian has a superior head-to-head advantage, winning five of their seven battles - including winning all four of their last encounters. In fact Halep saw off the 10th seed Stephens during her run to the French Open final in 2014. If today's match goes to a third set, it will be the first time a decider has been required to determine the outcome of their battles. Who will you be supporting this afternoon and how do you see the final playing out? Vote in the poll below and send your thoughts to me at vicki.hodges@telegraph.co.uk
Simona Halep fights back from set and break down to end grand slam drought in Paris
World No 1 Simona Halep finally broke her grand-slam jinx at Roland Garros, producing an unforgettable comeback to burn past the reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens on the home straight. The fans in Paris had watched Halep come up just short of the title here twice before, and they have developed a warm relationship with her. Court Philippe Chatrier was rocking in the third set as Halep pulled away, producing some absurd recovery shots to exhaust the waning Stephens further. At the close of her 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win, Halep accepted a leg-up from a courtside official and climbed up to her player box, where she embraced the three men who have stood consistently at her side through her climb up the world rankings: physio Andrei Cristofor, fitness trainer Teo Cercel and coach Darren Cahill. As the Telegraph reported, in a pre-tournament interview with Halep: “I have people around me who are friends and I feel like they are there forever.” This comeback was surely all the sweeter because Halep was thoroughly outplayed in the opening set. Stephens was so smooth and so resourceful, mixing booming topspin with flatter, faster strikes in a way that made her look – for 40 minutes or so – virtually unbeatable. The apparent rout continued into the early stages of the second, as Stephens broke again to lead 6-3, 2-0. The scoreline then was curiously similar to the lead that Halep had held over Jelena Ostapenko here 12 months ago. Halep celebrates winning the French Open Credit: AP Halep wound up as the frustrated party that day, backing off at just the wrong moment and allowing the free-swinging Ostapenko to surge to a shock win. But she is never more dangerous than when she is trailing, because that is when she loosens up and starts playing like a woman with nothing to lose. “I thought ‘Everything is gone. I just have to relax,’” said Halep afterwards, grinning her way through her on-court interview, as she remembered the key moment. The switch was partly spiritual, as she tapped into her deepest wells of tenacity. But it was also tactical, as she decided to use the whole area of the court for the first time, darting forward to the net whenever Stephens was pushed into deep defence. Commentating for ITV, the former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli began yelling: “That’s the play! That’s the play!” whenever Halep put away a winning volley. There is a huge amount of warmth towards Halep around the sport, as she conducts herself with real class at all times. If Halep found her best self in her moment of crisis, Stephens began to show signs of weariness. The match was only an hour old but Halep was setting a demanding pace and giving fewer and fewer freebies away as the match wore on. No fewer than 55 rallies exceeded nine shots, more than a third of the total points, which is an unusually high figure. The average speed of Stephens’ forehand, which had been doing so much damage, dropped from 77mph in the first set to 70mph in the second. Halep came from a set and break down to end Stephens' 100 per cent record in finals Credit: AFP The third set might look like a non-event on the scorecard but some of the rallies were extraordinary. And none more so than the point Halep won to go a double break ahead at 4-0. This was a 16-shot extravaganza in which she had to dig out a couple of desperate retrievals from the back of the court, then sprint up to the net to dink back a drop-shot, and finally backpedal to make that most awkward of putaways, the backhand overhead. When she finally edged Stephens out in that one, the usually sphinx-like Cahill jumped up off his seat and punched the air in the most uncharacteristic manner. Stephens would win only eight more points from that moment, as Halep finally finished the job with an unreturned serve, dropped her racket and put her hands over her face. Considering what she has been through to reach this point, she was surprisingly restrained in her celebrations, although she spoke eloquently afterwards. “I felt your support,” said Halep told the crowd, as she spoke to Bartoli afterwards. “In the last game I felt that I could not breathe any more, so I just tried not to repeat the last year. I did everything I could. It’s amazing what is happening now. Honestly I can’t believe it. I have been dreaming of this moment since I started to play tennis. I’m really happy that it’s happened in Roland Garros in Paris, my special city.” Halep has loved playing here ever since she won the junior event in 2008. She also took the time out to namecheck her compatriot Virginia Ruzici, who won the French Open 40 years ago and was watching from the stands. Halep won the junior title in 2008 Credit: AFP Messages of congratulation were now flooding in on social media from rivals like Petra Kvitova and Johanna Konta. Later Martina Navratilova – who recently hinted that she will be returning to Wimbledon for the BBC this summer on improved terms – would come up with a neat summation. “It wasn’t a monkey off her back; this was an 800lb gorilla.” The upshot is that this was the seventh straight women’s grand slam with a different winner. The tour is certainly open at the moment, after a sequence that began with Angelique Kerber in New York two years ago and continued through Serena Williams, Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and now Halep. Stephens shakes Halep's hand after losing the final Credit: AFP The one thing we are still waiting for is for anyone to show that they can put a sequence of results together to match what Williams and some of her 2000s rivals – the likes of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin – achieved at their peak. Yet if a straightforward narrative is hard to pull out of this unpredictable string of results, the women keep on throwing up quality matches, while the men have not produced an outstanding major tournament since Melbourne last year. In final analysis, Halep’s heartwarming victory was another good-news story for the WTA tour. 4:31PM Halep talks It's emotional to talk as the winner. I've been waiting for this moment since I was 14. I wanted this trophy to be here in France. Many congrats to Sloane. You have done a great job after those injuries. I'm sure you'll play many more finals in the future. Good luck and take care of your body. I wish in the future to play another final here. It's my favourite one. Thank you and see you next year. 4:29PM Stephens speaks It's been an incredible couple of weeks. It's not the trophy I wanted but it's still beautiful so thank you guys. To Simona, congratulations on your first slam. There's no one else I'd rather lose to than the world No 1. 4:28PM Halep the champion The world No 1 strides on to the mini stage assembled on Philippe Chatrier to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in relief and excitement in equal measure. The national anthem of Romanian is played out while Halep embraces the trophy. 4:26PM Sanchez Vicario hands out the trophies Arantxa Sanchez Vicario has the honour of handing out the runners-up plate and Suzanne Lenglen Cup this afternoon 20 years after her last Roland Garros title. 4:23PM A first time champion at Wimbledon awaits? Tears! Honestly tears!! Congratulations @Simona_Halep .... as a former player to see this moment is heartwarming! Three in a row 1st time slam winners....Sloane, Woz and Simo. Women’s tennis is hot!!— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 4:18PM Halep embraces Cahill in the stands The French Open champion is hoisted into the stands on Philippe Chatrier to give coach Cahill a warm embrace and then cuddles her mum and dad. There isn't a more popular winner than Halep. She manages to find her way back on to the court and looks to the sunny skies in thanks. The monkey is finally off her back. Simonaaaaa! You did it. So happy for you. Enjoy every second. You deserve this moment so much ��❤️ #RG18— Petra Kvitova (@Petra_Kvitova) June 9, 2018 4:16PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 Stephens* Here we go then. Halep lets out a deep sigh at winning the first point. But then nervously strikes long when well placed. A timely ace, her first of the match, is just what the doctor and her psychologist ordered but Stephens reels her in again for 30-all. Halep waits an age for a big overhead clearance to land. Halep stays strong to thwack a smash home and brings up championship point. She takes it. Stephens slaps a service return into the net. Halep has finally, finally won her first grand slam. Well done Simona. Her coach Darren Cahill can't quite believe it. He puts his hands on his head. Halep can't comprehend it either, placing both hands covering her face briefly before soaking up the adulation. GAME, SET AND MATCH: HALEP WINS FRENCH OPEN WITH 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 VICTORY OVER STEPHENS. 