It was hard to predict what type of match fans were going to witness. Sharapova played erratic tennis over the previous three rounds and Halep had never played on this stage before. The result was one of the most hard-fought women's finals at a major quite some time.
The match marked the first half of championship weekend at Roland Garros. So let's review Saturday's action from Paris and then look ahead to the clash between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic for the men's title on Sunday.
Women's Final Result
|Player||1st Set||2nd Set||3rd Set|
Day 14 Recap
Halep, who was making her first Grand Slam final appearance, came out of the gates strong. She showed no signs of the nerves usually associated with young players and the big stage, scoring a quick break and grabbing a 2-0 lead in the opening set.
Douglas Robson of USA Today noted the match didn't start off with the usual script when an experienced player meets a rising star in a major final:
From 40/30 Sharapova DFs and hits two BH errors. Who’s nervous? Halep leads *1-0. #rg14— Douglas Robson (@dougrobson) June 7, 2014
Sharapova started to settle in after the lackluster start. She was then able to start dictating the points with her forehand, which frequently pushed Halep well behind the baseline. Even for a good defender it's hard to win a lot of points from that position against a player the caliber of the Russian star.
The more aggressive play allowed Sharapova to win five straight games to take complete control. Halep did continue to fight with a break to get back on serve at 5-4, but she couldn't consolidate it as the No. 7 seed broke back to win the opening set 6-4.
It was the first time since the third round she won a first set. Piers Newbery of BBC Sport noted the front-runner status might have felt a bit awkward to her:
Sharapova was asked about her struggles early in matches before the final. She didn't have an answer, but Dan Imhoff of the French Open's official site passed along her comments about having the internal drive to come back:
I'm not sure if that's something can you work on, but I think when you're forced to be in those situations when you're either not playing good or you find yourself in a losing position, I just don't want to give up, because I work too hard to just let something go and let a match go. You put so much effort, you and your team, to get to this position. If some things are not working out, I don't just want to quit in the middle … That's the type of philosophy that I play with.
It looked like she might be ready to pull away in the second set as a hold and a break made it 2-0. Halep wasn't ready to go down without a battle, however, and she matched that effort from Sharapova to get the set back on serve at 2-2.
After trading holds for awhile, Halep created an opening with a terrific point at deuce on Sharapova's serve at 4-4. She stuck with the point and returned what should have be any easy winner, creating a break opportunity which she converted.
It gave her a chance to force a third set on serve, but she let the opportunity slip away. It ended up being the first of four straight breaks to send the second set into a tiebreak.
In a breaker where both players struggled to hold their own service points, it was Halep who stepped up to win two straight on serve to give herself a set point. Then an error off the backhand wing from Sharapova leveled the match at one set apiece.
Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times pointed out it was the first women's final at Roland Garros to go the distance in more than a decade:
Backhand wide by Sharapova and a longing look to her box as Simona Halep takes second set 7-6(5). First three-set final since 2001! #RG14— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 7, 2014
The third set was more of the same. Both players continued to defend at a very high level, making any service hold extremely valuable.
Halep scored an important break to get the match back even at 4-4. Once again, she failed to consolidate it. Sharapova hit some terrific shots, highlighted by a winner to finish off the game, to give herself a chance to serve for the championship.
And the holds that were so tough to come by over the final two sets came easy in the final game. Sharapova held at love to knock off a gamely Halep, who will participate in many more finals if she continues to play at the level she showed in Paris.
The win for Sharapova earned her a second French title. The last one came in 2012.
Day 15 Preview
The French Open will conclude with the match everybody has been waiting for all tournament. The top two seeds on the men's side, Nadal and Djokovic, face off in what should be a highly entertaining rematch from the semifinals last year.
Sunday's clash marks the 42nd meeting between the dominant duo. Nadal holds a slight 22-19 edge, but Djokovic has won each of the past four matches. That includes a win on clay in the Rome Masters leading up to the season's second major.
One of the most intense matches between the two came at Roland Garros one year ago. They split the first four sets and battled deep into the fifth before Nadal prevailed at 9-7. He proceeded to capture his eighth French title in nine tries.
The Spaniard will attempt to make it nine out of 10 in the final while Djokovic is trying to complete the career Grand Slam.
John Buccigross of ESPN notes some key stats that the Serbian sensation will have to overcome in order to win his first French championship:
Nadal: won 34 straight French Open matches; trying to become 1st man to win 5 straight French Open titles (65-1 career at French Open)— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) June 7, 2014
Heading into the tournament it would have been possible to make the argument Djokovic was actually a slight favorite. He had showcased better form during the build up and had that victory in the Rome Masters under his belt.
That's no longer the case. Nadal has been his usual virtually unstoppable self since stepping onto the courts at Roland Garros. He's dropped just one set through six rounds and made his semifinal triumph over Andy Murray look extremely easy.
Which player is your pick to win the men's title?
In turn, Nadal returns to his typical favored status on the clay. That said, it's going to take a far greater effort to knock off Djokovic than any other opponent he's faced so far.
The deciding factor could be the amount of energy each player has left. Nadal cruised through the Murray match and looked ready to play the final 10 minutes later. Djokovic was forced to survive a four-set grind against Ernests Gulbis and looked tired near the end. He will need to recover quickly.
Above all else, the downside of early upsets is the lack of marquee matches later in the tournament. Luckily on the men's side the clear top two players were able to avoid the upset bug, setting up a must-see match for tennis fans on Sunday.