PARIS, France - Simona Halep could not have played a better tournament. The 25-year-old Romanian did not drop a set into the quarterfinals and then beat two of the hottest players on tour, rallying from a set and 5-1 to beat Elina Svitolina and turning around the next day to knock off World No.3 Karolina Pliskova in a high-quality three-set encounter to advance to her second major final.
In the end, she was beaten by an audacious 20-year-old Jelena Ostapenko, who blasted winner after winner to end Halep's coronation as the best pure clay courter in the world. It's a tough loss for Halep, who looked on the verge of capping off a resplendent and resurgent clay season by finally winning the title that eluded her in 2014.
"It's a tough moment for me, but it's gonna go away, I hope, with the time," Halep said afterwards. "I will keep working, because I really want to repeat what I have done this tournament. We will see what is gonna be."
"From our perspective, Simona can walk tall and hold her head up high," coach Darren Cahill said. "She's had a wonderful clay court season. This will be tough for sure, but I think she'll regroup and she'll be a better player for it."
"I have faith that eventually she'll get over it. Second Grand Slam final. Obviously a wonderful thing to make it through to a final and difficult to win them. That's why they're so special when you finally do win them. Many players have lost in multiple finals before they finally won."
Team Halep did not shy away from how much this lost opportunity stung. There was no sugar-coating it. Facing an unseeded and inexperienced opponent, Halep had a chance to win her first Slam title and become the first Romanian woman to hold the No.1 ranking. The question is how long will it take her to rebound with Wimbledon, a tournament at which she was a semifinalist in 2014, just around the corner.
"This one hurts a lot maybe because I realize more what is happening. Three years ago (when she lost to Maria Sharapova in the final) was something new, so now I know.
"Hurts a lot, and I need time just to -- I don't know. To go away," Halep said, as she fought back the tears.
"She has a lot to be proud of," Cahill said. "In the next few days, it will be difficult. Hopefully, she'll go home and be around friends and family, regroup, and she'll be pretty keen to get back on the court and get ready at Wimbledon."
With much of the pre-match conversation dominated by Halep's improved on-court attitude, Cahill was quick to say he was happy with her composure through the final. The always honest Halep was transparent in her admission that she was wracked with nerves in the hours leading up to the biggest match of her career.
Playing a tactical match that dared Ostapenko to go for low-percentage shots, Halep executed her gameplan yet saw the Latvian have an answer, hitting winners from balls 99% of the tour would miss.
"We know she has a great game," Cahill said. "We've known that for a couple of years. The two girls practiced together at Wimbledon a couple of years ago. We know she has great ball striking ability and she's improved her movement around the court. When she's hot, you don't touch the ball. You become a spectator. It's tough to know where to put the ball.
"Even the low percentage looks became winners for her today. I give full credit to Jelena. She won this match today.
"If you give her angles she can just knock the ball down the line for the winner. If you put it in the middle of the court then she can open up pretty well. You just gotta hang in there and hope that she misses enough balls to give you a chance and we just didn't quite get there today."
Halep agreed. "I don't believe I did something wrong, too wrong today," she said. "I think I played okay. I played well. But I think a little bit of luck in some points, all the lines, all the nets. I don't know. I think everything was by her side today. As I said, she deserved to win. She played really well in the very tough moments for her when I was up set and 3-0.
"So I can say I was there, I was close, but again, I lost it. I cannot change anything, so I just have to look forward."
Whether Halep can pull herself out of the disappointment remains to be seen. In speaking to reporters, Cahill certainly left the door open to the disappointment lingering. It would be an understandable reaction. Halep was playing some of the best tennis of her career over the clay season. One of the most driven, hardest working players on tour, the Romanian went into Saturday's final having dropped just one match on her beloved clay, thanks in large part to finally addressing the mental lapses that would creep up when disappointment came.
Halep had done everything one could have asked of her during the fortnight. She played efficient, clean tennis. She upended one of the best players of the season in Karolina Pliskova. She fought hard through all seven matches, saving match point against Elina Svitolina to escape with a win in the quarterfinals. Halep looked on her way to quieting the doubters about her game, her attitude, and her major prowess.
"Simona's gonna just have to dig deep and keep working hard and come back stronger and give herself another chance," Cahill said.
"I have full faith that one of these days she's gonna win one of these trophies."
Did Ostapenko's offensive performance dismantle it all? Hopefully the words she spoke before the final, giving credence to a new perspective on her career, hold true: