Halep makes grand slam breakthrough

SIMONA Halep’s agonising wait for grand slam glory is over.

Banishing memories of three previous major final defeats, the Romanian overcame Sloane Stephens to finally notch the success she desperately craved with a 3-6 6-4 6-1 victory in the French Open.

Four years after contesting the first of three losing major deciders, Halep steamed to a 17th career title – and clearly the most significant.

The world No 1 is the first woman to be denied in as many majors before eventually breaking through since Jana Novotna at Wimbledon in 1998.

Only Kim Clijsters (four) had lost more grand slam deciders before eventually prevailing.

Beaten in French Open play-offs by Maria Sharapova (2014) and Jelena Ostapenko last year, Halep was also denied in January’s Australian Open final by Dane Caroline Wozniacki.

Only seven women in history have taken longer to triumph at grand slam level, headed by Italian Flavia Pennetta, who took 49 majors before breaking through at the 2015 US Open.

This was Halep’s 32nd major tournament.

The 26-year-old’s victory added further gloss to her South Australian coach Darren Cahill’s astonishing record.

Cahill piloted Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi both to grand slam titles and the world No 1 ranking.

Contesting her 103rd grand slam match since 2010, Halep did it the hard way against inspired Stephens.

The American’s sublime movement and easy power had her in control when she led by a set and was serving for a 3-0 buffer in the second set.

Watched by a host of former French Open champions, including Australians Ken Rosewall and Lesley Bowrey, Halep reeled off 12 of the next 13 games.

Revelling in the warm, steamy conditions, Halep’s bottomless stamina and athleticism – along with a steely mindset – helped her steadily dismantle the reigning US Open champion.

Cahill has worked with Halep since October 2017, briefly ending the partnership last year before returning for the 2017 French Open.

Usually undemonstrative, the poker-faced mentor punched the air in delight as Halep routed Stephens in the final set.

Halep is the first Romanian woman to win a major, joining 1978 Roland Garros champion Virginia Ruzici.

She collected $ 3.4million in victory, while Stephens pocketed $ 1.8million.

Maria Bueno, the great Brazilian stylist, was honoured before the match with a rousing ovation.

Winner of four US and three Wimbledon crowns, Bueno died on Friday, aged 78.

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