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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.”

 

Thiem edges Federer to win Indian Wells title

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INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Dominic Thiem edged error-prone Roger Federer 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 to win the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday, denying Federer a record sixth title in the desert.

Thiem trailed 4-3 and 5-4 in the third set before breaking Federer with a forehand winner to go up 6-5. Thiem served out the two-hour match that ended with another error from Federer, a forehand dumped into the net.

Federer was in the final for the third straight year and lost for the second year in a row. He was beaten in a third-set tiebreaker by Juan Martin del Potro last year. Federer won his 100th career title in Dubai recently.

Thiem had lost in his previous two ATP Masters 1000 finals. But the 25-year-old Austrian’s solid serve held up against Federer as it had throughout the tournament.

Thiem was broken just four times out of 61 service games in the tournament. He didn’t lose serve during his semifinal win over Milos Raonic, facing only one break point in that match.

Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu upset Angelique Kerber 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to win the women’s title.

Thiem and Andreescu earned $1.3 million each.

Federer and Thiem had split their four previous meetings, but Federer had won both of their hard-court matches without dropping a set.

He cruised through the first set in 36 minutes while getting broken for just the second time during his run to his ninth appearance in the final. But Federer broke back in the next game and served out the set.

Thiem earned the only break of the second set in the fourth game, going up 3-1. Federer won just two more games in the set.

Both players were on serve in the third set until Thiem collected the only break. Federer tried consecutive drop shots that Thiem retrieved for crosscourt forehand winners before the Austrian hit a winning forehand to lead 6-5.

“He did very well when he got up to the ball, stayed calm, made the shot,” Federer said.

Federer won just one point on Thiem’s serve in the final game.

“Just came up against somebody who was on the day a bit better when it really mattered,” Federer said. “I have been in these positions so many times that I get over it very quickly.”

Federer advanced to the final after rival Rafael Nadal withdrew before their semifinal match because of knee pain. Thiem also benefited from a walkover, reaching the semis when Gael Monfils withdrew with an Achilles injury.

Andreescu, an 18-year-old Canadian, became the first wild-card winner and second-youngest to claim the title in tournament history.

“The fricking champion of Indian Wells,” Andreescu said. “It’s crazy.”

She overcame nerves, fatigue, arm and leg issues in the final set to earn the first title of her fledgling career.

Andreescu won on her fourth match point when Kerber netted a backhand. She broke Kerber three times in the third set, rallying from a 3-2 deficit to take four of the final five games.

Andreescu dropped her racket near the baseline and fell on her back, her legs in the air as she covered her face in disbelief. After getting up and exchanging kisses with Kerber, the teen bent down and kissed the sunbaked hard court and dropped to her back again, her arms and legs splayed, before grabbing her head.

“This moment has become a reality so it’s really, really crazy,” Andreescu told the crowd before speaking a bit of Romanian.

Born in Canada, she later moved with her parents to Romania, where she first started playing tennis.

Kerber was the last of five seeded players that Andreescu knocked off in her seven matches.

“When she had the chances, she just go for it,” Kerber said.

The Canadian followed in the footsteps of Naomi Osaka, who was a little-known 20-year-old when she won the title last year. Osaka used it as a springboard to win titles at the U.S. and Australian opens while ascending to the No. 1 ranking in January.

“No pressure,” Andreescu said, joking.

She’s projected to rise 36 spots to No. 24 in the WTA Tour rankings on Monday.

Kerber, ranked eighth, remains without a title since winning Wimbledon last year.

She was a crowd favorite, with fans waving Canadian flags and chanting “Let’s go, Bianca! Let’s go” in the second set.

They clearly enjoyed Andreescu’s fearless style of play. She alternately outpunched opponents from the baseline, tossed up high-arching shots and unleashed well-time drop shots – usually during the same point.

A smiling Andreescu was quick to correct a reporter.

“It’s not moonballing,” she said. “It’s just hitting heavy to her backhand with more spin. We’re not under 12 here.”

Her most dominant win during the 12-day tournament came in the quarterfinals, a 6-0, 6-1 rout of two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza. In all, the teen knocked out four Top 20 players.

