Cornet outlasts Halep in Australia heat to reach first grand slam quarter-final

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<span>Photograph: Robert Prange/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Robert Prange/Getty Images
  • Alizé Cornet wins 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in marathon match

  • ‘It’s never too late’ says 32-year-old after reaching last eight


Alizé Cornet has played in the main draw at 60 consecutive grand slams. She could yet break Ai Sugiyama’s record of 62 before the year is out. And that would be the definition of perfect timing, because the French world No 61 has indicated 2022 will probably be her last on tour.

Related: Australian Open 2022: Swiatek v Cirstea and Fritz v Tsitsipas in last 16 – live!

The other thing about Cornet is that through those previous 59 appearances she had never made it to a single quarter-final. The closest she came was at the 2009 Australian Open – on this very court – when she led Dinara Safina 5-2 in the third set but squandered two match points and lost it 7-5.

She was 19 then; it is difficult to believe she is only 32 now. On Monday, back on Rod Laver Arena, she did what she had never done before. After a marathon slugfest under the searing sun, the French world No 61 beat Simona Halep 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, booked her spot in the last eight against American Danielle Collins, then allowed herself to cry.

“Thirteen years later … it feels amazing,” said Cornet, whose longevity stretches back to 2006 when she made her grand slam debut at Roland Garros aged 15. “The battle I had with Simona today 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 hearts.

“Congrats to Simona because I know she struggled a lot, and I admire this player so much. She is such a fighter, an example for me. To be here today and go to my first quarter-final is just a dream come true. It’s never too late to try again.”

By 4pm the mercury had climbed to 33 degrees celsius and the heat was clearly a problem for both players. During a change of ends Cornet sat with a bag of ice on her head, held out her hand and watched it quiver.

“My brain was already overloaded, my vision was not clear anymore,” she said. “My hands were shaking and I was like, ‘oh my god, how am I going to do this?’ after only 30 minutes. But I thought on the other side of the court she was not feeling much better than me.”

It was true. Between many points during the first set Halep was bent over, leaning on her racket for physical support. “I felt sick, felt a little bit dizzy,” she said afterwards. The rallies were long – the highest 28 shots – and Halep was doing the share of the running. She repeatedly hit the ball straight to Cornet, who returned it with more variety, including some deft down-the-line winners at full stretch.

Before this match, Cornet had not won an opening set in the fourth round of a major in five attempts. With that psychological hurdle overcome she appeared on her way. Until, with little warning, her form dropped off a cliff. She smacked the ball wildly, served four double-faults, lost two service games to love. Halep, now the aggressor and taking the ball on the rise, won five successive games and 16 straight points to triumph in the second set and send this punishing, all-consuming opus to a decider.

“I was close to just giving up because I was exhausted, how I looked actually,” Halep said. “But I felt like she’s starting to [go] missing and I just stayed there. I fought for every ball but with not much confidence … it was a little turnaround but then in the end was not enough.

“It’s been a tough battle, and actually she was a little bit stronger than me in the end. All the credit to her for this victory.”

That third stanza stayed on serve aside from a single break, something of an anomaly in a match featuring a total of 12 breaks at six apiece. That last one belonged to Cornet to put her up 4-3 and, although Halep saved two match points thereafter, the narrative had just about reached its conclusion. For the 14th seed it was a comeback within a career comeback that ultimately fell short.

Halep’s revival has been a refreshing storyline this southern hemisphere summer. The Romanian former world No 1’s seven-year streak inside the top 10 ended in an injury-cruelled 2021, during which she sat out the French Open and was unable to defend her Wimbledon title. She started this year ranked 20th and unsure of her future, then won her first eight matches to rise to 15th.

“I’m super happy with the way I have been here in Australia,” she said. “I struggled a lot last year, and the way I got up it’s looking really good. I’m happy about that, and I will take only the positives.”

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