Perseverance finally paid off for an emotional Alize Cornet as she reached her first grand slam quarter-final at the 63rd attempt.
The Frenchwoman, who celebrated her 32nd birthday on Saturday, dropped to the court in tears at the end of a gruelling 6-4 3-6 6-4 victory over Simona Halep in sweltering conditions at the Australian Open.
Cornet has played in every grand slam tournament for the last 15 years and this was her sixth trip to the fourth round but she had never previously managed to go further.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 24, 2022
The first of those came 13 years ago at Melbourne Park when she held two match points against Dinara Safina only to lose.
Fittingly it was Jelena Dokic, the woman she would have played had she won that day, who conducted a touching post-match interview.
“It feels amazing,” said Cornet, who revealed after beating third seed Garbine Muguruza in the second round that this could be her final year on tour.
“The battle that we had with this heat. After 30 minutes we were both dying on the court. 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 her so much. To beat her today to go to my first quarter-final is just a dream come true. I don’t know what to say. It’s just magic. It’s never too late to try again.”
Cornet looked in control at a set and 3-1 up but former finalist Halep is one of tennis’ grittiest competitors and she responded with a run of six games in a row.
Both women were clearly feeling the heat but that did not stop them engaging in lung-busting rallies and dragging each other all over the court.
Cornet made the breakthrough to lead 4-3 in the decider and had two match points on the Halep serve two games later only for the Romanian to hold.
Nerves were evident from both but Cornet held hers long enough to make it across the finish line.
Having finally make it to the last eight, the world number 61 is hungry for more, saying: “I’m not going to stop now. I’m still ambitious. I just have to soak it in, take time to appreciate the moment and be proud of what I did today.
“But definitely from tomorrow I will have to think about my next match and how I can go farther in the tournament. The sky’s the limit. I really want to be ambitious. For the first time of my life, I really believe I can go till the end. I think that’s what makes a difference.”
In the last eight she will face 2019 semi-finalist Danielle Collins, who also came through a lengthy battle, beating 19th seed Elise Mertens 4-6 6-4 6-4.
Finds a way 😤
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The American is famous for her competitive attitude, and Cornet said with a smile: “That could be some drama, this match, for sure. I see how she is on the court. She’s like a lion. Oh my God, she impresses me a little bit because she’s so intense. I’m intense too but I think she’s next-level intense.”
Collins is back at this stage of a slam for the first time since having surgery to treat endometriosis last year.
She said: “Before my surgery and before I was on the proper medication, I was always having to adjust my training around my cycle, because of how painful my periods were.
“And now, with things being more consistent, I’m able to train more consistently and not have to have such drastic changes, especially the week of my cycle.”
Second seed Aryna Sabalenka’s difficult Australian Open is over after she was beaten 5-7 6-2 7-6 (7) by Estonian veteran Kaia Kanepi.
Sabalenka has struggled with her serve all tournament and sent down 15 more double faults here.
She saved four match points in the 10th game of the decider but some wild errors in the tie-break helped Kanepi, who is ranked a lowly 115th, to reach her first Australian Open quarter-final at the age of 36.
In the last eight, she will take on another first-time Melbourne quarter-finalist in seventh seed Iga Swiatek, who came through her first big test of the tournament, beating Sorana Cirstea 5-7 6-3 6-3.