Maria Sharapova clinches her second French Open title. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
PARIS -- Maria Sharapova defeated Simona Halep 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-4 to win her second French Open title and fifth major overall. Sharapova was forced to battle through yet another lengthy three-set match -- her fourth consecutive match that went the distance -- to finally hold off Halep, who was playing her first Slam final. The Romanian acquitted herself well over the course of the three-hour, two-minute match, which will go down as one of the best Grand Slam women's finals in recent memory.
Halep raced to a 2-0 lead early in the first set, but Sharapova elevated her game, hitting big and playing some good defense as Halep tried her best to open up the court and exploit the Russian's movement. But Sharapova had a bit of luck on her side -- not only did she hold on serve despite opening the game with two double faults, but she also broke Halep at 5-4 with a netcord winner. The second set went into a tiebreaker where Sharapova built a 5-3 lead, but Halep stepped up to win four straight points to win the tiebreaker and force a final set.
"Just when I thought I was very close to winning it, I had lost four points in a row. Then the match becomes equal," Sharapova said. "Then you find yourself in a position where you feel like you're starting over, which is quite difficult."
Sharapova came into the final having won her last 19 three-set matches on clay and was 40-1 at Roland Garros when she won the first set. The two exchanged nervous breaks to start the final set, but the match turned in the fourth game, with Sharapova fighting off break points to hold. She broke in the next game and consolidated easily. Serving for the final, she held at love and collapsed to the ground in victory when Halep's lob fell wide.
The win is especially sweet for Sharapova, given her six-month injury layoff at the end of 2013 and slow start to the season. She came into the clay season without having made a final and proceeded to win in Stuttgart, Madrid and now the French Open.
Despite the loss, Halep will rise to No. 3 in the WTA rankings on Monday, and Sharapova will move up to No. 5. The Russian will be No. 1 in the WTA's Race to Singapore rankings on Monday and has just over 100 points to defend for the rest of the season.
Game-by-game analysis below:
12:17 p.m. ET | Maria Sharapova defeats Simona Halep 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-4 to win her second French Open title.
Sharapova comes out and makes no mess of it. She displays measured aggression, and she's rewarded for her risk-taking in the final set. She holds at love and as Halep's lob lands wide, she collapses to the ground victorious.
"All respect to Simona," Sharapova says in her on-court interview. "She played an unbelievable match today."
12:13 p.m. ET | Halep breaks and Sharapova breaks back, leads *5-4.
Sharapova starts the game with a double-fault but down 15-30, Sharapova fires down an ace. But Halep plays some fantastic defense to make Sharapova hit an extra ball and she's earned a break point to get back in this set and Sharapova double-faults.
We're back on serve.
But Sharapova responds! She breaks at love in spectacular fashion. Winner after winner off the Sharapova racket and she'll serve for the title after the changeover.
12:05 p.m. ET | Halep holds, trails *4-3.
Sharapova consolidates with ease. She holds at love.
Halep stops the run and holds. Sharapova still has the lead but I didn't like what I saw from Sharapova in that last game. Some poor decision-making there and some lazy errors.
11:57 a.m. ET | Sharapova breaks, leads *3-2.
Just a reminder of one of the big stats Sharapova has backed up this fortnight: She's won 19 straight three setters on clay.
Sharapova in hot water again on her serve. Looked on her way to an easy hold at 40-15, but a few errors and she's at deuce. Halep is incredibly solid right now and Sharapova's backhand is letting he down big time.
Halep has a break point but this time Sharapova's backhand holds strong. Backhand to backhand rally goes the Russian's way as Halep puts one in the net.
Halep earns another break point but a great save from Sharapova, who opened up the court and fires a forehand into the open court that Halep can't quite track down. Fourth deuce here.
Incredibly, Sharapova gets the hold and lets out a primal scream. That's why she's earned her reputation as a battler. Shots failing her and with an opponent defending incredibly well, she holds.
Halep falls behind 0-40, hitting her worst shot of the match to give up the break points, netting an easy forehand. Halep saves two break points but can't save the third. Another big celebration from Sharapova as she has the break.
But can she consolidate? She's struggled.
11:42 a.m. ET | Halep breaks back, leads 2-1*.
Sharapova takes a long bathroom break to change her dress, which was sopping wet after over two hours on court. She comes out and breaks at 15 and the break was a smart one tactically too. It gave Halep some time to think about what's at stake in this on set shootout for the title.
But she can't consolidate. Did the early time violation issued by umpire Kader Nouni throw her off there? Let's the break lead go right away.
From 0-30 down, Halep holds. That's the first hold of serve we've had in a while. Six consecutive breaks up until now.
Simona Halep celebrates after taking the second-set tiebreaker. (PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images)
11:25 a.m. ET | Simona Halep wins the second set 7-6.
Sure enough, Halep can't serve out the set. Throws in the errors and we're into a tiebreak.
It's a nervous tiebreak for both women. Sharapova has played seven this season and won four. Halep has played four and won just one. None of these points are ending on winners but it's Sharapova who leads 4-2 on the changeover.
