By Owais Majid
When I tuned into Alizé Cornet’s match against Garbiñe Muguruza at midnight my time, I had no idea I’d be wanting to write about this match in the morning but alas, here I am. Expecting a fairly straightforward win for the third seed and one of the favourites for the tournament, what unfolded next took me and many others by surprise, but should it have done?
From the offset, Cornet played authoritative tennis, breaking the Muguruza serve early doors and consolidating it with ease. For the duration of the set, she had numerous break points which she squandered. In a typical Cornet display, she could easily have succumbed to the disappointment of missing so many opportunities and lost her momentum but she seemed unfazed throughout. She held serve comfortably all the way to take it 6-3. Even then, most would have assumed that Muguruza would make a comeback and the Frenchwoman would naturally have a drop off from the lights-out tennis she was playing in the first set.
However, the second set was arguably even more impressive from Cornet. If it were possible, Cornet managed to up her level. Whilst the first set could be taken with the caveat that Muguruza was way off her game, she had regained her radar for the second. In spite of this, Cornet held firm to take it 6-3 in a repeat of the first set scoreline. To give some context to how dominant Cornet was on her serve, Muguruza didn’t have a single break point, winning only 15 out of 80 return points. As she crossed the finishing line by breaking serve for the second time in the set and the third time in the match, Cornet’s celebration was evident of just how much this meant to her. Such a monumental victory in such resounding fashion is something she has rarely produced.
As is often the case when a player of Cornet’s nature scores an improbable victory such as this one, there were questions about why she doesn’t produce this level on a consistent basis. For me, the essence of Cornet was perfectly illustrated by an exchange between the commentators on Aus Open Radio. Abigail Johnson, the lead commentator, posed the question as to why we so rarely see this sort of tennis from the 31-year-old. Cornet has made the fourth round at all the majors over a span of more than eleven years, but has gone no further. Johnson’s co-commentator rather succinctly replied “It’s like wanting Christmas lunch every day.” It’s lazy to compare her to her compatriot Gael Monfils, (on whom Scott incidentally wrote a beautiful piece earlier this week), but it’s difficult to resist when there are so many similarities. Like Monfils, Cornet’s tennis is such that, were she more focused and dialled in, chances are we wouldn’t see some of the highlight reels we do get from her, nor would we find her occasional peaks such as this one so incredibly uplifting. Christmas lunch is so feverishly anticipated because it only occurs once a year. I’d venture that opinions on Brussels sprouts would be far less frequently complimented if they were part of a weekly meal. Cornet has left tennis fans scratching their heads both for better and for worse over her career which I was surprised to see has spanned 16 years. Her amazing stroke play has been compromised by her attitude towards the sport at times. Her rank of 61 in the world does her talent no justice but with a player like her, the ranking is almost academic.
In her on-court interview, Cornet remarked that she went into the match with a mindset of just “having fun which I haven’t been doing a lot.” I found this particularly intriguing. It’s clear that she plays her best tennis when she adopts this mentality, but as we can all relate to, it’s impossible to maintain this day in and day out and this, ultimately, is why Cornet’s spark doesn’t ignite as often as we may want it to. It’s time we accept that certain players aren’t made for playing ultra-consistent tennis on the day to day grind of the tour. Cornet is definitely one of those and honestly, that’s absolutely fine.