Leading 2-1 in the third, Andreescu took a medical timeout and had a trainer massage her tight right shoulder and arm.

Kerber won the next two games, breaking Andreescu to go up 3-2.

Appearing tired and nervous, Andreescu called for her coach, who urged her to make Kerber play every point.

She did just that.

Andreescu won the next three games, ripping off powerful forehands while winning nine straight points during one stretch, including a 40-love service game.

“I just fought till the end because physically I wasn’t feeling too well,” she said.

The trainer reappeared again to ice Andreescu’s cramping legs.

The teen had three match points on her serve before trying one of her patented drop shots. Kerber raced to get it and sent a forehand down the line to get to deuce.

The German led 40-add on Andreescu’s forehand error before the teen made a low-percentage attempt at a drop shot. It landed in the net, leaving Kerber trailing 5-4.

“At the end I was not able to take my chances, but she did,” Kerber said.

Andreescu bounced back, putting away a smash to set up her fourth match point before Kerber’s backhand error ended it after 2 hours and 18 minutes.

Andreescu upsets Kerber to win Indian Wells

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INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Bianca Andreescu upset three-time major champion Angelique Kerber 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to win the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday, becoming at age 18 the first wild-card winner in tournament history.

The Canadian overcame nerves, arm and leg issues in the final set to earn the first title of her fledgling career.

Roger Federer chased a record sixth title in the desert against Dominic Thiem in the men’s final later.

Andreescu won on her fourth match point when Kerber netted a backhand. She broke Kerber three times in the third set, rallying from a 3-2 deficit to take four of the final five games.

Andreescu dropped her racket near the baseline and fell on her back, her legs in the air as she covered her face in disbelief. After getting up and exchanging kisses with Kerber, the teen bent down and kissed the sunbaked hard court and dropped to her back again, her arms and legs splayed, before grabbing her head.

“This moment has become a reality so it’s really, really crazy,” Andreescu told the crowd before speaking a bit of Romanian.

Born in Canada, she later moved with her parents to Romania, where she first started playing tennis.

Kerber was the last of five seeded players that Andreescu knocked off in her seven matches.

The Canadian followed in the footsteps of Naomi Osaka, who was a little-known 20-year-old when she won the title last year. Osaka used it as a springboard to win titles at the U.S. and Australian opens while ascending to the No. 1 ranking in January.

Kerber, ranked eighth, remains without a title since winning Wimbledon last year.

Andreescu is projected to rise 36 spots to No. 24 in the WTA Tour rankings on Monday.

She was a crowd favorite, with fans waving Canadian flags and chanting “Let’s go, Bianca! Let’s go” in the second set.

They clearly enjoyed Andreescu’s fearless style of play. She alternately outpunched opponents from the baseline, tossed up moonballs and unleashed well-time drop shots – usually during the same point.

Her most dominant win during the 12-day tournament came in the quarterfinals, a 6-0, 6-1 rout of two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza. In all, the teen knocked out four Top-20 players.

Leading 2-1 in the third, Andreescu took a medical timeout and had a trainer massage her right shoulder and arm.

Kerber won the next two games, breaking Andreescu to go up 3-2.

Appearing tired and nervous, Andreescu called for her coach, who urged her to make Kerber play every point.

She did just that.

Andreescu won the next three games, ripping off powerful forehands while winning nine straight points during one stretch, including a 40-love service game.

“When she had the chances, she just go for it,” Kerber said. “She was still moving good and hitting the balls very fast.”

The trainer reappeared again to ice Andreescu’s legs.

The teen had three match points on her serve before trying one of her patented drop shots. Kerber raced to get it and sent a forehand down the line to get to deuce. The German led 40-add on Andreescu’s forehand error before the teen made a low-percentage attempt at a drop shot. It landed in the net, leaving Kerber trailing 5-4.

“At the end I was not able to take my chances, but she did,” Kerber said.

Andreescu bounced back, putting away a smash to set up her fourth match point before Kerber’s backhand error ended it after 2 hours and 18 minutes.