PARIS – Newly-crowned French Open champion Simona Halep said she was inspired to win her first Grand Slam title by her manager Virginia Ruzici’s feats 40 years ago at Roland Garros.
Until Saturday, Ruzici’s 1978 Paris triumph over Mima Jausovec was the last time a Romanian, man or woman, had won a Grand Slam but Halep ended that long wait as she hit back to beat American Sloane Stephens 3-6 6-4 6-1.
In doing so, Halep equalled the feat of American seven-times French Open champion Chris Evert who also suffered three Grand Slam final losses before capturing the 1974 French title.
“It’s a motivation and inspiration,” the 26-year-old Halep told reporters with Ruzici sitting alongside her.
“Forty years ago she won here. It’s a special moment. The fact that it’s happened here, it’s pretty special.”
Ruzici, who also lost the 1980 final and was the inspiration for Richard Williams to teach his daughters Venus and Serena to play tennis, said her charge’s win was well-deserved.
“There is of course a lot of emotion,” she told reporters. “She was very close last season. She was favourite for this final but it was not simple. Simona gave her heart on the court.”
Halep climbed to the top of the rankings last October and has been there more or less ever since.
The elephant in the room remained her lack of a Grand Slam trophy having twice lost the title match in Paris and at this year’s Australian Open.
By beating Spain’s former French Open champion Garbine Muguruza in the semi-finals she guaranteed that she extended her stay as the world’s number one player - a position she has held now for 32 weeks in total.
But it was the Suzanne Lenglen trophy she really desired and the tears flowed as she raised it skywards on Saturday after showing huge character to battle back to victory.