Halep banishes the ghosts

After falling three times in major finals, Simona Halep finally breaks through at her favourite Grand Slam event.

Simona Halep, Roland-Garros 2018, 8è de finale© Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Kate Battersby

There have been longer waits for a Grand Slam title. But Simona Halep is done with waiting, done with losing in three sets, as she had in her three previous Slam finals; and best of all, done with being a world No.1 without a Slam to her name. At Roland-Garros 2018, this time the title – and all that comes with it – belongs to her.

Whatever professional doubts have been raised about her, whatever questions – they end right here.

All the old ghosts have been chased away. She may have needed four Slam finals before winning one, but victory here means that no deep dark pattern can be read into her losing streak any longer. Each defeat can be rationalised. She lost for a reason then, just as she won for a reason now.

No more need she search for lessons learned, for positives to take forward. What greater positive could there be than to lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen?

If she were never to hit a ball in anger again and instead retire right now, she would do so as a Grand Slam champion. More likely in Halep's case is that this win will unshackle her of any mental demons about handling the biggest occasions, setting her free to explore her potential to capture more Slams.

Her future has changed. Fifty weeks from now at the start of Roland-Garros 2019, she won’t need to come armed with pre-prepared answers to familiar probing queries looking back to last year’s final defeat, or about coping strategies to put that loss behind her. She doesn’t need to devise convincing ways to declare how it will all be different this time. Next year the questions will be all about her memories of a lifelong dream fulfilled.

More prizes were at stake for Halep here than the iconic trophy alone. Before a single ball was struck in the final, Halep had already guaranteed that she would leave Paris with the world No.1 spot.

But had she gone home without the title, then all the old voices – and probably a few more – would have been raised in the familiar babble of debate. It’s the one she has had to listen to on and off since she first ascended the top of the rankings eight months ago in October 2017 – the one which questions the merits of a Slam-less world No.1 ranked above so many other players with Grand Slam titles… and specifically this time ahead of Sloane Stephens, who would have owned two of the most recent three Grand Slams had she defeated Halep, yet earned promotion merely to No.4.

Now the facts broker no argument. The No.1 spot belongs to the Romanian on plain merit. Her ranking need never be debated again.

But rankings are fleeting. Come the far day when Halep’s playing career finally concludes and she ceases to be No.1 for good, she will never cease to be the Roland-Garros champion of 2018.

“I lost three times before now and no one died, so it will be okay,” she said before this final. And she was right – it was okay. But now it is gloriously, riotously better; and when all the clanging of victory has died away, she will have the peace of a quiet mind.

Titles are eternal, and this one belongs to Simona Halep.