4:11PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 5-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh dear, dear. Stephens' level has dropped massively as she hands a free point for Halep for 0-30. She digs deep, fighting back for 30-all and then wins a third straight point with a backhand into the corner. Halep won't allow Stephens of a free game this set and draws back to deuce. Stephens swings a volley into the corner to edge to game point and as the clock passes the two-hour mark, Stephens finally gets on the board this set. 4:04PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 5-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Too many errors from Stephens now as Halep keeping her foot on the gas. She holds to 15. Stephens faces an uphill battle to get back into proceedings Credit: AP 4:02PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 4-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens looking exacerbated now as a failed drop shot lands lamely at the net. The unforced errors are creeping up for the American while Halep's dogged style is taking the Romanian closer to a first title. The 10th seed isn't ready yet to give up the fight as she digs in with a cross court winner for 30-15. But Halep isn't giving her rival any free points and making her work for everything and the errors still come. Halep misreads a slower second serve to miss a chance to set up break point but then hits an unbelievable backhand winner cross court which gets the crowd on Philippe Chatrier purring again. We're back to deuce. Halep gets a slice of luck with a clip of the tape to throw Stephens at the net. The American reacts, gets her racket on the high ball but can't get her return in the court. Halep has another break point here. Stephens pushes Halep to all corners again and how does the Romanian even stay in this incredible point? Both players advance to net, Halep managing to get an overhead and finally finding space to push home the winner. HALEP BREAKS. 3:55PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 3-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens trying to gee herself up by slapping her thigh trailing 30-0. The physical pep talk has worked in the short term, winning the next two points. Halep is more aggressive on the next point and the low ball is difficult for Stephens to retrieve. And at game point another lengthy rally ensues and Stephens blinks first. 'That's a play', shouts Bartoli in the ITV studio again. We know which way Bartoli wants this final to play out. 36 64 30 �� Halep has kept her head. She has kept her aggression. She has not gone away. And now she is amazingly 12 points from the title!���� #RG18pic.twitter.com/ZvL2ZtDDvP— Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) June 9, 2018 3:50PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 2-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Superb ball-striking from both players again as Stephens just misses a forehand when she was making them regularly during the first set. Pressure now as Halep moves to 15-30 up but Stephens keeps calm this time to deliver a brilliant forehand winner cross court. That was a big point. And here's a bigger one now. Stephens can't make a first serve. She gets a second one in but then throws in a sloppy forehand. Her level has massively dropped. Halep, break point now. She takes it. A punched deep forehand is too much for Stephens to get back. The momentum is all with Halep. HALEP BREAKS. 3:45PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 1-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Both players left the court at the end of the second set and we're into unchartered territory now as all seven of their head-to-heads haven't gone the distance before. All three of Halep's last grand slam finals went into a decider. At the start of the third and that break in action has worked to Stephens' advantage as she moves to 0-30. A brilliant backhand winner down the line draws Halep back to 30-all and nerves get the better of Stephens on the next point as she strikes long. Despite great defensive play from the 10th seed, Halep stays strong to see out the game. Sloane Stephens’ adjustment steps have slowed— bad sign when your opponent in the third set is Simona Halep. What a match @rolandgarros— Gerry Marzorati (@marzoTennis) June 9, 2018 3:36PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep stays positive, switching play from corner to corner and biding her time from the baseline. She gets a let off when Halep makes one stretch out wide and looks on as Stephens sends a forehand into the tramlines for 15-30. Stephens clenches her fist as a Halep groundstroke lands long. But she can't back it up as Halep's power and pace proves too hard to deal with. Halep brings up set point. And she takes it as Stephens hits into the tramlines. HALEP WINS SECOND SET TO LEVEL THE MATCH. 3:31PM Halep 3-6, 5-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep throws Stephens off balance by taking a forehand early and catching the American out on the baseline. Stephens stays strong during the next point, firing deep, so deep at the lines and piling further pressure on Halep at 30-all. Halep takes advantage as a ball rears up off the clay and takes the pace off Stephens' reply. Halep is on the short ball in a flash, striking a volley into the corner. Halep moves Stephens side-to-side before unleashing the winner and crucially Halep edges back in front this set. Halep battles against Stephens Credit: AFP 3:27PM Halep* 3-6, 4-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep looks to her corner with her arms extended out wide at missing one groundstroke. Stephens sends down her first ace of the match to establish a 30-0 advantage and then watches as Halep pushes long. That last game might be playing on the world No 1's mind. Stephens misses two game points, the second missing the line with a backhand. But she outlasts Halep during the next rally and we're back level for the set. 3:22PM Halep 3-6, 4-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens has woken back into action. A floating forehand on the line takes her to three break points and when Halep pushes long, we're back on serve this set. Halep will be kicking herself. That was lost far too quickly. STEPHENS BREAKS. 3:20PM Halep* 3-6, 4-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens stops the rot as she watches a Halep forehand land wide. The world No 1 stays focused on Stephens' backhand, whipping forehands out of the American's reach. Stephens digs deep for 30-all but then floats a tired groundstroke into the middle to hand Halep another break point. Another unforced error from Stephens hands Halep a second break this set. How quickly this match has turned. HALEP BREAKS. 3:15PM Halep 3-6, 3-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens' concentration levels have taken a hit. The momentum has shifted, Halep winning 10 of their last 11 points. Stephens' range is off now, a couple of unforced errors allowing Halep of edging ahead this set. Too soon? Wikipedia already has Sloane winning: https://t.co/yLIoTSBndh— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 9, 2018 3:12PM Halep* 3-6, 2-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Marion Bartoli on the ITV commentary is struggling with impartiality this afternoon. 'Go, go, go, go, go' she cries in encouragement to Halep to rush the net. The Romanian's revival gathers pace moving to 0-30 and drawing the American into an error. Now she has three break points this game to draw level this set. And she makes it as Stephens drags a forehand into the tramlines. HALEP BREAKS. 3:08PM Halep 3-6, 1-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens gives one mark a serious look as Halep edges to 30-15 and is finally starting to hurt the American will some deep hitting and solid net play. The Romanian's best chance is to cut short the points and rush the net where possible. A forehand down the line sets Halep up for moving into court and she duly dispatches the volley. Great play Halep. Halep keeps fighting against Stephens Credit: Getty Images 3:05PM Halep* 3-6, 0-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A drop in concentration now from Stephens as Halep moves to 0-30. Stephens composes herself passing Halep at the net and then getting a bit of fortune with a mishit forehand that lands flush on the line. Halep's head drops. From 30-0 down, Stephens completes the comeback with four straight points. That will hurt Halep. This performance from Sloane Stephens in a Slam final is the equal of those from all-time greats like Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova and Rafael Nadal. That good.— David Law (@DavidLawTennis) June 9, 2018 3:01PM Halep 3-6, 0-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep will be praying that Stephens' level drops soon. But it isn't. The American continues to work her magic, spraying unbelievable winners. One backhand down the line brings up two break points. She misses the first with a backhand error. Halep delivers a crucial first serve to blot the second. But Stephens has a third bite of the cherry now. Halep whips a forehand winner down the line to keep Stephens waiting. The American doesn't mind waiting. She's the patient kind. She demonstrates her ability to draw winners from all acute angles by setting up break point No 4 and this time she cheekily goes for a high ball as Halep moves into the net. The Romanian gets her racket to the ball but it flies wide. Stephens is playing unbelievable tennis. Why now? Halep must be thinking. Why now. