Roland Garros: Halep breaks through, Nadal still the clay king

Maddy Friend Columnist

By Maddy Friend, Maddy Friend is a Roar Expert

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    On Saturday afternoon, Simona Halep entered the Roland Garros women’s singles final with the mental scars of last year’s anguishing capitulation to Jelena Ostapenko on this same court lingering in everyone’s minds. Two hours later, she emerged a Grand Slam champion.

    After looking for all the world like she was done and dusted at a set and a break down to Sloane Stevens, Halep dug deep, reeling off seven of the last eight games to break through for her maiden Slam title at her fourth attempt.

    In hindsight, that demoralising loss to Ostapenko looms as a defining moment in Halep’s career. It forced her to recognise that her mental fragility in matches was the thing holding her back from achieving her Grand Slam dream.

    She has always had the ability and game sense to compete with the top echelon of players, but it often seemed like her lack of self-confidence was holding her back. Working with a sports psychologist, and her coach Darren Cahill, she has found that self-confidence, and her game has blossomed because of it.

    Since taking the mantle of the game’s best female player in October last year, she reached the final of the Australian Open, where her mental fortitude carried her through an incredible three-set, third round match against American Lauren Davis, and has now achieved her ultimate dream.

    The work she has done on the mental side of her game has been evident in several matches this tournament – in the first round, when she lost the first set to unheralded American Alison Riskel, against Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals, and none more so than the final, when she found herself staring down the barrel of defeat.

    The Halep of old would likely have wilted under the pressure, but Halep 2.0, this calmer, reinvigorated version of the formerly fiery Romanian, urged herself on, and played trademark Halep tennis to clinch the title – retrieving everything Stevens threw at her, and even serving an ace in the latter stages of the third set.

    That she was able to constantly rebuff Stevens’ power game says a lot about Halep’s tenacity and spirit; the diminutive Romanian stands at just 170 cm tall, but plays beyond her stature.

    Sport often provides us with compelling storylines that transcend what happens on the court, and so it proved with Halep.

    If you’re a believer in signs or omens, everything pointed to a Halep victory – it was exactly 40 years since Virginia Ruzici triumphed here, the last Romanian to win the title; 10 years since Halep won the girl’s singles title at Roland Garros at the age of 16, after which she declared that Roland Garros was the Grand Slam she most wanted to win – indeed, in her in her post-match press conference, she alluded to this fact, stating that, although her Australian Open final loss this year to Caroline Wozniacki was tough, winning Melbourne as her first Grand Slam title wouldn’t have been fitting.

    And so it is poetically fitting that the player unable to close out big matches, who has fallen short three times on this grandest of stages, after coming heartbreakingly close to winning, finally tastes ultimate success at her favourite tournament.

    It’s been a victory ten years in the making, and Simona Halep can finally call herself a Grand Slam champion.

    Simona Halep

    (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

    A day after Halep’s triumph, a man whose mental fortitude has been one of the defining features of his game for the past 20 years, won his 11th Roland Garros title.

    Rafael Nadal, the ‘King of Clay’, made short work of first-time Slam finalist Dominic Thiem, winning 6-4 6-3 6-2 to etch his name in history as the first male player to win 11 titles at the same Slam (Margaret Court won 11 Australian Open titles from 1960-73).

    Thiem, the number seven seed, had looked the man most likely to challenge Nadal for the title, enjoying the mantle of the only player to have defeated Nadal on clay over the past two seasons; however he was no match for Nadal’s relentless energy and barrage of snarling forehands.

    Thiem has been one of the best clay court players of the past few seasons; indeed, he’s been firmly ensconced in the top 10 for the past few years, and it has seemed only a matter of time before he wins a Grand Slam.

    He’s now achieved the first step in the equation – making a Slam final – and can hold his head high after what has been encouraging display over the past fortnight. At 24, he has time on his side to reach this stage again, and will be better for this experience.

    In Nadal’s case, this victory continues perhaps the dominant mastery of a tournament in sporting history. His record at this tournament is an astounding 85 victories against two losses, and this season alone he won 26 of 27 clay-court matches, and 81 of 86 sets.

    With his physically intense game style, most predictions were that Nadal would have retired by now, so the fact that, at 32, he is still playing with the same intensity and energy with which he burst onto the scene as a 19-year old in 2005, boggles the mind.

    Winning this tournament clearly means as much to him now as it did way back then, and he hasn’t shown any signs of relinquishing his dominance on his beloved ‘terre battue’.

    Whatever Nadal achieves from now until the rest of his career, he has already etched his name in the echelons of sport’s greatest ever players. We’re lucky to be witness to it.

    New South Wales have won the 2018 State of Origin series with an 18-14 win in an absolutely outstanding Game 2 at ANZ Stadium. See how the action unfolded with our NSW vs QLD Origin 2 scores, highlights and blog.

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    The Crowd Says (1)

    • June 11th 2018 @ 5:47pm
      Johnno said | June 11th 2018 @ 5:47pm | ! Report

      Rafa is such a king of sports, he is so dominant on clay wow… Funny Halep, was in the crowd watching Rafa’s semi final must of got some tips… Been an awesome french open and so happy for Halep.. Funny to dare to dream could Rafa get a 12th french open next year…

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