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Alize Cornet stuns Serena Williams to win in three sets

Serena Williams on No.1 Court
by Vivienne Christie
Saturday 28 June 2014

With its twists and turns, headline acts and endless entertainment, it’s easy to appreciate why tennis is so often described as theatre. But in truth it’s a game that’s gloriously unscripted – and that was emphasised in the most dramatic way today when Alize Cornet stepped boldly into the spotlight with a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 upset of world No.1 and five-time champion Serena Williams.

“If somebody would have told me a couple years ago that I would be in second week here in Wimbledon, beating Serena, I wouldn't have believed it,” the world No. 24 beamed afterwards. “What a victory. It's the best way to get the second week.”

It was a third match divided neatly by its clear momentum shifts. The first stage was almost a teaser as each player claimed a break of serve in the first two games, before rain intervened to send the players off court for more than four hours. The “Star Serena” that Wimbledon crowds have to come to know so well returned to win every game of that remaining first set, the world No.1 winning every point on her own serve to seal it in 29 minutes.

But with her obvious confidence and flair for the dramatic, the 24-year-old Frenchwoman was clearly capable of stealing the show. Boosted by the victory she’d claimed over the world No.1 in Dubai earlier this year, Cornet hit drop shots from all angles, clever winners at the net and instinctively out-hit the power hitter with devastating accuracy. The first five games of the second set went Cornet’s way, Williams’ break of serve in the sixth game only delaying the Frenchwoman slightly as she claimed that set in 37 minutes.

The signs became even more ominous when Williams struggled through her opening service game of the final set. She saved three break points in a game that went to six deuces; Cornet, by contrast, dropped only a single point on her own service game.

While Williams stalked stonily-faced around the court as her unforced error count grew – 29 in total, with seven double faults proving equally unhelpful – Cornet seemingly became more confident with every point. There were theatrical challenges, shouts of “Allez”, but most of all there was power, accuracy and a clever ability to frustrate the most prolific woman in today’s game.

“She kept her unforced errors really low,” Williams said, relating that she watch replays to gain a more accurate idea of how the match had turned. “I think I made a few errors too many. You know, she was going for her shots ... she played really well today.”

With the serve that so often gets Williams out of trouble less effective today, Cornet claimed decisive breaks in the fifth and seventh games. The drama was extended when she couldn’t quite serve it out at 5-2 but Cornet secured the victory two games later with yet another effective drop shot, advancing to the fourth round of a Grand Slam for only the second time in 35 attempts.

“I think everyone in general plays the match of their lives against me. So I'm pretty sure that the next match, it won't be the same,” said Williams, who’d been dealt her worst loss at Wimbledon since 2005. “I just have to always, every time I step on the court, be a hundred times better.”

It won’t be at this tournament, with Cornet instead hoping to continue her form against Eugenie Bouchard, a straight sets win over Andrea Petkovic today. Still excited by today’s victory more than an hour afterwards, she said that she would “think about that match tomorrow”.

Keeping it simple is bound to be part of the plan, with Cornet explaining how that had made a difference today. “Just being creative on the court, doing some dropshots, doing some variation with my topspin forehand. Trying to stay focused on the way I was moving on the court, I think it's very important against Serena. Putting my first serve in,” she said. “All these kind of things help me on the court to stay calm.”

Having exited her 15th Wimbledon unexpectedly early, Williams has both the time and fortitude to reassess. “Just 'cause you lose a match doesn't mean you stop. You just got to kind of keep going,” she said. “Like I said, maybe it wasn't for today. Maybe it's for tomorrow. So I'll just keep fighting. That's all I can do really.”

For Cornet, there’s the potential to delivery more star power yet, having shown that it comes so naturally when she fell to her knees and kissed the grass after the most important victory of her career. “It was the first time in my life actually,” she said of her spontaneous post-match celebration. “I think it's very symbolic because it means now I love you grass and I didn't before.”

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