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:53PM Halep* 3-6 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens' footwork behind the baseline and effortlessness moving side-to-side is mesmorising. Halep is finding the corners, but Stephens is retrieving everything thrown at her and asking further questions of Halep. One punching forehand flashes cross court at a zippy 90 mph for 30-15 but she blinks first during the next lengthy rally. Now she is breathing heavily as she lines up for her next service rotation. Halep toys with Stephens as another rally ensues, chasing down a drop shot and delivering her own drop which Stephens can't retrieve. It's a first break point for Halep. Anxiousness appears to get the better of her. She stands rigid in disbelief at missing that chance. Stephens composes herself to get back on track with decent serving to bring up set point. She takes it as her power is again too much for the world No 1. STEPHENS WINS THE FIRST SET 6-3 2:47PM Halep 3-5 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep working hard for every point and building some rhythm on her serve now. A strong hold to 30, the world No 1 steps into a short return to deliver her own forehand winner. More cries of 'Si-mon-a' ring round Chatrier. Stephens will be serving for the set. 2:43PM Halep* 2-5 Stephens (*denotes next server) A poorly-executed drop shot from Stephens coupled with sound defensive play behind the baseline work Halep to 15-30. Stephens runs round a backhand to strike a powerful forehand and deceives the world No 1 who anticipated Stephens going down the line at game point, only to be watch Stephens strike a forehand winner cross court. @SloaneStephens power AND her topspin is hurting Simo ... their movement is incredible but Sloane’s power is the difference and will be throughout. Only chance Simo has is if Sloane gets tight.— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 Stephens in fantastic form at the start of the opening set Credit: Reuters 2:38PM Halep 2-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Wow. Just when Halep looks to be in control of a rally, Stephens finds a winner at such a cute angle. It draws the American to 30-all and keeps the heat on Halep. The world No 1 isn't playing badly, but Stephens is hitting the lines quite perfectly so far. Halep makes an important hold when Stephens makes an uncharacteristic unforced error. 2:34PM Halep* 1-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh. My. Word! Halep is quite brilliant, brilliant terrier. She makes two ridiculous gets out wide which she has no right to retrieve to send everything back but then strikes an unforced error into the net. She stares down the net in disbelief. At 40-15 Halep fires a winner down the line and looks if to say 'is this what I have to do just to win a point?' Stephens, in true smoking a cigar, feet up style, gets over the night to cement the break. Women's final so far = (fire emoji)(fire emoji)(fire emoji).#RG18— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 9, 2018 2:29PM Halep 1-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Some fantastic tennis being played by both women now, working each other from side to side and creating the space to go for the kill. Halep moves into the court for the first time, smashing a sublime overhead deep into the corner for 30-all. But Stephens has some zip on a second service return to throw Halep at the baseline. It brings up a first break point for Stephens. And she makes it. Stephens does brilliantly to switch the play from down the line to cross court and it forces Halep to strike the middle. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:23PM Halep* 1-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A couple of long forehands from Halep allow Stephens to progress to 40-15. But the swirling wind is causing problems for both players and the American pushes one groundstroke behind the line to allow Halep to hang around in the game. The 10th seed stays on the front foot during the next rally and draws another error from Halep's forehand. It remains on serve. 2:19PM Halep 1-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Beautiful ball-striking from Stephens as the American strikes a clean forehand winner down the line after moving Halep at the baseline to create an opening. It's effortless from Stephens as she draws Halep wide to draw level at 30-all. Halep takes the crucial next point, relieved as Stephens' reply flies off the top of her racket. A cross court exchange during the next rally of 14 shots ends when Halep strikes into the tape. Cries of 'Simona' ring round at deuce. Stephens can't jump on a slower second serve but Halep finally holds when she outlasts Stephens during a brutal baseline duel. 2:13PM Halep* 0-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens opens up the final, watches a couple of service returns land long for 30-0. Halep drags a backhand into the tramlines but then gets a first point on the board when Stephens makes an unforced error. Stephens takes a comfortable hold with a backhand winner down the line. The American looks calm and focused early on as expected. 2:03PM Here they come Stephens, with headphones nestled in her ears, heads out to the Philippe Chatrier Court first. Halep follows and unsurprisingly draws a louder cheer from the crowd. Here she is! What Simona and Sloane are playing for today...#RG18pic.twitter.com/5Xq1GGbICc— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2018 1:56PM Getting to know Stephens Stephens' aloof and seemingly can't be bothered attitude hasn't won her too many additional followers and supporters in Paris. Our tennis correspondent Simon Briggs tweeted after Stephens' semi-final win over good friend Madison Keys that she looked like she would rather be "flossing her teeth" than giving her on-court interview. Her lack of French hasn't helped with making friends either. While many of the top level players have gone to great lengths to speak the local language at Roland Garros, Stephens has only uttered a tepid 'Merci Paris, je t'aime' in post-match discussions. Former player and American broadcaster Mary Carillo spent much time with Stephens last summer while working together at the Tennis Channel in the US. Carillo has offered a great insight into what Stephens is really like. She's not just the laid-back, unimpressed and unbothered individual she displays on the court. 1:39PM Halep's supporters Halep fans getting hyped outside Chatrier less an hour before the Women’s Final @rolandgarros ���� pic.twitter.com/uglLMFcyIl— Steve Weissman (@Steve_Weissman) June 9, 2018 1:33PM How will Halep cope with the pressure? Halep and Stephens have similar styles. Both glide around the back of the court, have an abundance of stamina and can switch from defence into attack. The biggest question mark hanging over Halep is the scar tissue of those defeats. When she came from a set down to beat Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals, Halep pointed her finger at her temple. She still has moments of anxiety and self doubt, but by and large she is starting to fix some of her self-inflicted issues. "She deals much better with pressure," 1978 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici who is also Halep's manager and the only woman from Romania to win a major. "The fact that she became No 1 has given her a different dimension, a different stature. She really deals with things better. Psychologically, she's also much better. ... And now she wants to win a Grand Slam. And now she says it. "Before, she didn't dare say it. Now she says it: 'I want to win a Grand Slam.'" Simona Halep, head in the game#RG18#Gettypic.twitter.com/70PQx2eI27— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 6, 2018 1:16PM Flashback to 2008 Halep shouldn't concern herself with the three grand slam finals lost but look back on a happy time when she was lifting the winners' trophy. Ten years ago, as ninth seed Halep won the junior girls' title beating compatriot Elena Bogdan in three sets. If the world No 1 prevails today, she would become the sixth player to win the women's singles title in Paris after winning the girls' title. The other five, you ask? Francoise Durr, Mima Jausovec, Hana Mandlikova, Jennifer Capriati and Justine Henin. Halep won the girls' title in Paris back in 2008 Credit: Getty Images 12:38PM Stephens' impeccable finals record Halep won't need reminding of Stephens' record in tournament finals. The American has proved herself a big-game player, most prominently during her charge to last year's US Open final where she became an unlikely champion so soon after returning from an 11-month injury lay-off. The 25-year-old's victory in Miami back in early April, was her sixth straight win from six finals. Of her impeccable form in finals, Stephens said in the lead up to today's showdown: "There is no formula. I didn't, like, try to do it. I'm not trying to break a record. It's just how it's happened for me." Halep has a mixed bag of results when it comes to finals - albeit competing in a far higher number than her rival. Stephens has won all six of her tournament finals Credit: Getty Images The Romanian is 16-14 overall but her experience hasn't helped her get over the line in the last 12 months. Halep has lost finals in Paris, Cincinnati, Beijing, Melbourne and Rome. Her only success was a smaller tournament in Shenzhen at the start of the year. Halep's 'always the bridesmaid never the bride' story makes her a favourite with neutral fans who are desperate to see the wounded 26-year-old put some painful defeats behind her and write a new chapter of positivity and success moving forward. 10:45AM And then there were two... Welcome all to coverage of the women's final at Roland Garros where Simona Halep looks to fulfil a career ambition of ending her grand slam drought by overcoming last year's US Open champion Sloane Stephens. Halep is well versed in the occasion of reaching the latter stages of a major, especially in Paris where she has won through to the final two other times in 2014 and last year, only to suffer defeat to Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko. This afternoon she must defy the brilliance and athleticism of American Stephens, who will be competing in her first final at Roland Garros, in order to get her hands on the Suzanne Lenglen cup. While the crowd are likely to get behind the world No 1 Halep, Stephens' nerveless approach to her game could prove a tough obstacle to clear. The Romanian has a superior head-to-head advantage, winning five of their seven battles - including winning all four of their last encounters. In fact Halep saw off the 10th seed Stephens during her run to the French Open final in 2014. If today's match goes to a third set, it will be the first time a decider has been required to determine the outcome of their battles. Who will you be supporting this afternoon and how do you see the final playing out? Vote in the poll below and send your thoughts to me at vicki.hodges@telegraph.co.uk
