DUBAI, UAE - Everyone was talking about the potential of an all-Williams final at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, but Alizé Cornet had other ideas - the Frenchwoman pulled off one of the biggest surprises of the year at the Premier event on Friday, stunning Serena Williams in the semis.
Going into the semifinals, Cornet was a massive underdog - not only had she lost all three previous meetings with Williams, but she had a dubious 0-17 career record against Top 4 players. But with some incredible retrieving and wide variety of spins and angles she gave the World No.1 all kinds of problems, winning five straight games from 3-4 in the first set to break the match open and, after dropping three straight games from there, getting her nose in front one more time with a 64 53 lead.
Williams tried to stay in it - she fought off four match points serving at 3-5 in the second set, eventually holding for 4-5 - but Cornet stepped up to the line and served the semifinal out at love, 64 64.
"She played really well," Williams said. "I didn't play well. I tried, though. I just kept hitting errors. I don't think I've made that many errors in a match in at least three, maybe four years.
"I think out of a 10, I was at, like, -283, so... wow."
"It was tough to close it out because I had four match points the game before, and on the four match points she played unbelievable, so I was like, 'Okay, maybe she's going to put a little bit more on the important points now,'" Cornet said afterwards. "But I just tried to relax and breathe and pass my first serve at 5-4. I stayed focused and when the last ball went out I was like, 'That's it? I did it?'
"Then I was full of emotion. It's definitely the biggest win of my career."
Cornet is the first player in 18 months to beat Williams in straight sets - the last player to do it was Angelique Kerber, who beat Williams by the same 64 64 scoreline at Cincinnati in August 2012.
There were ups and downs for Williams throughout the week, but it was still a very welcome return for the World No.1, who was playing for the first time since the Australian Open due to a back injury.
"I haven't felt good this whole week, to be honest, just from my first match," Williams commented. "I felt I played well yesterday - I had to play well - if I played like that today, I don't know if I would have won, because I think Alizé played really well, but I definitely think the scoreline would have been closer.
"I started out extremely slow," Williams continued. "I have actually been looking at a turtle every day - it's a really cute turtle in the hotel. I think it's so cute. Maybe I was too influenced by it. I need to play better than that if I want to be playing on the professional tour - maybe I can go to the amateurs."
Awaiting Cornet in the final is Venus Williams, who beat Caroline Wozniacki in the first semifinal of the day (read more here). Williams has beaten Cornet in all three previous meetings in straight sets.
"Before this match I was telling my coach that Venus has been impressing me the whole week - she's back to her top level," Cornet said. "I think she feels a little bit at home here in Dubai because she won here twice. I lost against her here in 2009, so it would be a little bit of revenge for me."