GSTAAD, Switzerland - A point from defeating new mom Mandy Minella in the Ladies Championship Gstaad final, it all came rushing back to Alizé Cornet.
"When I was at match point and I realized that I won the title, I had a flashback of the last seven months that I had to go through, and all the anxiety I suffered while I was living in my day-to-day life on the court," she said in a phone interview after outlasting the Luxembourg veteran, 6-4, 7-6(6) on Sunday.
That anxiety stemmed from a missed out-of-competition doping test, one caused by a broken intercom in Cornet's apartment. Notified of the charge in January, Cornet played under a cloud of stress until early May, when she was finally cleared of any wrongdoing.
"I was very proud that I kept fighting until the end, during these seven months, and also during this whole week in Gstaad. I’m a fighter and I just proved to myself that after going through a tough time, I could still win a title.
"It’s probably one of the nicest titles that I had to win because of this tough time that I go through. I'm just very happy, and very tired at the same time because it takes a lot to go to the end of the tournament."
Working alongside coach Simon Goffin, Cornet didn't drop a set en route to the title, outlasting a former French Open finalist in Samantha Stosur, a resurgent Eugenie Bouchard, and Minella, who was playing in her first career WTA final less than a year after giving birth to daughter Emma Lina.
"I think it’s pretty amazing. Mandy’s probably playing the best tennis of her career. It’s the same thing for Tatjana Maria, who just won a WTA event in Mallorca. I think that these moms coming back at this level is great for tennis. It shows that with work and motivation and determination, everything is possible.
"I’m not sure I would be able to do it," she added with a laugh, "so I’m very impressed by the way these moms come back, like Serena, of course. It’s definitely a good thing for the tennis, and for women in general, to show that even after giving birth to a child, we can still achieve great things. So I’m proud of Mandy, and all the moms that are coming back on the tour."
Her decision to take advantage of the season's last swing through the European red clay was fueled by a desire to reclaim those lost months filled with physical and mental strain.
"This year I didn’t get a chance to play a real clay season. I couldn’t play in Rome; I had to withdraw in Madrid because I was injured, and I couldn’t play in Strasbourg. So my clay season was very short this year. It’s probably my best surface, so I really wanted to go back to clay after Wimbledon, try to win some matches and get some points.
"I couldn’t dream of a better week. I think that was definitely the right choice, to come here to Gstaad. And I was the first seed, so it was not easy to actually make the job, as the No.1 seed, but I did it and I’m very proud of it."
Cornet's last title came at the Hobart International back in 2016, where she dropped just three games to Bouchard in the final, but led to a back injury that interrupted her season. At 28 years old, the veteran is wary of the need of rest and recovery even as an appearance at the Moscow River Cup looms this week.
"I have to admit that right now, I have pain everywhere. I think emotionally and physically, it takes a lot of work to get to the end of the tournament and win it. I’m supposed to play in Moscow in two days, so, it’s not going to be easy to get back on court in only 48 hours after that. But I also have to enjoy my title and not to think so much about tomorrow, and just try to think about the present and enjoy what I’m living right now."
Also looming is the opportunity to be ranked inside the Top 32 by the US Open, where she hasn't been seeded since 2015. But for Cornet, an rising ranking comes second to her pride in the apparent emotional improvements that allowed her to take home the title in Gstaad.
"The second set was very tricky because she was playing better and better, and I was 5-3 down, and I came back. I was 6-4 down in the tiebreak, to had to face two set points. In all of these scenarios, I just remained really calm. I was just super focused, and this is something I've rarely felt in my career! So I’m very proud of this.
"Tennistically speaking, I know what I’m able to do, but most of the time, the reason why I cannot express my best tennis on the court is because I get nervous, or I'll get upset, or I’m talking a lot. Today, I really, really remained calm, and it was not even such an effort because I knew that the only way that I had to win today was to have this attitude, so I’m really happy that I could do it."