Maria Sharapova should hold on to La Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen as long as she can. She earned it. Oh, the Roland Garros 2014 tournament director and organizers will eventually come and take it back while Masha will take home a replica trophy. I hope they are strong enough to pry her grip from the champion’s prize. Certainly, nobody else was. Samantha Stosur had Masha down but couldn’t count the career Grand Slam winner out. Garbine Muguruza sprinted ahead of Sharapova early only to have the former world #1 lap her at the end. Tennis’ new ingénue, Eugenie Bouchard, dished it out early against her former idol but couldn’t serve up an upset victory. The only player remaining to prise Masha from her goal was finalist Simona Halep. Both ladies were ready to battle.
Although Simona played at a high level throughout Sharapova would not be denied. Along the way, these two outstanding players delivered the best women’s singles final at Roland Garros since Jennifer Capriati and Kim Clijsters dueled for three sets in 2001. Rallies, big shots, movement, grit, fight, determination. This final had it all. The only real blemish was 12 double faults from Masha. When a player executes as well as Simona did and the opponent throws in 12 double faults, that usually spells victory. It’s a testament to Sharapova’s force of will…and her 46 winners on the day…that she could still prevail. However, let’s also give praise to Simona Halep and her spirit. She was neither intimidated by her opponent nor overwhelmed by the occassion as other first time Major finalists have been in the past. After dropping the first set 4-6 and falling behind 0-2 at the start of the second, it felt like Sharapova might step on the gas and leave Simona behind. Halep would not let that happen. She broke Masha to get back on serve as they eventually went to a tiebreak at 6-all. Once again, Simona had to battle from behind in the second set decider. With the crowd loudly behind her, she did just that to finally take the second set 7-6 (5). Although Masha broke Simona to start the final set, Halep came right back and would hold a 2-1 lead and two break point chances for a 3-1 lead. That was where it slipped away. Simona couldn’t convert those chances and really put the heat on Masha. Instead of 3-1 for Simona, Masha held for 2-2 and then broke Halep for a 3-2 lead. Sensing the importance of the moment, Sharapova let out the longest, loudest scream of the match, clinching her fists by her side. She knew what could have happened and how she had turned the tables. When Sharapova broke in the 9th game for 5-4 and held at love, a wonderful 3 hour and 2 minute final had come to an end.
With the 6-4 6-7 (5) 6-4 triumph, Masha takes her 5th Major title and her first multiple title at one Major. It’s her 32nd singles title. Since May 2010, 9 of her 11 titles have come on clay. Considering that she once described her movement on clay as “a cow on ice”, she’s positively the Queen of Clay now. Since the start of 2012, only Serena Williams and Ana Ivanovic have defeated Masha on clay. She’s reached the Roland Garros final 3 years running, winning twice. Her ranking had been falling due in large part to missing much of the final half of 2013 with injury. She actually ran the risk of falling out of the top 10 if she didn’t reach the final at Roland Garros. Instead, she will move from #8 to #5 (she was seeded 7th due to Victoria Azarenka being out with injury). But her ranking matters little. Everybody knows she’s #2 or #3 at worst. If she can find a way to solve the riddle that has befuddled her in Serena Williams, maybe Masha could even reascend to #1.
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7 MARIA SHARAPOVA (won 6-4 6-7 (5) 6-4 vs 4 Simona Halep)