Cornet living the dream

 - Reem Abulleil

French veteran revels in reaching maiden Grand Slam quarter-final

Alizé Cornet Australian Open 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

“It’s never too late to try again.”

Whether Alize Cornet ends up retiring at the end of this season or not, her legacy is already secured and summarised succinctly in the quote above.

Seventeen years after making her Grand Slam debut, the 32-year-old Frenchwoman has made it to a maiden major quarter-final.

On her 60th consecutive Grand Slam appearance – and 63rd slam main draw overall – Cornet finally snapped her 0-5 record in fourth rounds at the majors and she did it in typical Alize fashion, by battling tooth and nail against former world No.1 Simona Halep in scorching conditions at Melbourne Park.

She was understandably in tears on court as she stepped up to the mic to speak to Jelena Dokic about her long-awaited achievement.

“Sorry for being so emotional,” said Cornet. “It feels amazing. I don’t know what to say, it’s just magic.”

Alizé Cornet / Australian Open 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

As Dokic began to list Cornet’s Grand Slam stats, highlighting her longevity, the French veteran quickly interrupted her and stated: “It’s never too late to try again.”

At the start of the Australian Open, Cornet revealed that 2022 might be the final season of her professional career. She spoke about the unforgiving grind of the tennis tour and why she was determined to soak up every happy moment on court before she walks away from the sport once and for all.

That approach has served her well so far this fortnight, as she knocked out multiple Grand Slam winners Garbiñe Muguruza and Halep en route to the last eight, where she takes on Danielle Collins on Wednesday.

“Like everybody, I wanted to quit tennis many times because sometimes it's just too painful to work and not to be rewarded for your work, to have some tough losses,” said Cornet after her win over the third-seeded Muguruza.

“Sometimes you lose, for example, with match point. You go back to your hotel room and you go, ‘What's the point of doing all that?’

“This is not an easy job. You're on the road basically 10 months out of 12 so you never see your family; it's really hard to have a love life. All these things around tennis make it complicated. But the love of the game has always been stronger.”

It sure has.

Over the years, Cornet developed a never-say-die persona on court that became synonymous with her name. A bubbly character who speaks her mind, Cornet can often find herself involved in dramatic matches and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“That's who I am. I mean, I can't hide my true nature. If I'm a drama queen for the people, then I am,” she says with a smile. “What I know is that I give everything I have on the court, and I think that's why sometimes there is drama.”

She expects lots of drama in her upcoming quarter-final against Collins, who is also known for her fighting spirit and intense attitude on court.

“I see how she is on the court. She's like a lion,” Cornet said of Collins, who is a former Australian Open semi-finalist.

“Oh, my God, she impresses me a little bit because she's like so intense, I'm intense too but I think she's next-level intense. She's hitting so hard. This is going to be a good match. I'm really happy to play against this kind of player.”

Cornet has dropped two sets en route to the final eight so far, and has spent eight hours and 15 minutes on court through her four matches.

In the third round against Tamara Zidansek, Cornet trailed the Slovenian 4-6, 1-4, 0-30 before turning things around and getting the win in three sets.

Her peers and compatriots are inspired by her longevity and ability to fight for every point, including Gaël Monfils, who said on Tuesday he hopes Cornet sticks around for a few more seasons.

“It's great. There were some rumours maybe it was even her last season on the tour and hopefully we will have many more of her. She's a fighter since a young age. For sure, she's a hard-worker, and she really deserve where she is,” said the Frenchman.

Cornet admits she got to a point where she thought she would never hit this quarter-final milestone and wonders if letting go of that dream perhaps freed her up to actually achieve it.

After wanting something for so long, Cornet was asked if making her first Grand Slam quarter-final felt as good as she thought it would be.

“Yes, it does,” she beamed. “It does feel good. It does feel really good. I couldn't stop crying after my match when I realized after the match point that I made it. I was very emotional, and I didn't know it would feel so good. I think it will feel really good for the next couple of days till I have to get ready for my next match. But I really want to enjoy this moment, because I've been waiting for it for a long, long time.”

She sure has earned it!