But Halep storms back to earn a set point with Sharapova at 5-6. Halep really flipped that tiebreak around when she forced Sharapova to slow down when the Russian was serving at 5-3 up after the changeover. It seemed to put Sharapova off and she wasn't the same after that. Halep actually wins the mind games on this one.
So after failing to serve out the second set twice, Halep converts on her first set point of the match. We're going three at Roland Garros for the first time since 2001. Drama.
Needless to say, I don't think we need to introduce the world to Simona Halep anymore. She just showed everyone who she is what she's made of.
11:10 a.m. ET | Halep breaks, leads *6-5.
Disappointing game from Halep who is broken easily. She came out flat after that changeover and Sharapova hit her off the court.
But now it's Sharapova who throws in a weak service game. She falls behind 0-40 as Halep steps up and plays the role of the aggressor. She's still making Sharapova work so hard for points. Sharapova falls into a 0-40 hole and Halep breaks on her third break point of the game.
11:02 a.m. ET | Halep breaks, leads *5-4.
Good hold from Halep in a key game and then she breaks Sharapova to earn a shot to serve out the set and force a third set.
Sharapova had the lead in the game but Halep was able to grind back into it with some better court positioning and a few errors from Sharapova. At deuce the two play the point of the women's tournament with both playing some scrambling sliding defense and throwing up lobs before Sharapova runs out of gas and puts a backhand into the net. Incredible point!
One point later it's Halep fistpumping at her box as Sharapova sends a forehand wide. She'll serve for the set.
10:48 a.m. ET | Sharapova holds, leads 4-3*.
Good hold from Halep and she seems to have settled down since that rattling first set. She didn't play bad in the first. Sharapova just really stepped up her game. But as we all know the errors can creep into Sharapova's game.
Sharapova holds. Wasn't easy. Big fist pump from Sharapova, who is now two games away from the title.
10:38 a.m. ET | Sharapova holds, leads 3-2*.
The crowd is really getting into this now. Halep holds to bring the crowd to their feet. More errors coming off the Sharapova wing now, and Halep is playing some inspired defense. Crucial next game for Sharapova....
...which she starts by double-faulting twice. So that's not good.
But three straight points for Sharapova, who shows she can use angles and open up the court as well, pushing Halep behind the baseline and running her left to right.
But her third double-fault of the game comes on game point and it's deuce.
Big -- and dangerouns -- second serve down the tee for Sharapova lands barely in and eventually wins the point. On game point it's a backhand to backhand rally and it's Halep who finally goes down the line but it's Sharapova who takes advantage of the angle, getting the better of her on a cross-court forehand.
Somehow Sharapova guts out a hold while double-faulting three times. It's not pretty but she seems to do it via pure willpower.
The return of the ice towels. (PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
10:26 a.m. ET | Halep breaks, trails 2-1*.
Love hold from Sharapova to start and she earns break points in Halep's first service game. On her third break point Sharapova converts as Halep misses a forehand. She started this match so well and gave Sharapova a run for her money in that first set, but since Sharapova has stepped up her game and intensity she's bullied Halep back to take control.
But this isn't over. Halep has broken back.
10:10 a.m. ET | Maria Sharapova wins the first set 6-4.
Sharapova gets to 15-30 but puts a backhand into the net and she's livid with herself. At 30-all Sharapova gets Halep on the run and the Romanian plays some great defense that leaves the crowd oohing and ahhing but Sharapova does enough to win it.
Sharapova can't convert her first set point, as Halep puts down a good serve down the tee and puts away the short reply with a snazzy, curling forehand.
But Sharapova earns Set Point No. 2 and Halep hooks a forehand wide. That's the first set Halep has lost in the tournament.
So here's a stat: Sharapova is 40-1 at the French Open when winning the first set.
Sharapova doubled-up on Halep on offense in that set. 18 winners, 16 unforced for the Russian, 9 winners and 8 unforced for the Romanian.
10:05 a.m. ET | Halep breaks, trails 5-4*.
Halep finally stops the run of five games with a love hold. Sharapova lets her off the hook with some easy errors in that game.
Those errors continue as Sharapova tries to serve out the set. Some bad misses combined with a double-fault at 15-30 and she's down two break points. Halep sends a backhand long on the first but Sharapova practically gifts the break back. She hits a great serve wide and earns a short ball to put away on the forehand and she doesn't do anything with it. Halep gets it back and and Sharapova sprays an error.
Shocker. We're back on serve.
9:57 a.m. ET | Sharapova holds, leads 5-2*.
After winning three straight games Sharapova now has break points for a lead. She's hitting great but it's her defense that's impressed early. She's digging out of the corners so well and actually making Halep hit the extra ball. Great lob from Sharapova to set up her break points and she converts.
Four straight games for Maria. Make that five, as she holds. This is running away from Halep and she's not even playing poorly. Sharapova just has her teeth in this now.
9:52 a.m. ET | Sharapova holds, leads 3-2*.
