Alize Cornet, recovering brilliantly from a mighty collapse in career fortunes, scored her best-ever win by beating world No. 1 Serena Williams 6-4, 6-4 and preventing an all-Williams sisters final at the Dubai Open.
The 24-year-old Frenchwoman, who is about to return to the top 20 after a dismal five-year interval in which she fell from the top 100, made a mere handful of errors as she maneuvered and harassed the legend to a stunning defeat.
Cornet often rallied valiantly when the powerful American landed her biggest blows, but even more often she found changes of direction and angles to disrupt Williams.
Williams later pronounced herself “a wee bit embarrassed” by the result, which denied her the chance of a final with older sister Venus Williams, an earlier winner against Caroline Wozniacki.
Cornet also seemed to have an instinct which made her do the right thing at the most important moments, and crucially she changed the mood of the match when she broke Serena’s serve at 4-4.
After that, the pressure was suddenly on Williams and Cornet managed to keep it there throughout an extraordinary second set.
She rode the momentum she had created to break again for 2-0 and an increasingly tense Serena dropping serve again to go 3-4 down in weird circumstances.
First she put an uncharacteristic and inappropriate drop shot into the net, then she failed to run a return of serve down, wrongly thinking her first delivery had been out — Hawkeye proved it was not — and then on game point she made a gambler’s rush to the net. Cornet passed her almost dismissively.
At the moment of truth, seeking to close out the match, Cornet cut down the pace on her first serves and got them all in. That gave her enough psychological advantage to force further errors by Serena without needing heroics.
Earlier, Venus Williams’ 6-3, 6-2 win over Wozniacki saw her dominate the former world No. 1 from Denmark from start to finish.