AP Sports Writer
PARIS (AP) — Amid all the emotions of playing in her first Grand Slam final at the French Open, Simona Halep was able to keep her cool and keep her focus on the tennis.
For nearly three hours, anyway.
But in the third set on Saturday, tied 4-4 and serving to take the lead, Halep said she was unnerved when the chair umpire reversed a call to give Maria Sharapova a 0-15 lead. Sharapova then won the next seven points, and the match, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-4.
“I thought … that we have to replay the point because I touched the ball,” Halep said. “But the rule is, no, if I don’t put the ball on the court we cannot replay the point. So I think that ball was very important at that moment.”
In the previous game, Halep broke Sharapova for the seventh time in the match. But on the first point of the next game, Sharapova’s shot was called long and Halep rimmed it well out of play.
Halep thought she won the point, but chair umpire Kader Nouni overruled the call, checking the mark in the clay and saying it was in. Halep then thought the point would be replayed, but Nouni said she had made contact before the linesman’s call and hit it out, meaning Sharapova won the point.
“After that, I couldn’t manage my nerves, maybe, and I couldn’t stay very focused for the next points,” Halep said. “That’s it. That’s life. So I have to look forward … to work harder and to play many more finals.”
Halep has risen through the rankings over the last year, and will be No. 3 on Monday. Her run at the French Open was impressive, winning her first six matches in straight sets.
“She certainly deserved to be at this stage,” Sharapova said. “She pushed me to the limit.”
Especially in the second set, when Halep twice broke Sharapova to serve for the set, and won four straight points in the tiebreaker to even the match at one set apiece.
“She doesn’t crack. She hates defeat,” said Virginia Ruzici, Halep’s manager and the only Romanian woman to win a Grand Slam title. “When she was 4-3 down (in the second set), she felt that it was not possible, that she didn’t want to lose, and she raised her game.
“From that moment, Simona played her best tennis.”
Saturday’s match lasted 3 hours, 2 minutes, making it the longest French Open women’s final since 1996, when Steffi Graf beat Arantxa Sanchez 10-8 in the third. And Halep was giving Sharapova all she could handle right up until that point got under her skin and played havoc with her concentration.
“I played very good tennis, very good level. So I’m really proud about these two weeks,” Halep said. “I’m really happy, and it was an amazing feeling on court today.”
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