Tennis

Ruzici’s feat inspires Simona Halep

World No. 1 becomes first Romanian to win the French Open after her manager did it 40 years ago

Newly crowned French Open champion Simona Halep said she was inspired to win her first Grand Slam title by her manager Virginia Ruzici's feat 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.

"It's a motivation and inspiration," the 26-year-old Halep, who lifted the junior title 10 years ago, 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. So yeah, she's an inspiration."

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 said.

The fact that I could be No. 1 in the world last year gave me confidence... and I just had in my mind to win a Grand Slam after that. Simona Halep insists that holding the top ranking wasn't a burden

"She was very close last season. She was favourite for this final, but it was not simple. It was a physical and mental fight. She 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, to Maria Sharapova in 2014 and Jelena Ostapenko last year, and at this year's Australian Open to Caroline Wozniacki.

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 No. 1 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 after showing huge character to battle back to victory.

"I'm really happy that I won this Grand Slam. Because being No. 1 without a Grand Slam is not like everything, not 100 per cent," she said.

"It's my favourite Grand Slam. I always said that if I'm going to win one, I want it to be here."

Halep said the memory of last year's defeat by Ostapenko when she led by a set and 3-0 actually helped her on Saturday when she trailed by a set and 2-0 to an inspired Stephens.

"When I started to win games, I said that last year it happened to me, the same thing," she said.

"I was a set and a break up and I lost the match. So I said there is a chance to come back and win it. I said that I have to hit the balls. I have to move and not think about the last game. Just every ball, every point.

"I believed in that and my game was more relaxed... I was very strong mentally to finish that."

Stephens praised Halep, saying: "She's had a tough journey. Winning here is very special for her and I'm glad she finally got her first Slam.

"It's a beautiful thing, very special. No matter how hard the adversity that you go through, there is always light at the end of the tunnel and I'm glad she finally got her light."

Her comments came after the American took aim at media "haters", claiming she does not receive the respect she deserves.

The 25-year-old said she was proud to have reached the final, but hit out over her treatment in the media after her breakthrough US Open triumph last September was followed by a run of eight successive defeats.

"You guys are my biggest haters," she said.

"Can I just state for the record that all of you guys in here were tweeting that I had a losing record anywhere except for the United States.

"I have done very well to make the finals of the French Open... Because you seem to only want to say, 'She's 0 and 8 in the other countries, and blah, blah, blah'. Yeah, it's you and you and a lot of you (pointing to different members of the media)." - AFP, REUTERS

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