By Jane Voigt
In the best match of the 2014 French Open, Maria Sharapova demonstrated superior championship qualities enough to edge her first-time finalist opponent, Simona Halep, and win her second title in Paris and fifth Major overall.
This was Sharapova’s third consecutive final at Stade Roland Garros, and the first 3-set final in 13 years, the last coming between Jennifer Capriati and Kim Clijsters in 2010.
The victory raised Sharapova’s overall record on clay to 20-1 for the year. It is also her 20th consecutive 3-set win, her last coming against Justine Henin in the round of sixteen in this slam in 2010.
This final will be remembered as a classic because of its high-level of play, difficulty of competition, and Halep’s ability to play like a veteran slam finalist when, in fact, it was her inaugural step onto one of the four big stages of tennis.
In the second-set tiebreak Sharapova was two points from a straight set victory, when Halep dug deep. She hit with more pace. Moved the ball to all corners of the court, flustering Sharapova enough to force errors. Halep ran off four-straight points to send the final into its deciding set. Maria squeaked by 64 67(5) 64.
“This my first Grand Slam speech so emotional,” Halep said to fans. “I hope to have many many more but this one will be special for all my life. First, congratulations to Maria. I had incredible 2 weeks. I played my best and glad you came to support me. Thank you everybody and also the people from Romanian. I love you, I can say. I feel really amazing. I love you.”
Sharapova, who stands eight inches taller than Halep, lacked for words to describe her experience.
“This is the toughest grand slam final I have ever played,” Maria said, after hoisting the Coupe de Suzanne Lenglen. “All respect to Simona. She played an unbelievable match today. I can’t believe I’d win more Roland Garros’s than any other Grand Slam in my career. I’m so emotional right now; I can’t even talk.”
Sharapova showed sincere gratitude to her team of three, with Sven Groenfeld as the main coach. “I wish I could cut this trophy and give a piece to you all.” They began working together last year.
In the early stages of set three, fans inside Centre Court chanted, “See-mo-na. See-mo-na,” clearly favoring the five-six Halep. At that point the match had exceeded the length of the 2013 men’s final between Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer.
Although this final was a memorable one, there were distractions. Sharapova excessively exceeded the allotted time between serves, which is 20 seconds in Grand Slams. To balance her chances in the gamesmanship arena, Halep twice stuck up her racquet to delay Sharapova’s serve.
Sharapova also continued to serve poorly. She threw in 12 double faults today, the most of her tournament. The dozen added to prior rounds raised the total number of double faults, to 43, an obscenely high number. That she won is a testament to her ground game, tough-as-nails mind, and her fierce return of serve — her biggest asset.
Sharapova missed much of last year, after leaving Wimbledon early and suffering more problems with her right shoulder in August. She went through two coach changes, too, which for a woman that strives for consistency on and off court proved emotionally difficult.
Seven different women have won the French Open over seven years, prior to today’s match. Sharapova now has won twice — 2012 and 2014. Chris Evert presented the trophies to Sharapova and Halep. The American legend won in Paris seven times.