Last night, at the end of the second set of the match contested by Simona Halep and Alize Cornet, I was so tired and sleepy that I decided, sadly, that I had to turn off the TV and go to bed. But once I was in bed, I realized that I couldn't miss the third set, so I pulled up the ESPN app on my iPad and tuned in to the match. When I began watching, both players were resting and icing down during a changeover, and the commentator was saying something about one of the players (I think it was Halep). "...that she's already got it," the commentator said.
Closed captioning is the default selection on the ESPN app, and there--in big white letters--right over Cornet's body, was "THAT SHE IS ALREADY GOD." A moment later, "SHE IS ALREADY GOD" appeared over the veteran Frenchwoman as she drank water and applied ice to her neck.
This was the greatest reward for staying awake that I could have asked for.
The tennis was pretty good, too! That last set was as tense as one would expect it to be. Both players had suffered from the heat throughout, though it was Halep who frequently appeared to be on the edge of falling down. But they carried on, and the excitement mounted as Halep saved two match points. It looked as though the two-time major champion was about to turn things around, but that wasn't to be; Cornet won on her third match point, achieving a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory.
What happened after that was the stuff of video heaven. Cornet, who--in 63 tries--had never before reached the quarterfinal of a major, was overcome with emotion (not unusual for her, I know). She spoke with great admiration of her opponent, a former world number 1. And then she did the on-court interview with Jelena Dokic, and both interviewer and interviewee were in tears.
Dokic reminded Cornet of that time, in 2009, when Cornet held a match point against Dinara Safina in the Australian Open round of 16. Had the Frenchwoman won, she would have played Dokic in the quarterfinals, but Safina saved that match point and went on to defeat Cornet.
"Oh my god, yeah," Cornet said. "I wanted to play against you so bad. I was so disappointed. I loved your game and I was so excited about playing a quarterfinal against you and I couldn’t, and it was really painful. Now thirteen years later, you’re here, I’m still here, on the court.” Cornet went on to comment on Dokic's career transition: "I want to tell you something. How you moved on in your life, I think we can all congratulate you. You were an amazing player and now you’re an amazing commentator.”
This brought former world number 3 Dokic to tears, and the two women embraced. This scene would have been touching under any circumstance, but it was especially so in light of the fact that Dokic has undergone numerous challenges for years, including recently. The Australian great has long been a voice for all (and especially women) who have been abused and have undergone emotional turmoil. I only hope she knows how admired and respected she is by so many of us.
A couple of days ago, I wrote that I consider Cornet to be the greatest underachiever on the tour (and maybe ever). The first time I saw her play, she was doing that Suzanne Lenglen leap, and I was enthralled. I admire her lovely game, and wish that she could have had the competitive consistency she needed to go with it. But, as Cornet herself said to Dokic: "It's never too late to try again."
Everyone's favorite dramatic Frenchwoman will play Danielle Collins--who isn't exactly shy when it comes to drama--in the quarterfinals. And even if Cornet loses, she has achieved a remarkable career milestone.
And--she is already God.
Meanwhile, two veteran giant-killers had an opportunity to reach the quarterfinals, and one of them lived to kill again. Sorana Cirstea became the first player to take a set off of Iga Swiatek, but Swiatek prevailed in three sets. And then there was Kaia Kanepi, and if she seems like she's been around forever--well, she kind of has. The 36-year-old Estonian with the cannonball groundstrokes outlasted 2nd seed Aryna Sabalenka in a tense three-setter in which Sabalenka saved four match points.
The third set went to a tiebreak, and both players seemed a bit confused by the rules--at the Australian Open, a tiebreak goes to ten points instead of the usual seven. When Kanepi reached 9-7, she thought she had won the match, but she had to switch gears and win more more point.
Danielle Collins outlasted Elise Mertens in three sets which took almost three hours to play. And, in play from the day before, Madison Keys rather easily (this was the biggest surprise of the tournament for me) defeated Paula Badosa, 6-3, 6-1. Badosa was clearly exhausted by the time she reached the round of 16, and the fact that Keys has clearly been on a mission since she arrived in Melbourne didn't help.
Also, in the first batch of round of 16 matches, Barbora Krejcikova defeated a somewhat lackluster Vika Azarenka in straight sets, and top seed Ash Barty claimed a straight-set victory over Amanda Anisimova. And then there was Jessica Pegula, who took out 5th seed Maria Sakkari, also in straight sets.
There are three U.S.A. players in the quarterfinals, yet the quarterfinal draw has a distinct French flavor. Three of the competitors--Barty, Krejcikova and Swiatek--are former French Open champions, and Cornet, of course, is French. Here is the draw:
Ash Barty (1) vs. Jessica Pegula (21)
Barbora Krejcikova (4) vs. Madison Keys
Danielle Collins (27) vs. Alize Cornet
Iga Swiatek (7) vs. Kaia Kanepi