World No 1 Simona Halep finally broke her grand-slam jinx at Roland Garros, producing an unforgettable comeback to burn past the reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens on the home straight. The fans in Paris had watched Halep come up just short of the title here twice before, and they have developed a warm relationship with her. Court Philippe Chatrier was rocking in the third set as Halep pulled away, producing some absurd recovery shots to exhaust the waning Stephens further. At the close of her 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win, Halep accepted a leg-up from a courtside official and climbed up to her player box, where she embraced the three men who have stood consistently at her side through her climb up the world rankings: physio Andrei Cristofor, fitness trainer Teo Cercel and coach Darren Cahill. As the Telegraph reported, in a pre-tournament interview with Halep: “I have people around me who are friends and I feel like they are there forever.” This comeback was surely all the sweeter because Halep was thoroughly outplayed in the opening set. Stephens was so smooth and so resourceful, mixing booming topspin with flatter, faster strikes in a way that made her look – for 40 minutes or so – virtually unbeatable. The apparent rout continued into the early stages of the second, as Stephens broke again to lead 6-3, 2-0. The scoreline then was curiously similar to the lead that Halep had held over Jelena Ostapenko here 12 months ago. Halep celebrates winning the French Open Credit: AP Halep wound up as the frustrated party that day, backing off at just the wrong moment and allowing the free-swinging Ostapenko to surge to a shock win. But she is never more dangerous than when she is trailing, because that is when she loosens up and starts playing like a woman with nothing to lose. “I thought ‘Everything is gone. I just have to relax,’” said Halep afterwards, grinning her way through her on-court interview, as she remembered the key moment. The switch was partly spiritual, as she tapped into her deepest wells of tenacity. But it was also tactical, as she decided to use the whole area of the court for the first time, darting forward to the net whenever Stephens was pushed into deep defence. Commentating for ITV, the former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli began yelling: “That’s the play! That’s the play!” whenever Halep put away a winning volley. There is a huge amount of warmth towards Halep around the sport, as she conducts herself with real class at all times. If Halep found her best self in her moment of crisis, Stephens began to show signs of weariness. The match was only an hour old but Halep was setting a demanding pace and giving fewer and fewer freebies away as the match wore on. No fewer than 55 rallies exceeded nine shots, more than a third of the total points, which is an unusually high figure. The average speed of Stephens’ forehand, which had been doing so much damage, dropped from 77mph in the first set to 70mph in the second. Halep came from a set and break down to end Stephens' 100 per cent record in finals Credit: AFP The third set might look like a non-event on the scorecard but some of the rallies were extraordinary. And none more so than the point Halep won to go a double break ahead at 4-0. This was a 16-shot extravaganza in which she had to dig out a couple of desperate retrievals from the back of the court, then sprint up to the net to dink back a drop-shot, and finally backpedal to make that most awkward of putaways, the backhand overhead. When she finally edged Stephens out in that one, the usually sphinx-like Cahill jumped up off his seat and punched the air in the most uncharacteristic manner. Stephens would win only eight more points from that moment, as Halep finally finished the job with an unreturned serve, dropped her racket and put her hands over her face. Considering what she has been through to reach this point, she was surprisingly restrained in her celebrations, although she spoke eloquently afterwards. “I felt your support,” said Halep told the crowd, as she spoke to Bartoli afterwards. “In the last game I felt that I could not breathe any more, so I just tried not to repeat the last year. I did everything I could. It’s amazing what is happening now. Honestly I can’t believe it. I have been dreaming of this moment since I started to play tennis. I’m really happy that it’s happened in Roland Garros in Paris, my special city.” Halep has loved playing here ever since she won the junior event in 2008. She also took the time out to namecheck her compatriot Virginia Ruzici, who won the French Open 40 years ago and was watching from the stands. Halep won the junior title in 2008 Credit: AFP Messages of congratulation were now flooding in on social media from rivals like Petra Kvitova and Johanna Konta. Later Martina Navratilova – who recently hinted that she will be returning to Wimbledon for the BBC this summer on improved terms – would come up with a neat summation. “It wasn’t a monkey off her back; this was an 800lb gorilla.” The upshot is that this was the seventh straight women’s grand slam with a different winner. The tour is certainly open at the moment, after a sequence that began with Angelique Kerber in New York two years ago and continued through Serena Williams, Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and now Halep. Stephens shakes Halep's hand after losing the final Credit: AFP The one thing we are still waiting for is for anyone to show that they can put a sequence of results together to match what Williams and some of her 2000s rivals – the likes of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin – achieved at their peak. Yet if a straightforward narrative is hard to pull out of this unpredictable string of results, the women keep on throwing up quality matches, while the men have not produced an outstanding major tournament since Melbourne last year. In final analysis, Halep’s heartwarming victory was another good-news story for the WTA tour. 4:31PM Halep talks It's emotional to talk as the winner. I've been waiting for this moment since I was 14. I wanted this trophy to be here in France. Many congrats to Sloane. You have done a great job after those injuries. I'm sure you'll play many more finals in the future. Good luck and take care of your body. I wish in the future to play another final here. It's my favourite one. Thank you and see you next year. 4:29PM Stephens speaks It's been an incredible couple of weeks. It's not the trophy I wanted but it's still beautiful so thank you guys. To Simona, congratulations on your first slam. There's no one else I'd rather lose to than the world No 1. 4:28PM Halep the champion The world No 1 strides on to the mini stage assembled on Philippe Chatrier to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in relief and excitement in equal measure. The national anthem of Romanian is played out while Halep embraces the trophy. 4:26PM Sanchez Vicario hands out the trophies Arantxa Sanchez Vicario has the honour of handing out the runners-up plate and Suzanne Lenglen Cup this afternoon 20 years after her last Roland Garros title. 4:23PM A first time champion at Wimbledon awaits? Tears! Honestly tears!! Congratulations @Simona_Halep .... as a former player to see this moment is heartwarming! Three in a row 1st time slam winners....Sloane, Woz and Simo. Women’s tennis is hot!!— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 4:18PM Halep embraces Cahill in the stands The French Open champion is hoisted into the stands on Philippe Chatrier to give coach Cahill a warm embrace and then cuddles her mum and dad. There isn't a more popular winner than Halep. She manages to find her way back on to the court and looks to the sunny skies in thanks. The monkey is finally off her back. Simonaaaaa! You did it. So happy for you. Enjoy every second. You deserve this moment so much ��❤️ #RG18— Petra Kvitova (@Petra_Kvitova) June 9, 2018 4:16PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 Stephens* Here we go then. Halep lets out a deep sigh at winning the first point. But then nervously strikes long when well placed. A timely ace, her first of the match, is just what the doctor and her psychologist ordered but Stephens reels her in again for 30-all. Halep waits an age for a big overhead clearance to land. Halep stays strong to thwack a smash home and brings up championship point. She takes it. Stephens slaps a service return into the net. Halep has finally, finally won her first grand slam. Well done Simona. Her coach Darren Cahill can't quite believe it. He puts his hands on his head. Halep can't comprehend it either, placing both hands covering her face briefly before soaking up the adulation. GAME, SET AND MATCH: HALEP WINS FRENCH OPEN WITH 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 VICTORY OVER STEPHENS. 