ROLAND GARROS, France - Local favorite Alizé Cornet reached the second week of her home Slam for the second time in her career with a 6-2, 6-1 upset of No.9 seed Agnieszka Radwanska.
The Pole had previously dominated the head-to-head, scoring seven wins since the pair's first meeting - also at Roland Garros, back in 2008 - to the Frenchwoman's one. But clay has never been her happiest hunting ground, and she had skipped tournaments in both Madrid and Rome due to a right foot injury.
Cornet's aggressive intent was immediately clear in the first set as the World No.43 struck 16 winners to Radwanska's mere four. Perhaps more surprising, though, was how often the 27-year-old would beat her seeded opponent at her own game, repeatedly conjuring up dropshots, feathery volleys and passes.
Known for her expressive on-court nature, Cornet still found a way to eke some drama out of a set in which she always led: a brief wobble as she spurned the chance for a 4-1 lead resulted in her having several serious words with herself, and a subsequent coaching violation. As has been the case in the past, though, Radwanska's struggle to hit through the clay court was leading to too many uncharacteristic errors, and the set ended with a whimper as the 28-year-old double faulted and hit a quick backhand error to be broken for the fourth time.
Though the No.9 seed managed to display some flashes of brilliance, such as the dropshot with which she broke Cornet to open the second set, they were all too rare. More often, Cornet seized the upper hand in rallies with high-bouncing forehands, laden with topspin, that pushed Radwanska behind the baseline. For her part, the No.9 seed never quite worked out a strategy to counter her opponent; she won 37% of her first serve points, just 27% behind her second serve and was plagued by 19 unforced errors. Appropriately enough, Cornet closed the match out by coming out on top of yet another cat-and-mouse battle as she poked a backhand pass past Radwanska, stranded at the net.
Afterwards, Cornet agreed that the dropshot had been crucial to her win: "On clay court it's working unbelievably well, I have to say. On the three previous matches I used it a lot and even more today because I saw she was standing a little bit far from the baseline, and I was feeling -- I mean, I had a great hand today with the dropshot."
Cornet also expounded on the strategy behind the shot: "I need to use it, like... an attack shot. It's a very aggressive shot if you think about it. And then of course when I do it that means my game is ready and that everything, like, the puzzle... is getting together, so it's great."
Nonetheless, she also admitted to tension with an opportunity to do well in front of her home crowd, saying: "I was tight before the match. During the match I was also tense, more tight than in the previous games. But I stuck to my game plan till the end of the match, and when I'm focused on my game at the end of the day, I managed to produce good tennis despite lots of emotions."
Today's loss marks the fourth consecutive Roland Garros defeat by an unseeded opponent for Radwanska. In 2014, she was bested by Croatia's Ajla Tomljanovic in the third round; in 2015, Germany's Annika Beck upset her in round one; and last year, Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova ended her French Open dreams in the fourth round. It's no surprise, then, that she's happy to look forward to grass: "I'm just happy that the clay is over," she said afterwards. "I'm really happy to play on grass and it doesn't matter what the results are. Just, you know, can feel my tennis and really, you know, feel on court comfortable and I can play my game there."
Cornet, meanwhile, moves into the fourth round at a Slam for the third time in her career following the 2009 Australian Open, where she held two match points against eventual runner-up Dinara Safina before falling, Wimbledon 2014 and the 2015 French Open. She'll bid to make her first ever quarterfinal against compatriot Caroline Garcia, who came through a marathon match against Hsieh Su-Wei 6-4, 4-6, 9-7.