Alize Cornet stunned world number one Serena Williams 6-4 6-4 on Friday to book a place in the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and earn a clash with former two-time champion Venus Williams.
Venus reached her second final of the year by overcoming 2011 Dubai winner Caroline Wozniacki 6-3 6-2.
“We enjoyed two fantastic semi-finals,” said Tournament Director Salah Tahlak. “Serena Williams has once again failed to add the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships title to her lengthy list of achievements, having now lost at the semi-final stage in all three of her appearances here.
“Alize Cornet has surprised us with her wonderful play all week, and she will be a worthy opponent to Venus Williams in what is certain to be a fantastic final.”
Cornet, who only received a place in the main draw when Svetlana Kuznetsova withdrew with injury, looked confident right from the start, and broke Williams’s serve to lead 5-4 after the top seed had led 40-15.
She served out the first set and then started the second by breaking the Williams serve again, and although Williams levelled at 2-2 Cornet earned a further break to lead 4-3. She then held four match points on Williams’s serve at 5-3 before serving out the match at love.
“I was so excited about this match coming up to tonight, and now that I beat Serena it’s a dream come true,” said Cornet. “It’s definitely the biggest win of my career.
“I did it in such a good way, such a good match. Very, very strong and smart till the end. I didn’t try to be more powerful than her, because, anyway, it’s impossible. I just tried to play with my weapon. Wow, 6- 4, 6- 4. I didn’t expect that definitely, and I’m really, really happy and proud of myself.”
Serena offered praise to her opponent but put the blame for her defeat firmly on herself.
“She played really well. You know, she played a solid match,” said Serena. “I just, you know, I didn’t play today. I tried, though. I just kept hitting errors. I don’t think I have made that many errors in a match in I think at least three years, maybe four years. Today just wasn’t my day. I haven’t felt good this whole week, to be honest, just from my first match.”
Venus, who also contested the Auckland final last month, was far too powerful for Wozniacki, and although her fragile health means that she can lack energy at times she has thrived on her demanding schedule this week.
“Back-to-back matches I don’t think are easy for anyone, but for me in general I need back-to-back matches. I feel like I’ve just gotten so much better since my first round to now, just feeling comfortable on the court, feeling comfortable when I’m behind, feeling comfortable when I’m in the lead,” she said.
“Caroline is an intense competitor. She has been since the very first match I played her like 2007. Seven years ago. She’s reached the pinnacle of the game, so she knows what she’s doing. So it feels good to, you know, to be able to get that win today.”
Wozniacki admitted that she had not felt comfortable or able to find a way to overcome her determined opponent.
“It was quite tough out there, and I started off a little bit tentative,” she said. “I didn’t really feel like I could go out and play what I wanted to play. Once I got going, she started to play better as well.
“It was kind of uphill today, and she, you know, like I was expecting, she went in and was serving good first serves especially when she needed them. She got the angles going, so even when I was behind the baseline she made me come in and then played it on my feet.”
“While almost everyone was expecting Serena to join her sister in the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, Alize Cornet clearly had a different idea,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman of tournament owners and organisers Dubai Duty Free. “Her performances this week have been remarkable, and it was wonderful to see the unbridled joy she felt in overcoming the world number one.
“It is also very satisfying to see Venus Williams playing so well again. It will be interesting to see if she can become only the second player after Justin Henin to win three titles here.”
Despite her defeat, Wozniacki has once again enjoyed her stay in Dubai.
“I love that the hotel and the courts are in one big complex,” she said. “It makes it very easy for us players and not having the travel time. And I think Dubai, in general, it’s such a great place. So many nice restaurants, so many fun things to do. I definitely think that has a lot to do with it.”
Serena too has been enthralled with what she has found here.
“I like Dubai. It’s a great place to come,” she said. “You know, what I like most about it is just the city. I go to a restaurant, and I see a guy and he’s like, I’m from New York. And another guy, they are all staff, and he’s from London. Another guy is from Nigeria. Another guy is from Asia. And it’s an incredible mix of people from absolutely everywhere in the world. It is a beautiful, beautiful thing. Everyone is just treated the same, so it’s just great. I love it.”
In doubles action Alla Kudryavtseva and Anastasia Rodionova overcame Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Safarova 6-4 ,6-4 to move into the final, where they will meet Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears who knocked Flavia Pennetta and Samantha Stosur out with a 6-3 6-2 victory.
After Saturday’s final, play continues between 24th February and 1st March with the action-packed ATP tournament that includes defending champion Novak Djokovic, five-time winner Roger Federer, recent Australian Open semi-finalist and last week’s Rotterdam winner Tomas Berdych, former US Open winner and recent Sydney champion Juan Martin Del Potro, and charismatic Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.