4:11PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 5-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh dear, dear. Stephens' level has dropped massively as she hands a free point for Halep for 0-30. She digs deep, fighting back for 30-all and then wins a third straight point with a backhand into the corner. Halep won't allow Stephens of a free game this set and draws back to deuce. Stephens swings a volley into the corner to edge to game point and as the clock passes the two-hour mark, Stephens finally gets on the board this set. 4:04PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 5-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Too many errors from Stephens now as Halep keeping her foot on the gas. She holds to 15. Stephens faces an uphill battle to get back into proceedings Credit: AP 4:02PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 4-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens looking exacerbated now as a failed drop shot lands lamely at the net. The unforced errors are creeping up for the American while Halep's dogged style is taking the Romanian closer to a first title. The 10th seed isn't ready yet to give up the fight as she digs in with a cross court winner for 30-15. But Halep isn't giving her rival any free points and making her work for everything and the errors still come. Halep misreads a slower second serve to miss a chance to set up break point but then hits an unbelievable backhand winner cross court which gets the crowd on Philippe Chatrier purring again. We're back to deuce. Halep gets a slice of luck with a clip of the tape to throw Stephens at the net. The American reacts, gets her racket on the high ball but can't get her return in the court. Halep has another break point here. Stephens pushes Halep to all corners again and how does the Romanian even stay in this incredible point? Both players advance to net, Halep managing to get an overhead and finally finding space to push home the winner. HALEP BREAKS. 3:55PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 3-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens trying to gee herself up by slapping her thigh trailing 30-0. The physical pep talk has worked in the short term, winning the next two points. Halep is more aggressive on the next point and the low ball is difficult for Stephens to retrieve. And at game point another lengthy rally ensues and Stephens blinks first. 'That's a play', shouts Bartoli in the ITV studio again. We know which way Bartoli wants this final to play out. 36 64 30 �� Halep has kept her head. She has kept her aggression. She has not gone away. And now she is amazingly 12 points from the title!���� #RG18pic.twitter.com/ZvL2ZtDDvP— Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) June 9, 2018 3:50PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 2-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Superb ball-striking from both players again as Stephens just misses a forehand when she was making them regularly during the first set. Pressure now as Halep moves to 15-30 up but Stephens keeps calm this time to deliver a brilliant forehand winner cross court. That was a big point. And here's a bigger one now. Stephens can't make a first serve. She gets a second one in but then throws in a sloppy forehand. Her level has massively dropped. Halep, break point now. She takes it. A punched deep forehand is too much for Stephens to get back. The momentum is all with Halep. HALEP BREAKS. 3:45PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 1-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Both players left the court at the end of the second set and we're into unchartered territory now as all seven of their head-to-heads haven't gone the distance before. All three of Halep's last grand slam finals went into a decider. At the start of the third and that break in action has worked to Stephens' advantage as she moves to 0-30. A brilliant backhand winner down the line draws Halep back to 30-all and nerves get the better of Stephens on the next point as she strikes long. Despite great defensive play from the 10th seed, Halep stays strong to see out the game. Sloane Stephens’ adjustment steps have slowed— bad sign when your opponent in the third set is Simona Halep. What a match @rolandgarros— Gerry Marzorati (@marzoTennis) June 9, 2018 3:36PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep stays positive, switching play from corner to corner and biding her time from the baseline. She gets a let off when Halep makes one stretch out wide and looks on as Stephens sends a forehand into the tramlines for 15-30. Stephens clenches her fist as a Halep groundstroke lands long. But she can't back it up as Halep's power and pace proves too hard to deal with. Halep brings up set point. And she takes it as Stephens hits into the tramlines. HALEP WINS SECOND SET TO LEVEL THE MATCH. 3:31PM Halep 3-6, 5-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep throws Stephens off balance by taking a forehand early and catching the American out on the baseline. Stephens stays strong during the next point, firing deep, so deep at the lines and piling further pressure on Halep at 30-all. Halep takes advantage as a ball rears up off the clay and takes the pace off Stephens' reply. Halep is on the short ball in a flash, striking a volley into the corner. Halep moves Stephens side-to-side before unleashing the winner and crucially Halep edges back in front this set. Halep battles against Stephens Credit: AFP 3:27PM Halep* 3-6, 4-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep looks to her corner with her arms extended out wide at missing one groundstroke. Stephens sends down her first ace of the match to establish a 30-0 advantage and then watches as Halep pushes long. That last game might be playing on the world No 1's mind. Stephens misses two game points, the second missing the line with a backhand. But she outlasts Halep during the next rally and we're back level for the set. 3:22PM Halep 3-6, 4-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens has woken back into action. A floating forehand on the line takes her to three break points and when Halep pushes long, we're back on serve this set. Halep will be kicking herself. That was lost far too quickly. STEPHENS BREAKS. 3:20PM Halep* 3-6, 4-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens stops the rot as she watches a Halep forehand land wide. The world No 1 stays focused on Stephens' backhand, whipping forehands out of the American's reach. Stephens digs deep for 30-all but then floats a tired groundstroke into the middle to hand Halep another break point. Another unforced error from Stephens hands Halep a second break this set. How quickly this match has turned. HALEP BREAKS. 3:15PM Halep 3-6, 3-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens' concentration levels have taken a hit. The momentum has shifted, Halep winning 10 of their last 11 points. Stephens' range is off now, a couple of unforced errors allowing Halep of edging ahead this set. Too soon? Wikipedia already has Sloane winning: https://t.co/yLIoTSBndh— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 9, 2018 3:12PM Halep* 3-6, 2-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Marion Bartoli on the ITV commentary is struggling with impartiality this afternoon. 'Go, go, go, go, go' she cries in encouragement to Halep to rush the net. The Romanian's revival gathers pace moving to 0-30 and drawing the American into an error. Now she has three break points this game to draw level this set. And she makes it as Stephens drags a forehand into the tramlines. HALEP BREAKS. 3:08PM Halep 3-6, 1-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens gives one mark a serious look as Halep edges to 30-15 and is finally starting to hurt the American will some deep hitting and solid net play. The Romanian's best chance is to cut short the points and rush the net where possible. A forehand down the line sets Halep up for moving into court and she duly dispatches the volley. Great play Halep. Halep keeps fighting against Stephens Credit: Getty Images 3:05PM Halep* 3-6, 0-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A drop in concentration now from Stephens as Halep moves to 0-30. Stephens composes herself passing Halep at the net and then getting a bit of fortune with a mishit forehand that lands flush on the line. Halep's head drops. From 30-0 down, Stephens completes the comeback with four straight points. That will hurt Halep. This performance from Sloane Stephens in a Slam final is the equal of those from all-time greats like Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova and Rafael Nadal. That good.— David Law (@DavidLawTennis) June 9, 2018 3:01PM Halep 3-6, 0-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep will be praying that Stephens' level drops soon. But it isn't. The American continues to work her magic, spraying unbelievable winners. One backhand down the line brings up two break points. She misses the first with a backhand error. Halep delivers a crucial first serve to blot the second. But Stephens has a third bite of the cherry now. Halep whips a forehand winner down the line to keep Stephens waiting. The American doesn't mind waiting. She's the patient kind. She demonstrates her ability to draw winners from all acute angles by setting up break point No 4 and this time she cheekily goes for a high ball as Halep moves into the net. The Romanian gets her racket to the ball but it flies wide. Stephens is playing unbelievable tennis. Why now? Halep must be thinking. Why now. