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By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, January 24, 2022

 
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Contesting her 63rd Grand Slam, an emotional AlizΓ© Cornet battled by former No. 1 Simona Halep 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 into her first major quarterfinal in Melbourne.

Photo credit: Getty

Hazy vision, shaky hands, searing heat and haunting memories of major letdowns plagued Alize Cornet while a revived Simona Halep was charging on a comeback.

Contesting her 63rd career major, Cornet calmed the chaos and gamed ghosts with a committed close.

More: Collins Fights Into AO Quarterfinals

This time, Cornet seized the dream holding off Halep 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to battle into her first career Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open.

When Halep’s return expired in net, Cornet dropped to her knees in exhilaration and exhaustion celebrating her remarkable rise.

Playing her 60th straight Slam, Cornet made history for most major appearances before reaching a maiden major quarterfinal breaking Tamarine Tanasugarn, who reached her first quarterfinal in her 45th major at the 2008 Wimbledon.




“It’s never too late to try again,” Cornet said summing up the heart, sweat and perseverance she poured into her greatest Grand Slam win.

It came after Halep roared through 16 straight points to seize the second set and force a decider with both women battling brutal heat. One of the fittest women on tour, the 32-year-old Cornet competed with deep desire winning 30 of the 48 points that spanned nine or more shots in a two hour, 33-minute grind.

It is Cornet's fourth win over Halep in five meetings and her second straight over a Grand Slam champion coming one round after she swept world No. 3 Garbine Muguruza, 6-3, 6-3.

Winless in her five prior Grand Slam fourth-round matches, Cornet will try to keep this dream run going against American Danielle Collins in the quarterfinals.

A physically and emotionally draining milestone left both Cornet and her on-court inteview, former WTA standout Jelena Dokic, both in tears.

Asked what she was thinking during the heat of this blazing battle, Cornet said at one point her brain felt so fried she was playing purely on instinct.

“I think I just stopped thinking after 30 minutes of playing my brain was like already overloaded,” Cornet told Jelena Dokic afterward. “My vision was not clear. My hands were shaking and I was like ‘Oh my God, how am I gonna do it?’

“But I thought on the other side of the court she was not feeling much better than me. And of course my box helped me so much, they were so present behind me on every point and I know you guys enjoyed the battle today. That’s why we play tennis that’s why I keep playing tennis so I can share all these moments for you.”




Thirteen years ago, Cornet held match points against former No. 1 Dinara Safina in the Melbourne round of 16 only to suffer a painful loss.

Today, Cornet is the first Frenchwoman to reach the AO quarterfinals since Marion Bartoli in 2009. Cornet reflected on an adventurous journey with analyst Dokic, whom she would have played in that 2009 quarterfinal.

“Oh my God I wanted to play against you so bad I was so disappointed,” Cornet told Dokic. “Now 13 years later you’re here and I’m still here.

“It feels amazing the battle that we had with Simona today after 30 minutes of game we’re both dying on court and we kept going for two and a half hours with all our heart. Congrats to Simona because I know she struggled a lot. I admire this player so much she’s such a fighter she’s an example for me to beat her today to go to my first quarterfinal is just a dream come true. I don’t know what to say—it’s magic.”



A backpedaling Cornet pasted a backhand off the back edge of the baseline breaking for a 5-3.

Two points from taking the set, Cornet tightened up dumping a double fault and lifting a timid lob. Halep hammered a two-handed drive volley breaking back in the ninth game.

Former world No. 1 Halep remains one of the world’s most accurate counterpuncher but Cornet’s counterstrike brilliance forced the Romanian into the unfamiliar role of baseline aggressor. Halep bungled a smash and found herself down triple set point.

The two-time Grand Slam champion was struggling to finish with her forehand. Halep misfired a forehand as Cornet scored her third break in five service games to take the 48-minute opener.

Playing with adhesive taping wrapping both thighs, Cornet sat on her courtside seat wearing an ice bag on her head like a beret. Challenging conditions were compounded by Halep playing with a bit more patience as she broke to start the second set.

Tennis Express

Sixty-three minutes into the match, Halep made a spectacular over-the-shoulder get to extend a point only to slap a forehand into the tape then drop to a squat sucking in deep gulps of air. The Romanian’s face red from extreme exertion in sweltering heat almost matched the shade of her crimson Nike dress.

Amping up the volume of her grunt considerably, Cornet dug in and held for 2-1. A weary Halep badly botched a backhand swing volley into net and dropped her head after surrendering serve against in the fourth game.

Across the net, Cornet exhaled deeply looking quite drained herself.

The world No. 61 had a game point to hold for 4-1, but Halep scraped herself off the court and found an even higher gear to break back.

The 2018 finalist played lock-down baseline tennis and started bleeding errors from Cornet. Halep broke back at love stringing together 12 consecutive points and rolling through 16 straight points seizing the second set on Cornet’s weary eighth double fault.

Both women left the court after the second set. When play resumed Halep held to open the decider with her sixth straight game.

Cornet hung tough to finally stop her slide for her first hold since 2-1 in the second set. After Halep held to go up 3-2, Cornet called for the trainer to retape both of her thighs.

The Frenchwoman saved a break point in a sweaty sixth game. The pace of play escalated and emotions were running high as Cornet leaped in the air after holding for 3-all, while an annoyed Halep flung her Wilson racquet across the court ruing opportunity list.

Empowered by her stand, Cornet bolted a backhand winner down the line and followed with a twisting topspin forehand return earning the first break of the decider for 4-3.

Two hours, twenty-two minutes into the match, Cornet made a stubborn stand digging out a slick forehand drop volley that helped her earn a gritty hold for 5-3.




Striking fine running forehands to extend the points, Cornet fought her way to double match point on a netted forehand. Hitting behind her opponent, Halep hammered a backhand down the line to save the first match point.

On the second match point, Halep drilled a diagonal forehand for deuce. The two-time Grand Slam champion stood tall holding to force Cornet to serve it out.




On her third match point, Cornet sent a serve down the middle and Halep pushed a final forehand into return.

Cornet closed her eyes and dropped to her knees rising as a major quarterfinalist at last.

 

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