Maria Sharapova won her second French Open title in three years © AFP
Maria Sharapova won her second French Open title in three years at Roland Garros on Saturday, defeating Romania's Simona Halep 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-4 in a gripping final, the first to go the full distance in Paris in 13 years and the second longest on record.
It was the 27-year-old Russian's fifth Grand Slam title, bringing her level with Martina Hingis on the all-time list, 10 years after she won her first major at Wimbledon 2004.
Sharapova, who completed a career sweep of all four Grand Slam titles in Paris in 2012 before losing to Serena Williams last year, also moved to number two on the all-time prize money earnings, with only the American ahead of her.
But it took all her legendary grit and resolve to recover from the agonising loss of the second set on a tie-break after she had stood just two points away from the title at 5/3.
"It's the toughest Grand Slam final I have ever played," said Sharapova.
"I can't believe that at 27 I have won the French Open more times than any other Grand Slam."
The consolation for Halep, whose meteoric rise to the top bracket in women's tennis over the last 18 months has projected her as a potential champion, was that she will climb to a career-high third in the world rankings.
"I wish to have many more (Grand Slam finals), but this will be special for me all my life. I had two incredible weeks here and I played my best tennis," she said
The two finalists reached the championship match in starkly contrasting styles.
Fourth-seeded Halep did not drop a single set in her six matches, while seventh-seed Sharapova needed to battle back from first set losses in her three previous outings.
But experience was massively on the Russian's side. This was her ninth Grand Slam final dating back 10 years, while Halep was playing in her first at the age of 22.
Sharapova also towered over her opponent at 1.88 metres (6 feet 2 inches) compared to Halep's 1.68 metres (5 feet six inches).
Earlier before the final, Maria Sharapova agreed that the French Open has shown that a new wave of women's tennis talent is on the rise, but at just 27 she says she has no intention of rolling over just yet.
Sharapova said that she has been impressed by the new blood on show in Paris. "I think this tournament has showed and displayed that throughout the whole two weeks," she said Friday.
"I got a chance to play against two of them in this tournament, and both played at a very high level. I think that shows many good things to come from the young generation."
The Russian should know what it takes to accumulate success at a young age, having staged a spectacular burst onto the world stage in 2004 when, as a raw 17-year-old, she demolished Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final.
Since then she has had her ups and downs with Grand Slam successes and world number one status, but also injuries and loss of form.
Currently though she is playing some of the best tennis of her career, having won back-to-back titles in Stuttgart and Madrid in the buildup to Paris.
On Saturday, she showed she is not yet done with her career and her tally of Grand Slams by winning her second French Open title, in a year where all the top three seeds in Serena Williams, Li Na and Agnieszka Radwanska crumbled in the first week itself.
(With inputs from AFP)