Alize Cornet liked beating Serena Williams so much in Dubai, she decided to do it again today at Wimbledon. The colorful Frenchwoman, who has dramatically put her career back into shape after experiencing a long slump, defeated the top seed 1-6, 6-3, 6-4. Where Cornet goes, there go animation and drama, and today's third round match was rich in those elements.
The match began with an exchange of breaks, and then came the rain. Four and a half hours later, the players returned to the court, and Williams made quick work of the set, as Cornet struggled to keep the ball inside the lines and get it over the net. Cornet said later that after the rain break, she was having trouble just moving her legs.
She got them moving, however. The Frenchwoman stepped onto the court a different player when the second set commenced. She cleaned up the errors significantly, lurked inside the baseline, and started messing with Williams by drawing her to the net and then passing her.
I first saw Cornet play several years ago in Charleston, and was immediately taken with her. She has what Mary Carillo calls "French flair," and sometimes her little leaps and her matter-of-fact put-aways make me think of photos and footage I've seen of Suzanne Lenglen. When she gets in a zone, Cornet alternates soft-powerful, soft-powerful with a very pleasing rhythm.
She got into Williams' head. The top seed--dare I say it?--began to have trouble with her serve, of all things, and her backhand just wouldn't behave itself. She was visibly frustrated, while Cornet was serving well, hitting some wicked drop shots, and winning five game in a row. Just like that.
Of course, this plot would turn, and Williams would pull herself together enough to win three games, but Cornet managed to win the second set. The final set was more competitive throughout, but Williams still hung way back and let herself get pulled forward by the Frenchwoman. It was as though Williams was trying to play a different match than the one she was actually in. Because the one she was in required her to step forward and take some kind of control. But it was Cornet who remained aggressive, hitting a number of successful drop shots and getting the ball past the top seed over and over.
In the first game of the set, Cornet had four break points but could not convert any of them. The question then became "Has her opponent gotten into her head?" Many a player has left the court with "if only I had gotten that early break in the third (or second) set" probably looming in her head after a defeat by Williams.
Apparently, it didn't bother Cornet that much. She converted her fourth break point in the fifth game, which put her up 3-2. This is when Cornet became downright cheeky. She held at love in the next game, finishing it with an ace. Then she broke Williams again to go up 5-2.
Time for another plot turn, of course. It was no surprise that when the Frenchwoman served for the match, she was easily broken. Williams then held, and of course, it's this kind of turn that--even on her bad days--gives Williams just enough psychological edge to wipe out the hopes of her opponent. She has done it so many times, why not once more, at the event she has won five times?
Because Cornet wouldn't let her. When Cornet served for the match the second time, she was all business, reaching 40-0, and then--just because she could--ending the match with one more drop shot, adding a little insult to some significant injury. Talk about French flair.
This was Williams' earliest loss at Wimbledon since 2005, when she lost to Jill Craybas, also in the third round. Williams lost to Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round of this year's Australian Open, and she lost to Garbine Muguruza in the second round of the French Open, at which she was the defending champion.
Cornet has another tough task awaiting her: She plays Genie Bouchard in the next round. Bouchard, as expected, defeated Andrea Petkovic today, and did it in straight sets. Maria Sharapova (perhaps the most relieved woman in London right now?) beat Alison Riske 6-3, 6-0, and Simona Halep beat Belinda Bencic in straight sets.
Former Wimbledon runner-up Vera Zvonareva lost in three sets to Zarina Dyas. Angelique Kerber needed three sets to beat Kirsten Flipkens, and her "reward" is to play Sharapova in the round of 16. Kerber has a 1-4 record against the Russian; however, they have never played one another on grass.
Thanks to the rain delay (and the ever-mystifying Wimbledon scheduling), two matches had to be suspended because of darkness. Sabine Lisicki too the first set off of Ana Ivanovic, and they were at 1-all in the second set when the umpire stopped play. I have no idea why this match wasn't moved to Centre Court.
More dramatic was the suspension of play in the Madison Key vs.Yaroslava Shvedova match. Shvedova won the first set in a tiebreak after Keys saw four set points disappear. In the second set, Keys asked for a trainer at 5-all because of a leg injury. In obvious pain, she tried to get a 7-5 win in the second, but instead, another tiebreak ensued. Keys then asked to have play suspended because of darkness, and the umpire agreed, to the displeasure of Shvedova.
There is no play tomorrow, so both of the suspended matches will have to resume on Monday.