PARIS — Heading into the women's final at the French Open on Saturday, much of the discussion had been about Simona Halep's year.
Halep, 22, was playing for her first Grand Slam title after rising from No. 57 to 4 in the rankings and winning seven tournaments since losing in the first round of last year's French Open.
But her opponent, Maria Sharapova, the 2012 French champion and the 2013 runnerup to Serena Williams, has come a long way in a year, too.
After 2013's French Open, she lost in the second round at Wimbledon, missed most of the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, changed coaches twice and slipped to eighth in the rankings, from fourth.
She returned to the tour this season still motivated to add to her trophy case. After a slow start, she did not make winning the French Open a goal, she said. But as has been surprisingly the case at this stage in her career, clay was her springboard.
Sharapova won her second French Open in three years with a 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4 victory over Halep for her third claycourt title in a 19-1 season on the surface.
This is Sharapova's fifth career major championship but the first time she has won the same major twice. She has more victories at the French Open (50) than at the other three Grand Slam tournaments.
"If somebody had told me that I'd win at some stage in my career, that I'd have more Roland Garros titles than any other Grand Slam, I'd probably go get drunk," she said. "Or tell them to get drunk."
The 6-foot-2 Sharapova and the 5-6 Halep presented a tantalizing matchup of power versus guile, experience versus new blood, and they did not disappoint, giving Roland Garros its first three-set women's final since 2001, when Jennifer Capriati beat Kim Clijsters 12-10 in the third set.
At 3 hours and 2 minutes, the match also was the longest French women's final since 1996, when Steffi Graf beat Arantxa Sanchez 10-8 in the third.
Just as she had all tournament, Sharapova raised her game when she was down.
She was down a break early in the first set but rallied to win it. Halep served for the second set twice but could not close out Sharapova until a tiebreaker. When Sharapova lost her lead in the third set, she mercilessly took it back, winning the last eight points of the match.
"This is the toughest Grand Slam final I've ever played," Sharapova said. "(Halep) pushed me to the limit."
Halep was trying to become the first Romanian woman to win a major since her manager, Virginia Ruzici, won the French Open in 1978. Halep, who will rise to No. 3 in the rankings Monday, had not lost a set in the tournament but also had not faced a top-10 opponent.
After the match, Halep sat in her chair with a towel over her head and cried. But a few minutes later, she was smiling.
"I have to be happy, to smile, because I did everything on court," she said.
Sharapova called it the most emotional victory of her career. When she got her hands on the trophy, she hugged it tightly. When she sat down for her news conference, she hugged it again. "There is a reason why I haven't been to one shop while I have been in Paris," she said. "It's because I want this (trophy). I haven't eaten many macaroons, either. It's because I want this."