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:53PM Halep* 3-6 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens' footwork behind the baseline and effortlessness moving side-to-side is mesmorising. Halep is finding the corners, but Stephens is retrieving everything thrown at her and asking further questions of Halep. One punching forehand flashes cross court at a zippy 90 mph for 30-15 but she blinks first during the next lengthy rally. Now she is breathing heavily as she lines up for her next service rotation. Halep toys with Stephens as another rally ensues, chasing down a drop shot and delivering her own drop which Stephens can't retrieve. It's a first break point for Halep. Anxiousness appears to get the better of her. She stands rigid in disbelief at missing that chance. Stephens composes herself to get back on track with decent serving to bring up set point. She takes it as her power is again too much for the world No 1. STEPHENS WINS THE FIRST SET 6-3 2:47PM Halep 3-5 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep working hard for every point and building some rhythm on her serve now. A strong hold to 30, the world No 1 steps into a short return to deliver her own forehand winner. More cries of 'Si-mon-a' ring round Chatrier. Stephens will be serving for the set. 2:43PM Halep* 2-5 Stephens (*denotes next server) A poorly-executed drop shot from Stephens coupled with sound defensive play behind the baseline work Halep to 15-30. Stephens runs round a backhand to strike a powerful forehand and deceives the world No 1 who anticipated Stephens going down the line at game point, only to be watch Stephens strike a forehand winner cross court. @SloaneStephens power AND her topspin is hurting Simo ... their movement is incredible but Sloane’s power is the difference and will be throughout. Only chance Simo has is if Sloane gets tight.— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 Stephens in fantastic form at the start of the opening set Credit: Reuters 2:38PM Halep 2-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Wow. Just when Halep looks to be in control of a rally, Stephens finds a winner at such a cute angle. It draws the American to 30-all and keeps the heat on Halep. The world No 1 isn't playing badly, but Stephens is hitting the lines quite perfectly so far. Halep makes an important hold when Stephens makes an uncharacteristic unforced error. 2:34PM Halep* 1-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh. My. Word! Halep is quite brilliant, brilliant terrier. She makes two ridiculous gets out wide which she has no right to retrieve to send everything back but then strikes an unforced error into the net. She stares down the net in disbelief. At 40-15 Halep fires a winner down the line and looks if to say 'is this what I have to do just to win a point?' Stephens, in true smoking a cigar, feet up style, gets over the night to cement the break. Women's final so far = (fire emoji)(fire emoji)(fire emoji).#RG18— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 9, 2018 2:29PM Halep 1-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Some fantastic tennis being played by both women now, working each other from side to side and creating the space to go for the kill. Halep moves into the court for the first time, smashing a sublime overhead deep into the corner for 30-all. But Stephens has some zip on a second service return to throw Halep at the baseline. It brings up a first break point for Stephens. And she makes it. Stephens does brilliantly to switch the play from down the line to cross court and it forces Halep to strike the middle. STEPHENS BREAKS. 2:23PM Halep* 1-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A couple of long forehands from Halep allow Stephens to progress to 40-15. But the swirling wind is causing problems for both players and the American pushes one groundstroke behind the line to allow Halep to hang around in the game. The 10th seed stays on the front foot during the next rally and draws another error from Halep's forehand. It remains on serve. 2:19PM Halep 1-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Beautiful ball-striking from Stephens as the American strikes a clean forehand winner down the line after moving Halep at the baseline to create an opening. It's effortless from Stephens as she draws Halep wide to draw level at 30-all. Halep takes the crucial next point, relieved as Stephens' reply flies off the top of her racket. A cross court exchange during the next rally of 14 shots ends when Halep strikes into the tape. Cries of 'Simona' ring round at deuce. Stephens can't jump on a slower second serve but Halep finally holds when she outlasts Stephens during a brutal baseline duel. 2:13PM Halep* 0-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens opens up the final, watches a couple of service returns land long for 30-0. Halep drags a backhand into the tramlines but then gets a first point on the board when Stephens makes an unforced error. Stephens takes a comfortable hold with a backhand winner down the line. The American looks calm and focused early on as expected. 2:03PM Here they come Stephens, with headphones nestled in her ears, heads out to the Philippe Chatrier Court first. Halep follows and unsurprisingly draws a louder cheer from the crowd. Here she is! What Simona and Sloane are playing for today...#RG18pic.twitter.com/5Xq1GGbICc— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2018 1:56PM Getting to know Stephens Stephens' aloof and seemingly can't be bothered attitude hasn't won her too many additional followers and supporters in Paris. Our tennis correspondent Simon Briggs tweeted after Stephens' semi-final win over good friend Madison Keys that she looked like she would rather be "flossing her teeth" than giving her on-court interview. Her lack of French hasn't helped with making friends either. While many of the top level players have gone to great lengths to speak the local language at Roland Garros, Stephens has only uttered a tepid 'Merci Paris, je t'aime' in post-match discussions. Former player and American broadcaster Mary Carillo spent much time with Stephens last summer while working together at the Tennis Channel in the US. Carillo has offered a great insight into what Stephens is really like. She's not just the laid-back, unimpressed and unbothered individual she displays on the court. 1:39PM Halep's supporters Halep fans getting hyped outside Chatrier less an hour before the Women’s Final @rolandgarros ���� pic.twitter.com/uglLMFcyIl— Steve Weissman (@Steve_Weissman) June 9, 2018 1:33PM How will Halep cope with the pressure? Halep and Stephens have similar styles. Both glide around the back of the court, have an abundance of stamina and can switch from defence into attack. The biggest question mark hanging over Halep is the scar tissue of those defeats. When she came from a set down to beat Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals, Halep pointed her finger at her temple. She still has moments of anxiety and self doubt, but by and large she is starting to fix some of her self-inflicted issues. "She deals much better with pressure," 1978 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici who is also Halep's manager and the only woman from Romania to win a major. "The fact that she became No 1 has given her a different dimension, a different stature. She really deals with things better. Psychologically, she's also much better. ... And now she wants to win a Grand Slam. And now she says it. "Before, she didn't dare say it. Now she says it: 'I want to win a Grand Slam.'" Simona Halep, head in the game#RG18#Gettypic.twitter.com/70PQx2eI27— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 6, 2018 1:16PM Flashback to 2008 Halep shouldn't concern herself with the three grand slam finals lost but look back on a happy time when she was lifting the winners' trophy. Ten years ago, as ninth seed Halep won the junior girls' title beating compatriot Elena Bogdan in three sets. If the world No 1 prevails today, she would become the sixth player to win the women's singles title in Paris after winning the girls' title. The other five, you ask? Francoise Durr, Mima Jausovec, Hana Mandlikova, Jennifer Capriati and Justine Henin. Halep won the girls' title in Paris back in 2008 Credit: Getty Images 12:38PM Stephens' impeccable finals record Halep won't need reminding of Stephens' record in tournament finals. The American has proved herself a big-game player, most prominently during her charge to last year's US Open final where she became an unlikely champion so soon after returning from an 11-month injury lay-off. The 25-year-old's victory in Miami back in early April, was her sixth straight win from six finals. Of her impeccable form in finals, Stephens said in the lead up to today's showdown: "There is no formula. I didn't, like, try to do it. I'm not trying to break a record. It's just how it's happened for me." Halep has a mixed bag of results when it comes to finals - albeit competing in a far higher number than her rival. Stephens has won all six of her tournament finals Credit: Getty Images The Romanian is 16-14 overall but her experience hasn't helped her get over the line in the last 12 months. Halep has lost finals in Paris, Cincinnati, Beijing, Melbourne and Rome. Her only success was a smaller tournament in Shenzhen at the start of the year. Halep's 'always the bridesmaid never the bride' story makes her a favourite with neutral fans who are desperate to see the wounded 26-year-old put some painful defeats behind her and write a new chapter of positivity and success moving forward. 10:45AM And then there were two... Welcome all to coverage of the women's final at Roland Garros where Simona Halep looks to fulfil a career ambition of ending her grand slam drought by overcoming last year's US Open champion Sloane Stephens. Halep is well versed in the occasion of reaching the latter stages of a major, especially in Paris where she has won through to the final two other times in 2014 and last year, only to suffer defeat to Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko. This afternoon she must defy the brilliance and athleticism of American Stephens, who will be competing in her first final at Roland Garros, in order to get her hands on the Suzanne Lenglen cup. While the crowd are likely to get behind the world No 1 Halep, Stephens' nerveless approach to her game could prove a tough obstacle to clear. The Romanian has a superior head-to-head advantage, winning five of their seven battles - including winning all four of their last encounters. In fact Halep saw off the 10th seed Stephens during her run to the French Open final in 2014. If today's match goes to a third set, it will be the first time a decider has been required to determine the outcome of their battles. Who will you be supporting this afternoon and how do you see the final playing out? Vote in the poll below and send your thoughts to me at vicki.hodges@telegraph.co.uk