Back-to-back forehand down the line winners for Sharapova and she's got a break point at 30-40. Nice wide serve to the Sharapova backhand earns her a short ball and she cleans up the point.
But another great short-angle ball catches Halep off guard and Sharapova has a second break point. Halep saves by dragging Sharapova corner to corner while holding the middle of the court.
Great defense -- yes, I said defense -- from Sharapova to earn Break Point No. 3. Digging from side to side and then Halep pulls the trigger on a poor drop shot and Sharapova tracks it easily and slaps it into the open court.
Sharapova sails a second serve return long on break point but earns Break Point No. 4. She's hitting and moving incredibly well now, Sharapova, and she finally converts when Halep sends a ball wide.
It's now five consecutive deuce games to start this match, as Sharapova can't convert her game points and gives Halep a break point. But Sharapova saves it with an inside out forehand that she swings at from her hip. No one can believe it landed in.
We're now back at deuce as Sharapova gets a bad bounce and swings and misses on a deep ball from Halep. Sharapova taking some deep breaths between serves. She's going to get a time violation soon, surely. It's been 35 minutes and we're not through five games. These two are fighting everything off.
Sharapova finally holds after a near 10 minute game. She heads to the chair and immediately puts on the ice towel. It's hot out there and she is working very, very hard.
9:30 a.m. ET | Sharapova holds, trails *2-1.
In Sharapova's first service game she wins a swing point at 30-all as Halep sends a ball well long. Then she sends in her first double-fault of the match. There will likely be more of those, but as she showed in her match against Bouchard, she puts those behind her pretty easily.
But she does indeed give up a break point and then sends a backhand long to give Halep the early break.
Halep has to fight off deuce in her first service game, with Sharapova hitting some great short cross court forehands. But a gorgeous backhand down the line winner followed by a good serve and she holds.
Sharapova still trying to get on the board and she's had to work hard again. At 30-all she earns game point with heavy hitting and then holds after getting the better on a cat and mouse point. Good hold but Halep is using he speed to make Sharapova hit a lot of extra balls. No easy points early.
9:12 a.m. ET | Warm up
It's a beautiful and warm day in Paris, and with a bit of rain this morning there's a mugginess to the air. Temperatures are in the upper 70s to start the match and it will just get hotter as the match progresses.
Halep had to wait patiently for Sharapova to arrive to the player's tunnel and it's Sharapova who walks out first given that -- and we do forget this sometimes -- she's the lower seed today.
A bit of a smile from Halep as she walks onto court and there's no way she can pretend this is just another match. The pomp and circumstance of the pre-match ceremony -- with the music, the flower kids, and of course the crowd -- won't let her escape the enormity of the moment.
Halep's entire team is decked out in red t-shirts. Sharapova's coach, Sven Groneveld, is sporting his all blue ensemble.
So much of today is about Halep's nerves. She has the game to win this match and beat Sharapova. But as we know, winning a tennis match is as much about nerves and experience as it is about forehands and backhands. When Halep gets nervous her swing slows down and so do her feet. The first 20 minutes of this match are key.
Quite remarkably, the winner of today's match will vault to No. 1 in the WTA's Race to Singapore rankings, which tally the points won in the 2014 season.
Sharapova won the toss and will serve. After a long sit down it's Halep who stands up first to go take her spot on the baseline. Sharapova makes her wait and follows her a good 30 seconds later.
Maria Sharapova didn't even attempt a smile in the prematch photo with Simona Halep. (PATRICK KOVARIK/AFP/Getty Images)
No. 7 Maria Sharapova and No. 4 Simona Halep will meet in the final of the French Open on Saturday. NBC's coverage begins at 9 a.m. ET.
Sharapova is seeking her second French Open title and fifth Grand Slam crown. This is her third consecutive final; she won in 2012 to complete the career Grand Slam and lost to Serena Williams last year.
The 27-year-old Russian has rallied from a set down in three straight matches, beating No. 19 Sam Stosur in the fourth round, unseeded Garbine Muguruza in the quarterfinals and No. 18 Eugenie Bouchard in the semifinals. With those comeback victories, Sharapova has won 19 three-set matches in a row on the dirt. She is also 53-4 on clay since 2012.
Maria Sharapova vs. Simona Halep: Analysis, prediction and more
Halep is contesting her first major final. The 22-year-old Romanian has been sharp throughout the tournament, winning all 12 sets she's played. She hadn't lost more than four games in a set before the semifinal, in which she beat No. 28 Andrea Petkovic 6-2, 7-6 (4).
Last year at Roland Garros, Halep was ranked No. 57 when she lost in the first round. Since then, she has won seven titles and cracked the top five. She'll inch up to a career-high No. 3 on Monday regardless of Saturday's result.
Sharapova has won all three previous meetings. Their only match on clay came last month at the Madrid Open, where Sharapova stormed back to defeat Halep 1-6, 6-2, 6-3.
WERTHEIM: Can Simona Halep, in her first major final, stand up to Maria Sharapova?