Nothing came easily for Maria Sharapova in the French Open final.
Serves hit by her surgically repaired shoulder often missed the mark, resulting in 12 double faults. Shots that would be winners against most opponents were retrieved by Simona Halep and sent right back. Leads that usually hold up vanished in a blink.
On a muggy afternoon, with the temperature in the high 20s, points were lung-searing struggles.
Sharapova was up to the task.
In an entertaining and undulating championship match — the first women’s final at Roland Garros in 13 years to go to three sets — Sharapova showed that she is as tough as they come, particularly on the red clay that used to flummox her. She edged Halep 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-4 on Saturday to win a second French Open title in three years.
“This is the toughest Grand Slam final I’ve ever played,” Sharapova said.
It is her fifth major trophy in all.
Remarkably, Sharapova owns twice as many from Paris as the one each she won at Wimbledon in 2004, the US Open in 2006 and the Australian Open in 2008.
“If somebody had told me ... at some stage in my career, that I’d have more Roland Garros titles than any other Grand Slam, I’d probably go get drunk,” Sharapova said with a chuckle. “Or tell them to get drunk. One or the other.”
The 3 hour, 2 minute tangle featured too many momentum swings to count, filled with lengthy baseline exchanges, and terrific defense and shot-making by both women.
Not bad for someone who once famously described herself as feeling like a “cow on ice” when it came to playing on clay, a slow, demanding surface that requires excellent footwork. Now Sharapova knows how to move on clay and can stretch points when needed.
Since the start of 2012, Sharapova is 54-4 with seven titles on clay. She has also won 20 consecutive clay three-setters, including four in a row this week.
“It says that she’s very fit. It says that she’s very determined, and it says that she never gives up,” said Sven Groenefeld, Sharapova’s coach.
Sharapova broke into a huge smile while hoisting the trophy overhead, then shaking it with both hands and scanning a stadium that, improbably, has become hers. This was her third final in a row in Paris — she won the 2012 title to complete a career Grand Slam, then lost last year to Serena Williams, who bowed out in the second round this time.
Sharapova is 20-1 the past three years at Roland Garros — which is nothing compared with Rafael Nadal’s 65-1 career French Open mark heading into yesterday’s final against Novak Djokovic, but certainly quite impressive.
“You’re not just born being a natural clay-court player. OK, maybe if you’re Nadal, but certainly not me,” Sharapova said. “I didn’t grow up on it, didn’t play on it. I just took it upon myself to make myself better on it.”
Plus, Sharapova had an operation on her right shoulder, the one she uses to swing her racket, in October 2008. That joint troubled the Russian again last year, when she played one match from July to December.
She now travels with a physiotherapist, Jerome Bianchi, and told him during the post-match ceremony: “Thank you for keeping me healthy.”
It was the ninth Grand Slam final for No. 7 seed Sharapova and the first for Halep, a 22-year-old Romanian seeded fourth. Supported by a dozen folks in her guest box wearing red T-shirts saying “Allez Simona,” and fans that chanted her first name, Halep acquitted herself well, showing off the scrambling baseline style that carried her to six straight-set wins until Saturday.