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Cornet reaches milestone, Collins refuses to lose

  • Dan Imhoff

In her 60th straight Grand Slam appearance, Alize Cornet never expected a maiden quarterfinal at this level would come easy.

Thirteen years since her lone prior showing this deep at an Australian Open, the Frenchwoman consigned herself to the reality it may never eventuate.

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That all changed on a searing Monday afternoon on Rod Laver Arena, when the 32-year-old finally shook her fourth-round major hoodoo with a gruelling two-and-half-hour triumph over Simona Halep.

Cornet had openly discussed retirement with each round passed but her 6-4 3-6 6-3 victory over the former world No.1 could yet delay those plans.

"It feels amazing. The battle that I had with Simona today with this heat, after 30 minutes of game (time) we were dying on court and we kept going for two-and-a-half hours," Cornet said.

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"Congrats to Simona because I know she struggled a lot and I admire this player so much. She's such a fighter and she's such an example for me.

"To beat her today to go to my first quarterfinal is just a dream come true. I don't know what to say, it's just magic."

There was little chance to escape the blistering conditions on court with ice towels draped around the neck offering only momentary reprieve, while Cornet opted to add an ice bag to rest on her head after claiming a brutal opening set.

The physicality required to split two such dogged competitors was immense, but after the Frenchwoman saw a point on serve for a 4-1 second-set advantage slip by it became apparent the psychology of such a momentous breakthrough was bearing down and Halep sensed as much.

Against the tide, the Romanian ground her way through five straight games, including the last 16 points of the set, to level the match.

Cornet would not leave Rod Laver Arena wondering and landed a crucial break in the seventh game of the decider.

While she had fallen in the fourth round in each of her previous five ventures as far at every major it was up to her to serve out a famous victory after two match points on Halep's serve eluded her grasp. It was third time lucky as she secured a showdown with 27th seed Danielle Collins.

"I think I just stopped thinking after 30 minutes of playing. My brain was already overloaded, my vision was not clear anymore, and I was shaking," Cornet said.

"But I thought on the other side of the court she was not feeling much better than me and of course my box helped me so much. They were so present behind me on every point.

"That's why we play tennis. That's why I keep playing tennis, it's for this moment where I can share all these emotions with (the crowd) and while the journey goes on, I still can't believe it."

Danielle Collins

A spirited Collins returned to the Australian Open quarterfinals and in the process checked off a career first of her own after outlasting Belgian Elise Mertens in a near-three-hour tussle on Monday.

The 28-year-old's 4-6 6-4 6-4 fourth-round triumph came on the heels of a magnificent comeback from a set and a break down to deny Danish teenager Clara Tauson in the previous round.

Collins had never come back from a set down in successive matches at a major but some 45 winners helped her to do just that against the never-say-die 2018 semifinalist.

"I think I had my ups and downs during the match, mentally and physically. Elise was really working me to the max," Collins said. "She's one of the best anticipators on tour.

"Sometimes I was having to win the points five, six, seven times. Some of the points were incredible in how many balls she was getting back.

"Shots that I thought were winners, sometimes weren't and so I had to try and put some pressure on her and come up with some big shots because that's all you can do against someone who's such a good anticipator."

Victory ensured three American women were through to the last eight at Melbourne Park for the second year running.

"I think today it was especially physically really tough for me," she said. "I played a long match the other day – I think 2.5 hours, I played doubles for about an hour and half – so I've had to make a lot of technical adjustments to get myself comfortable to move around."