Simona Halep fights back from set and break down to end grand slam drought in Paris
World No 1 Simona Halep finally broke her grand-slam jinx at Roland Garros, producing an unforgettable comeback to burn past the reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens on the home straight. The fans in Paris had watched Halep come up just short of the title here twice before, and they have developed a warm relationship with her. Court Philippe Chatrier was rocking in the third set as Halep pulled away, producing some absurd recovery shots to exhaust the waning Stephens further. At the close of her 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win, Halep accepted a leg-up from a courtside official and climbed up to her player box, where she embraced the three men who have stood consistently at her side through her climb up the world rankings: physio Andrei Cristofor, fitness trainer Teo Cercel and coach Darren Cahill. As the Telegraph reported, in a pre-tournament interview with Halep: “I have people around me who are friends and I feel like they are there forever.” This comeback was surely all the sweeter because Halep was thoroughly outplayed in the opening set. Stephens was so smooth and so resourceful, mixing booming topspin with flatter, faster strikes in a way that made her look – for 40 minutes or so – virtually unbeatable. The apparent rout continued into the early stages of the second, as Stephens broke again to lead 6-3, 2-0. The scoreline then was curiously similar to the lead that Halep had held over Jelena Ostapenko here 12 months ago. Halep celebrates winning the French Open Credit: AP Halep wound up as the frustrated party that day, backing off at just the wrong moment and allowing the free-swinging Ostapenko to surge to a shock win. But she is never more dangerous than when she is trailing, because that is when she loosens up and starts playing like a woman with nothing to lose. “I thought ‘Everything is gone. I just have to relax,’” said Halep afterwards, grinning her way through her on-court interview, as she remembered the key moment. The switch was partly spiritual, as she tapped into her deepest wells of tenacity. But it was also tactical, as she decided to use the whole area of the court for the first time, darting forward to the net whenever Stephens was pushed into deep defence. Commentating for ITV, the former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli began yelling: “That’s the play! That’s the play!” whenever Halep put away a winning volley. There is a huge amount of warmth towards Halep around the sport, as she conducts herself with real class at all times. If Halep found her best self in her moment of crisis, Stephens began to show signs of weariness. The match was only an hour old but Halep was setting a demanding pace and giving fewer and fewer freebies away as the match wore on. No fewer than 55 rallies exceeded nine shots, more than a third of the total points, which is an unusually high figure. The average speed of Stephens’ forehand, which had been doing so much damage, dropped from 77mph in the first set to 70mph in the second. Halep came from a set and break down to end Stephens' 100 per cent record in finals Credit: AFP The third set might look like a non-event on the scorecard but some of the rallies were extraordinary. And none more so than the point Halep won to go a double break ahead at 4-0. This was a 16-shot extravaganza in which she had to dig out a couple of desperate retrievals from the back of the court, then sprint up to the net to dink back a drop-shot, and finally backpedal to make that most awkward of putaways, the backhand overhead. When she finally edged Stephens out in that one, the usually sphinx-like Cahill jumped up off his seat and punched the air in the most uncharacteristic manner. Stephens would win only eight more points from that moment, as Halep finally finished the job with an unreturned serve, dropped her racket and put her hands over her face. Considering what she has been through to reach this point, she was surprisingly restrained in her celebrations, although she spoke eloquently afterwards. “I felt your support,” said Halep told the crowd, as she spoke to Bartoli afterwards. “In the last game I felt that I could not breathe any more, so I just tried not to repeat the last year. I did everything I could. It’s amazing what is happening now. Honestly I can’t believe it. I have been dreaming of this moment since I started to play tennis. I’m really happy that it’s happened in Roland Garros in Paris, my special city.” Halep has loved playing here ever since she won the junior event in 2008. She also took the time out to namecheck her compatriot Virginia Ruzici, who won the French Open 40 years ago and was watching from the stands. Halep won the junior title in 2008 Credit: AFP Messages of congratulation were now flooding in on social media from rivals like Petra Kvitova and Johanna Konta. Later Martina Navratilova – who recently hinted that she will be returning to Wimbledon for the BBC this summer on improved terms – would come up with a neat summation. “It wasn’t a monkey off her back; this was an 800lb gorilla.” The upshot is that this was the seventh straight women’s grand slam with a different winner. The tour is certainly open at the moment, after a sequence that began with Angelique Kerber in New York two years ago and continued through Serena Williams, Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and now Halep. Stephens shakes Halep's hand after losing the final Credit: AFP The one thing we are still waiting for is for anyone to show that they can put a sequence of results together to match what Williams and some of her 2000s rivals – the likes of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin – achieved at their peak. Yet if a straightforward narrative is hard to pull out of this unpredictable string of results, the women keep on throwing up quality matches, while the men have not produced an outstanding major tournament since Melbourne last year. In final analysis, Halep’s heartwarming victory was another good-news story for the WTA tour. 4:31PM Halep talks It's emotional to talk as the winner. I've been waiting for this moment since I was 14. I wanted this trophy to be here in France. Many congrats to Sloane. You have done a great job after those injuries. I'm sure you'll play many more finals in the future. Good luck and take care of your body. I wish in the future to play another final here. It's my favourite one. Thank you and see you next year. 4:29PM Stephens speaks It's been an incredible couple of weeks. It's not the trophy I wanted but it's still beautiful so thank you guys. To Simona, congratulations on your first slam. There's no one else I'd rather lose to than the world No 1. 4:28PM Halep the champion The world No 1 strides on to the mini stage assembled on Philippe Chatrier to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in relief and excitement in equal measure. The national anthem of Romanian is played out while Halep embraces the trophy. 4:26PM Sanchez Vicario hands out the trophies Arantxa Sanchez Vicario has the honour of handing out the runners-up plate and Suzanne Lenglen Cup this afternoon 20 years after her last Roland Garros title. 4:23PM A first time champion at Wimbledon awaits? Tears! Honestly tears!! Congratulations @Simona_Halep .... as a former player to see this moment is heartwarming! Three in a row 1st time slam winners....Sloane, Woz and Simo. Women’s tennis is hot!!— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 9, 2018 4:18PM Halep embraces Cahill in the stands The French Open champion is hoisted into the stands on Philippe Chatrier to give coach Cahill a warm embrace and then cuddles her mum and dad. There isn't a more popular winner than Halep. She manages to find her way back on to the court and looks to the sunny skies in thanks. The monkey is finally off her back. Simonaaaaa! You did it. So happy for you. Enjoy every second. You deserve this moment so much ��❤️ #RG18— Petra Kvitova (@Petra_Kvitova) June 9, 2018 4:16PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 Stephens* Here we go then. Halep lets out a deep sigh at winning the first point. But then nervously strikes long when well placed. A timely ace, her first of the match, is just what the doctor and her psychologist ordered but Stephens reels her in again for 30-all. Halep waits an age for a big overhead clearance to land. Halep stays strong to thwack a smash home and brings up championship point. She takes it. Stephens slaps a service return into the net. Halep has finally, finally won her first grand slam. Well done Simona. Her coach Darren Cahill can't quite believe it. He puts his hands on his head. Halep can't comprehend it either, placing both hands covering her face briefly before soaking up the adulation. GAME, SET AND MATCH: HALEP WINS FRENCH OPEN WITH 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 VICTORY OVER STEPHENS. 