Alizé Cornet, a 32-year old Frenchwoman ranked 61 who is considering retirement, has reached her first career Grand Slam quarter-final with a gruelling 6-4 3-6 6-4 win over former World No 1 Simona Halep at the Australian Open on Monday, while Danielle Collins came froma set down to outlast Elise Mertens, 4-6 6-4 6-4 .
It feels amazing. The battle I had with Simona - after 30 minutes were both dying on the court. We both kept going with all our hearts... After 30 minutes, my brain was already overloaded. My vision was not clear, my hands were shaking. I thought on the other side of the court she would be feeling not much better than me. That is why you play tennis. So I can share all this emotion with you. Alizé Cornet
In the blistering heat of Melbourne, Cornet made the last 8 at a Major on her 63rd attempt, in her 60th consecutive Grand Slam over 16 years.
“It is never too late to try again,” she said who, at 19, was a point away from the quarter-finals in Melbourne 13 years ago before eventually losing to Dinara Safina, the first of 5 4th-round appearances she had made at majors prior to this fortnight in Melbourne.
“To be in my first quarter-final. It’s a dream come true! The journey goes on. I still can’t believe it!”
In-form Halep had won the Adelaide WTA event in the build-up to the AO, and had breezed through her opening 3 rounds for the loss of just 12 games in total.
Cornet survived losing 6 games on the trot from leading 3-1 in the second set to upset the 14th-seeded Romania as temperatures soared into the mid-30s on the Rod Laver Arena.
Using bags of ice to cool down her head during changeovers, Cornet, who had both thighs heavily taped, also draped cold towels over her neck.
The Frenchwoman frustrated Halep over the course of 2 hours and 33 minutes with her ability to stay in points and draw out extended rallies as the Romanian appeared to wilt physically.
Cornet looked well on her way to a textbook win, breaking 5 times after recovering from an opening break to go up 3-1 in the second set, and she held a point on her own serve to stretch the lead to 4-1, but her forehand suddenly faltered and Halep got her second wind, allowing the Frenchwoman just one more point from there, as the Romanian won 16 straight to win the last 5 games and take the contest into a decider.
Breaks of serve were at a premium in the final set, with Cornet swatting away the first break point either woman faced to hold for 3-3, and she then got the decisive break in the next game.
With both players tested by the long rallies in the sweltering heat, Cornet roared and Halep threw her racket in frustration when the Frenchwoman delivered the decisive blow in the following game, winning 4 points in a row from 30-0 down.
Cornet won 3 of the last 4 games to wrap up her second win against a seed here when Halep netted her return, and she now leads the Romanian in their head-to-head meetings, 4-1.
Despite being unable to take 2 match points on Halep’s service game, Cornet took the 3rd on her own delivery, and sank to her knees after sealing a remarkable win.
“It feels amazing. The battle I had with Simona – after 30 minutes were both dying on the court. We both kept going with all our hearts,” Cornet said after shedding tears into her towel. “I think I just stopped thinking after 30 minutes of playing.
“After 30 minutes, my brain was already overloaded. My vision was not clear, my hands were shaking. I thought on the other side of the court she would be feeling not much better than me.
“That is why you play tennis. So I can share all this emotion with you.”
It was only the beginning of an emotional outpouring to Jelena Dokic in a touching post-match interview.
“It was a battle with Simona today in this heat,” Cornet said on court amid warm applause from the crowd “Congrats to Simona because I know she struggled a lot and I admire this player so much.
“She’s such a fighter and an example to me. To beat her today, to go to my first quarter-final, is a dream come true.
“I don’t know what to say. It’s just magic. It’s never too late to try again.”
Halep missed Wimbledon and the French Open during an injury-plagued 2021 but looked in peak form at the start of the season as she notched 9 wins in a row, including a title in Melbourne in the lead-up to the Australian Open.
The Romanian had conceded only 12 games en route to the 4th round, but the 30-year-old looked exhausted as the match progressed, leaning on her racket between points to catch her breath.
Cornet has played in every Grand Slam since the start of the 2007 season, and has overcome a number of highly-fancied opponents to book her spot in the quarter-finals, including Garbiñe Muguruza and Tamara Zidansek.
By reaching her first Grand Slam quarter-final, Cornet has also set a new record for most majors played before reaching one, after Tamarine Tanasugarn of Thailand held the prior record, achieving the feat in her 45th at Wimbledon in 2008.
Cornet is also the first Frenchwoman to reach an AO quarter-final since 2009, while she picked up her 48th career win against Top 20 players against Halep, the World No 15, seven of which have come at Grand Slams.
Her next opponent is Danielle Collins as she looks to keep her Australian Open dream alive.
Collins is the 27th seed, who pulled off an upset of her own with a 3-set come-back win over over Elise Mertens, the 19th seed from Belgium.
Only one of two former Australian Open semi-finalists could return to the last 8 in 2022 and, in a shade under 3 hours, Collins showed enough mettle to defeat Mertens, 4-6 6-4 6-4.
In sweltering conditions inside Rod Laver Arena, it was the American’s aggression and boldness at crucial moments that helped her overcome both Mertens and her own physical struggles.
“I think I had my ups and downs during the match, mentally and physically,” said Collins, who looked to be hampered by a back issue during the contest. “Elise was really working me to the max.
“Some of the points were incredible, how many balls she was getting back. So I had to kind of put some pressure on her.”
After losing 6 of 7 games to lose the first set from 3-0 up, Collins broke Mertens’ serve 6 further times across the second and third sets.
Three of her 45 winners in the match helped earn Collins the love break that sent the match to a decider, and a backhand winner on the penultimate point set her up for the 2 hour, 51-minute victory after Mertens delivered a double-fault.
Collins has played 12 events in her career in Australia and reached the quarter-finals or better 7 times.
This year, she has done it the hard way at Melbourne Park, coming from a set down in each of her last two matches to join compatriots Madison Keys and Jessica Pegula in the last 8.
The 28-year-old dropped the first set in her 3rd-round win over Clara Tauson, and the American has won now 7 major matches after losing the first set since 2019, which is tied with Kaia Kanepi for most of any woman in that span.
The No 27 seed was a semi-finalist at AO2019, which remains her best run at a major and a win over Cornet would get Collins back into the last four.
“Today it was really physically tough for me,” Collins said. “I played a long match the other day, 2½ hours, and then I played doubles, so I spent about 5 hours on court.
“I had to make a lot of technical adjustments to make myself comfortable moving around, especially serving.”
Collins was aggressive with her ground strokes, hitting 45 winners and and making 41 errors against Mertens.
She converted 5 of her 18 break-point chances and clinched the win when Mertens, a semi-finalist in Australia in 2018, served a double-fault.
“She’s one of the best anticipators on tour,” Collins said of Mertens. “Sometimes I was having to win the points five, six, seven times.
“Some of the points were incredible in how many balls she was getting back.
“Shots that I thought were winners, sometimes weren’t, and so I had to try and put some pressure on her and come up with some big shots because that’s all you can do against someone who’s such a good anticipator.”
Collins’ win ensured 3 American women are through to the last 8 at Melbourne Park for the second year running.