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Already No. 1, French Open champ Simona Halep knew she needed Slam

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PARIS – It was the end of a long and rewarding day, one she’ll likely never forget, and new French Open champion Simona Halep harbored a couple of overriding concerns.

“I’m tired,” she said. “I’m hungry. I didn’t eat since 9 a.m.”

It was getting close to 12 hours since that last meal, and Halep was speaking to two reporters in what she hoped was her last media session Saturday night after beating Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 for her first Grand Slam title. Halep had pined for such a championship to go along with her No. 1 ranking, and she finally had come through after starting her career 0-3 in major finals.

“I think it was the most important thing, because always I said that if you are No. 1 without a Grand Slam, you are not a real No. 1,” Halep said. “Now that I was able to win, it makes it special, and makes it, like, everything together. It’s real now.”

Sure is.

“She showed a lot of maturity. She’s grown up a lot in the last 12 months. Sometimes the losses do make you mature really quickly. You can go one way with your career, and go downwards, or you can suck it up, work a little bit harder and try to do it again,” said Halep’s coach, Darren Cahill. “That’s the way she went.”

It was Cahill who encouraged Halep to embrace the goal, to go ahead and be forthright – with herself and everyone else – about yearning for something she had come close to but had yet to achieve.

“The Slam is what they play for. Last year, we spoke about this: When she talks about it, not to avoid it. Not to avoid the fact that, `Yes, I want to win a major, and this is what I’m pushing for.’ Not trying to take the pressure off her too much,” he said. “And she was able to step up and handle that pressure. Now she can relax, go out there, let her game go.”

Now there can be no more questions from others about whether the 26-year-old Romanian deserves to be atop the rankings without a major trophy to go alongside that feat.

And no more questions about whether she would ever manage to become a Grand Slam champ, following two losses in finals at the French Open in 2014 and 2017, plus another at the Australian Open this January.

“She’s had a tough journey. I think winning here is very special for her, and I’m glad she finally got her first Slam. It’s a beautiful thing. Very special,” said Stephens, a 25-year-old American who won the U.S. Open last September. “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.”

So with that accomplished, Halep was asked, what becomes the new goal?

“I didn’t think about it,” she began, with a chuckle. “I will enjoy this moment and I will see.”

And then, without even pausing, Halep added: “But I will not stop this. I will go forward and I will get extra motivation with something else, for sure.”

Halep does not want to be a one-Slam wonder.

Nor should she be considered a candidate for that kind of career.

She has a rare combination of speed, power and stamina that makes her dangerous on every surface.

There’s a reason Halep has made it to the final at Roland Garros and the Australian Open, and the semifinals at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon, where play begins July 2.

Inevitably, the topic of the All England Club and its grass courts was raised at Halep’s post-match news conference.

“Oh, don’t ask me that, because I’m going to have a big holiday now,” she joked. “Nothing changes, obviously. I’m a Grand Slam champion, but tomorrow is a new day, so I have to start again.”

 

Tennis broadcaster Justin Gimelstob accused of assault in LA

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LOS ANGELES — Tennis broadcaster and coach Justin Gimelstob faces a felony assault charge following his Halloween night arrest for allegedly attacking a former friend in Los Angeles.

The 41-year-old former pro player is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday.

Gimelstob’s attorney, Shawn Holley, didn’t immediately respond Tuesday to an email and call seeking comment.

Gimelstob was arrested on suspicion of beating Randall Kaplan as they trick-or-treated with their kids. Kaplan says Gimelstob struck him multiple times and threatened to kill him.

Sean Walsh, a spokesman for Kaplan, says a motive is unknown. Kaplan alleges that Gimelstob previously threatened him because he was friends with the tennis commentator’s estranged wife.

Gimelstob won more than a dozen doubles titles as a player. He retired in 2007 and has since worked with the Tennis Channel.

Osaka’s coach wins first WTA Coach of the Year award

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Sascha Bajin has been chosen as the first winner of the WTA Coach of the Year award after helping Naomi Osaka collect the U.S. Open title.

The women’s tennis tour announced its annual honors Monday.

The first season as a team for Bajin and Osaka produced her first WTA title at Indian Wells, then her first Grand Slam title in New York, where she beat Serena Williams in the final. Bajin used to work with Williams.

Bajin tweeted that he was “speechless and turning a bit red,” adding that it’s “easy to be a good coach when you have a great student.”

Petra Kvitova was given her sixth consecutive sportsmanship award and seventh overall, while Bethanie Mattek-Sands earned the player service award.