Maria Sharapova edges out Simona Halep in titanic battle to land French Open title
Maria Sharapova beat Simona Halep in an enthralling encounter to win her second French Open title in three years.
Romanian Halep, playing in her first grand slam final, gave everything she had and played her full part in a terrific final but after three hours and two minutes it was Sharapova who won it 6-4 6-7 (5/7) 6-4.
It has been quite some transformation for a player who used to find clay an alien surface.
Sharapova, who also lost last year's final to Serena Williams, took her tally of grand slam titles to five, winning more than once at the same major for the first time.
Before receiving the trophy from Chris Evert, Sharapova said: "This is the toughest grand slam final I've ever played. All respect to Simona, I thought she played an unbelievable match today.
"I never thought seven, eight years ago I would win more Roland Garros' when I was 27 than any other grand slams. It's a dream come true and it means so much. I'm so emotional right now I can't even talk."
Halep was looking to become only the second Romanian woman to win a grand slam singles title after Virginia Ruzici, who is her manager, in Paris in 1978.
The 22-year-old has gone from losing in the first round here 12 months ago and having never won a title to winning seven of them and on Monday she will be ranked third in the world.
And it was Halep who started the better, the first-timer looking the looser and guiding her shots expertly into the corners as she moved into a 2-0 lead.
Halep, the higher seed but clearly not the favourite, has a lovely fluidity of movement and superb balance that enables her to comfortably trade with more powerful players.
But, her poor first game aside, Sharapova had really raised her level from her previous matches and was powering away a lot of winners.
From 0-2 she won five straight games, although things might have been different had a rather desperate forehand not caught the line on break point in the fifth game.
But trying to serve out the set the errors returned and Halep broke back for 4-5.
That still left the Romanian having to hold serve, though, and, with a crying baby perhaps distracting her, she missed a forehand as Sharapova converted her second set point.
The pair had met in the Madrid final last month, Halep winning the first set easily but then losing the next two, and it was a huge task for the 2008 junior champion to reverse that now.
Sharapova raced into a 2-0 lead in the second set but then let her opponent off the hook just when she seemed poised to stamp her foot down.
There were lots of Romanian flags in evidence and there was no doubt who the majority of the crowd wanted to win.
Halep gave her fans plenty to cheer with two gutsy winners to save break points and prevent Sharapova moving into a 5-3 lead.
The Romanian used that momentum to break Sharapova, winning a truly remarkable rally on the penultimate point, and serve for the set only for the seventh seed to break back on a net cord.
The pattern was then repeated, sending the set into a tie-break.
Sharapova looked poised to clinch the title at 5-3 but blinked within sight of the line, four errors helping Halep level the match.
It was the first women's final to go the distance since Jennifer Capriati beat Kim Clijsters 12-10 in the third in 2001.
Sharapova took a long bathroom break between sets and began the decider by breaking the Halep serve, but back came the Romanian with a sixth successive break.
In the second game of the set Sharapova was given a time violation by umpire Kader Nouni, who had been overly lenient on the Russian's slow play.
Halep looked the fresher and she had two chances to break for 3-1 but missed a backhand on the first and Sharapova won the second with a forehand.
The Russian's fist pumps were becoming ever more dramatic, and the most prolonged of the lot came when, having saved two break points, Halep netted a backhand to give Sharapova a 3-2 lead.
But Halep refused to go away and Sharapova's 12th double fault of the match made it 4-4.
Just when it seemed it might be slipping away, though, the Russian played a stunning game to break again and leave herself serving for the match.
And this time there were no more twists, Sharapova winning the final eight points of the match and collapsing to the clay in delight.