4:11PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 5-1 Stephens (*denotes next server) Oh dear, dear. Stephens' level has dropped massively as she hands a free point for Halep for 0-30. She digs deep, fighting back for 30-all and then wins a third straight point with a backhand into the corner. Halep won't allow Stephens of a free game this set and draws back to deuce. Stephens swings a volley into the corner to edge to game point and as the clock passes the two-hour mark, Stephens finally gets on the board this set. 4:04PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 5-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Too many errors from Stephens now as Halep keeping her foot on the gas. She holds to 15. Stephens faces an uphill battle to get back into proceedings Credit: AP 4:02PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 4-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens looking exacerbated now as a failed drop shot lands lamely at the net. The unforced errors are creeping up for the American while Halep's dogged style is taking the Romanian closer to a first title. The 10th seed isn't ready yet to give up the fight as she digs in with a cross court winner for 30-15. But Halep isn't giving her rival any free points and making her work for everything and the errors still come. Halep misreads a slower second serve to miss a chance to set up break point but then hits an unbelievable backhand winner cross court which gets the crowd on Philippe Chatrier purring again. We're back to deuce. Halep gets a slice of luck with a clip of the tape to throw Stephens at the net. The American reacts, gets her racket on the high ball but can't get her return in the court. Halep has another break point here. Stephens pushes Halep to all corners again and how does the Romanian even stay in this incredible point? Both players advance to net, Halep managing to get an overhead and finally finding space to push home the winner. HALEP BREAKS. 3:55PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 3-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens trying to gee herself up by slapping her thigh trailing 30-0. The physical pep talk has worked in the short term, winning the next two points. Halep is more aggressive on the next point and the low ball is difficult for Stephens to retrieve. And at game point another lengthy rally ensues and Stephens blinks first. 'That's a play', shouts Bartoli in the ITV studio again. We know which way Bartoli wants this final to play out. 36 64 30 �� Halep has kept her head. She has kept her aggression. She has not gone away. And now she is amazingly 12 points from the title!���� #RG18pic.twitter.com/ZvL2ZtDDvP— Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) June 9, 2018 3:50PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4, 2-0 Stephens (*denotes next server) Superb ball-striking from both players again as Stephens just misses a forehand when she was making them regularly during the first set. Pressure now as Halep moves to 15-30 up but Stephens keeps calm this time to deliver a brilliant forehand winner cross court. That was a big point. And here's a bigger one now. Stephens can't make a first serve. She gets a second one in but then throws in a sloppy forehand. Her level has massively dropped. Halep, break point now. She takes it. A punched deep forehand is too much for Stephens to get back. The momentum is all with Halep. HALEP BREAKS. 3:45PM Halep 3-6, 6-4, 1-0 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Both players left the court at the end of the second set and we're into unchartered territory now as all seven of their head-to-heads haven't gone the distance before. All three of Halep's last grand slam finals went into a decider. At the start of the third and that break in action has worked to Stephens' advantage as she moves to 0-30. A brilliant backhand winner down the line draws Halep back to 30-all and nerves get the better of Stephens on the next point as she strikes long. Despite great defensive play from the 10th seed, Halep stays strong to see out the game. Sloane Stephens’ adjustment steps have slowed— bad sign when your opponent in the third set is Simona Halep. What a match @rolandgarros— Gerry Marzorati (@marzoTennis) June 9, 2018 3:36PM Halep* 3-6, 6-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep stays positive, switching play from corner to corner and biding her time from the baseline. She gets a let off when Halep makes one stretch out wide and looks on as Stephens sends a forehand into the tramlines for 15-30. Stephens clenches her fist as a Halep groundstroke lands long. But she can't back it up as Halep's power and pace proves too hard to deal with. Halep brings up set point. And she takes it as Stephens hits into the tramlines. HALEP WINS SECOND SET TO LEVEL THE MATCH. 3:31PM Halep 3-6, 5-4 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep throws Stephens off balance by taking a forehand early and catching the American out on the baseline. Stephens stays strong during the next point, firing deep, so deep at the lines and piling further pressure on Halep at 30-all. Halep takes advantage as a ball rears up off the clay and takes the pace off Stephens' reply. Halep is on the short ball in a flash, striking a volley into the corner. Halep moves Stephens side-to-side before unleashing the winner and crucially Halep edges back in front this set. Halep battles against Stephens Credit: AFP 3:27PM Halep* 3-6, 4-4 Stephens (*denotes next server) Halep looks to her corner with her arms extended out wide at missing one groundstroke. Stephens sends down her first ace of the match to establish a 30-0 advantage and then watches as Halep pushes long. That last game might be playing on the world No 1's mind. Stephens misses two game points, the second missing the line with a backhand. But she outlasts Halep during the next rally and we're back level for the set. 3:22PM Halep 3-6, 4-3 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens has woken back into action. A floating forehand on the line takes her to three break points and when Halep pushes long, we're back on serve this set. Halep will be kicking herself. That was lost far too quickly. STEPHENS BREAKS. 3:20PM Halep* 3-6, 4-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Stephens stops the rot as she watches a Halep forehand land wide. The world No 1 stays focused on Stephens' backhand, whipping forehands out of the American's reach. Stephens digs deep for 30-all but then floats a tired groundstroke into the middle to hand Halep another break point. Another unforced error from Stephens hands Halep a second break this set. How quickly this match has turned. HALEP BREAKS. 3:15PM Halep 3-6, 3-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens' concentration levels have taken a hit. The momentum has shifted, Halep winning 10 of their last 11 points. Stephens' range is off now, a couple of unforced errors allowing Halep of edging ahead this set. Too soon? Wikipedia already has Sloane winning: https://t.co/yLIoTSBndh— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 9, 2018 3:12PM Halep* 3-6, 2-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) Marion Bartoli on the ITV commentary is struggling with impartiality this afternoon. 'Go, go, go, go, go' she cries in encouragement to Halep to rush the net. The Romanian's revival gathers pace moving to 0-30 and drawing the American into an error. Now she has three break points this game to draw level this set. And she makes it as Stephens drags a forehand into the tramlines. HALEP BREAKS. 3:08PM Halep 3-6, 1-2 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Stephens gives one mark a serious look as Halep edges to 30-15 and is finally starting to hurt the American will some deep hitting and solid net play. The Romanian's best chance is to cut short the points and rush the net where possible. A forehand down the line sets Halep up for moving into court and she duly dispatches the volley. Great play Halep. Halep keeps fighting against Stephens Credit: Getty Images 3:05PM Halep* 3-6, 0-2 Stephens (*denotes next server) A drop in concentration now from Stephens as Halep moves to 0-30. Stephens composes herself passing Halep at the net and then getting a bit of fortune with a mishit forehand that lands flush on the line. Halep's head drops. From 30-0 down, Stephens completes the comeback with four straight points. That will hurt Halep. This performance from Sloane Stephens in a Slam final is the equal of those from all-time greats like Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova and Rafael Nadal. That good.— David Law (@DavidLawTennis) June 9, 2018 3:01PM Halep 3-6, 0-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server) Halep will be praying that Stephens' level drops soon. But it isn't. The American continues to work her magic, spraying unbelievable winners. One backhand down the line brings up two break points. She misses the first with a backhand error. Halep delivers a crucial first serve to blot the second. But Stephens has a third bite of the cherry now. Halep whips a forehand winner down the line to keep Stephens waiting. Th