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Maria Sharapova digs deep to reign supreme

- Russian outlasts Halep, claims second French Open crown
Maria Sharapova, after defeating Simona Halep at Roland Garros, on Saturday

Paris: Maria Sharapova won her second French Open on Saturday with a 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-4 victory over Simona Halep.

The 6-foot-2 Sharapova and the 5-6 Halep presented a tantalising match-up of power versus guile, experience versus new blood, and they did not disappoint, giving Roland Garros its first three-set women’s final since 2001.

But just as she has all tournament, Sharapova raised her game when she was down.

She was down a break early in the first set but rallied to win it. Halep served for the second set twice but could not close Sharapova out until a tie-breaker. When Sharapova lost her lead in the third set, she mercilessly took it back, winning the last eight points of the match.

Halep, a 22-year-old Romanian, was playing in her first Grand Slam final after rising from No. 57 to No. 4 in the rankings and winning seven WTA titles since last year’s French Open.

The 2012 champion here and the runner-up last year, Sharapova, 27, has also come a long way in a year.

After the French Open last year, she lost in the second round at Wimbledon, missed most of the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, went through two coaching changes and slipped to eighth from fourth in the rankings.

She returned to the Tour at the beginning of this season still motivated to add to her trophy case.

“I don’t think I would form a new team together and that I would go through the efforts of trying to come back if I didn’t have it,” she said late last year.

“It’s a lot of work, a lot of work, and I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t feel strongly about what my goals are and what I feel I can accomplish.”

Sharapova came to life during the clay-court season, going 19-1 and winning three titles. This is her fifth career Grand Slam championship, but the first time she has won a major twice.

Halep had been worried about her nerves in the quarter finals and the semi-finals, but Sharapova was more erratic early. In the first game of the match, Sharapova had a double fault and three errors to give Halep a break.

It looked as if Sharapova was headed to another difficult first set, which she had lost in her three previous matches. But Sharapova broke back three games later, then won the next three games.

Serving for the set at 5-3, though, Sharapova played a sloppy game and was broken.

She was zoned in for the next game, however, and broke back to win the first set.

When Sharapova broke Halep early in the second set, Sharapova seemed on the verge of pulling away. But she was broken in the next game to put the set back on serve.

The match then turned into a battle of wills. Sharapova won a game despite having three double faults.

At 4-4, Halep won a remarkable 20-shot rally to earn a break point and converted. Given a chance to serve for the set, she was broken back when a Sharapova shot clipped the net cord and dropped just over the net.

Halep broke Sharapova again to get another chance to serve out the set, but she tightened up. She was broken at love, and with emphasis, when Sharapova smashed a poor lob attempt right back at her.

In the ensuing tie-breaker, Sharapova jumped to a 5-3 lead as Halep continued to struggle to get her first serve in. But Sharapova made four straight errors, and Halep took the second set.

They traded breaks to open the third set, giving them six breaks of serve in a row.

A 1-2, Sharapova saved two break points to hold, then quickly built a 0-40 lead in the next game. When she broke Halep to go up by 3-2, Sharapova pumped both fists and screamed to the sky.

Halep would not go away, and Sharapova gave her plenty of help. Sharapova’s 11th and 12th double faults helped Halep even the set at 4-4.

But Sharapova broke Halep at love in the next game, capping it with a beautiful backhand to the corner.

Serving for the match at the three-hour mark, Sharapova won with conviction, crushing a forehand.

She sat on the court on her knees, leaned back, pumped her fists and screamed.

She then climbed into her box for a group hug with her team, Sven Groeneveld, her coach, Dieter Kindlmann, her hitting coach, and the physiotherapist Jerome Bianchi.

She was near tears in her post-match interview, and when she attempted to thank the crowd in French, she interrupted herself, saying, “I am so emotional right now I don’t know what language to speak.”

When she got her hands on the trophy, she hugged it tightly. “I wish I could cut this trophy up and hand a piece to you all,” she said to her team.