A Grand Slam Streak Without (Yet) a Quarterfinal


MELBOURNE, Australia — In an era of women’s tennis defined by volatility at the top, Alizé Cornet has been a constant.

Starting as a qualifier at the 2007 Australian Open, Cornet has not missed the main draw of any Grand Slam since. She is on track this year to break the women’s record for consecutive Grand Slams played. This year’s U.S. Open would be her record 63rd Grand Slam main draw, surpassing Ai Sugiyama’s record of 62 straight appearances.

That target has become a possible finish line for Cornet.

“After that I think it will be a good time for me to retire,” said Cornet, 32, of France. “I’m not sure. I don’t want to say it’s going to happen this way. I’m not closing any door to keep going. But I gave so much to this game and to this tennis life, yeah, I feel I’m pretty much ready for the next chapter. At least by the end of the year, I think I’ll be ready.”

Cornet’s story isn’t done at this Australian Open, however; she reached the fourth round here with a comeback win over the 29th-seeded Tamara Zidansek on Saturday. Zidansek, who reached the French Open semifinals last year, led 6-4, 4-1, 30-0 before Cornet was able to swing the match in her direction.

“I just kept fighting, kept trying my best, and the match turned around,” said Cornet, who won 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.

Cornet, who first reached the fourth round here in 2009 when she came within points of beating third-seeded Dinara Safina, said that winning felt much like it always had.

“Maybe I have a little more distance with it because I’ve played so many years and I’ve faced so many different situations,” she said. “But it feels very sweet. It still feels amazing. I think that’s why we all keep playing and keep pushing ourselves, because we’re so addicted to these feelings, this joy right after the match point.”

Cornet’s love of the battle has won her matches, as well as the respect of her peers.

“I think I wish that I could say I had that kind of record,” said Madison Keys, who reached the quarterfinals with a win Sunday over the eighth-seeded Paula Badosa. “But to see that she’s been able to enjoy it — I mean, she still competes at the highest level and you can tell that every single point, she wants to win it — it’s very, very impressive to watch.”

The second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka said she believes that Cornet’s longevity is down to her being a “big fighter.”

“Every match she’s putting everything she has,” Sabalenka said of Cornet. “I think you just have to believe in yourself and to fight for everything no matter what. She’s doing it on each match.”

Cornet has had highs at Grand Slam events, including a win at this tournament in the second round over third-seeded Garbiñe Muguruza, and a win at Wimbledon in 2014 over top-seeded Serena Williams. But those highlights have come solely in the first week of such events.

Cornet holds the record among active players, by far, for the most Grand Slam main singles draws played without ever reaching a quarterfinal, with 63 in total (this year’s Australian Open is her 60th in a row). Monica Niculescu, with a total of 48, is in second place among active players.

Cornet, who plays against 14th-seeded Simona Halep on Monday with hopes of reaching her first quarterfinal, said she was trying not to become fixated on that goal as she plays the last 16 of a Grand Slam event for the sixth time.

“I don’t want it to be an obsession; I’m enjoying so much my run here so far,” she said. “I had a really great time on the court again with the crowd supporting me; it’s just an amazing feeling. I want to fill my heart with all this energy without thinking I might finally get my quarterfinal that I’m looking for, for the past 15 years.”

“We’ll see how it goes,” she added. “I will keep doing my best on the court. If it happens, great. If not, I mean, it’s still amazing what I’m living every day here.”

Cornet’s joie de vivre can prove contagious. As she left the court after her win over Zidansek, Cornet realized that the on-court interviewer had forgotten to mention the most important part of the occasion: “I forgot, I was so emotional,” Cornet said as she commandeered the on-court announcer’s microphone. “But today is my birthday, guys.”

Cornet conducted the crowd as they sang for her with considerable gusto, soaking in every note.



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