Paris (AFP) – Simona Halep said she had to be “mentally very strong” to battle back from a set and a break down to end her wait for a Grand Slam title in Saturday’s French Open final.
The world number one admitted that she thought she was destined for a fourth consecutive major final loss when she trailed American Sloane Stephens 6-3, 2-0, before going on to claim a 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory.
“I felt that and I said, ‘it’s not going to happen again, but it’s okay. I have just to play’, and then I just started to win games,” she said.
Halep had suffered a crushing defeat in last year’s final at Roland Garros, blowing a set and 3-0 lead herself to lose against the attacking Jelena Ostapenko.
But the Romanian said that she managed to use those memories to her advantage, knowing that there was still a way back into the match in her third French Open final.
“I said that last year (it) happened to me, same thing, I was set and a break up and I lost the match.
“So I said there is a chance to come back and win it. So I believed in that, and my game was more relaxed. I could make more things on court, and that’s why I could win.”
An incredible fightback ensued, with Halep edging a tense second set before racing to victory in the decider.
But she said that, with the weight of expectation after past failures, she was still feeling the pressure in the closing stages.
“I couldn’t breathe very well in the last game at 5-0. And when I lost the game, I said, ‘okay, I have four more until she gets back’,” added the 26-year-old.
“Last year I was a little bit defensive when I was leading the match, and now I just change it in my mind.
“I said that I have to hit the balls. I have to move and not thinking about the last game. Just every ball, every point.
“So I did it well, and I was very strong mentally to finish that.”
Halep has had to deal with plenty of criticism for being a world number one without a Grand Slam title, but she insisted that holding the top ranking wasn’t a burden.
“For me it was really positive. And the fact that I could be number one in the world last year gave me confidence and gave me a little bit of relief, because I touched something big, something huge, and I just had in my mind to win a Grand Slam after that.”
A junior champion at Roland Garros in 2008, Halep said that it had always been her aim to win the French Open ahead of the other major tournaments.
She lost in three sets to Caroline Wozniacki at the Australian Open earlier this year, but joked that she was happy to have lost down under: “But the most important moment was when I won juniors.
“I said that if I will win a Grand Slam in professional tennis, I want it to be the same one. So I’m really happy that I didn’t win Melbourne, actually.”