All good things come to an end eventually. Iga Swiatek knew it, and when she saw the name of Alizé Cornet alongside her in the third round here, the Pole probably knew her time was up. After 37 straight wins and six straight titles, including a second French Open title, the world No 1 experienced defeat, beaten 6-4, 6-2 by Cornet.
Eight years after she beat Serena Williams, who was also then the world No 1, on the same No 1 Court, Cornet outplayed and out-thought Swiatek, something no one else had managed to do since Dubai. Tenacious, aggressive and daring, she was too good for Swiatek in every department and reached the fourth round of Wimbledon for the second time in her career, at the grand old age of 32.
“I have no words right now,” she said. “It reminds me of the time I beat Serena on the same court eight years ago exactly. This court is a lucky charm for me. I am a huge fan of Iga, she’s so talented and an amazing player and nice ambassador for women’s tennis, so I’m very flattered I beat her today.
“This kind of match is what I live for, what I’m practising for. It drives me and I knew I could do it,” she said. “I had this belief even with her wins, I thought if there is a moment you can beat her, it’s now, on grass so I was just believing very hard and I have the best team by my side and the best crowd. I guess I like the upsets, it’s a really nice feeling right now and I need to process because I still feel like I’m playing I’m not completely realising what I’ve done.”
Earlier this year, Cornet reached the quarter-finals of a slam for the first time, at the Australian Open, but then admitted that she was not sure how much longer she would go on, even suggesting that she might retire at the end of this year. This is her 62nd consecutive grand slam tournament, her 65th overall, and yet she’s still capable of big performances.
“I’m like good wine, in France good wine always ages well, that’s what’s happened to me,” she said. “It’s unreal. I’m playing one of the best seasons of my career I feel great on the court, I’m having so much fun I feel good physically, eight years after my first qualification into the second week I can say I’m still there. I’m still so motivated and I still have the fire in me.”
In the wake of her second French Open win last month, Swiatek said that she was still learning to play on grass, a work in progress. Having needed to rest after winning in Paris, she came into Wimbledon without playing any warm-up event and had struggled in her second-round match against Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove of the Netherlands.
On Saturday, she was all at sea against an inspired Cornet, who blasted out of the blocks with two breaks of serve as she led 3-0 in the opener. Swiatek has enjoyed so many one-sided wins in her 37-match streak that she has hardly ever had to dig deep but she settled down and got one of the breaks back.
The sixth game of the set was the key as Cornet saved a break point to stay ahead and she held the advantage to see out the set.
Cornet had played until past 8pm on the previous evening to finish a mixed doubles and when she was broken at the start of the second set, Swiatek must have believed she had a chance.
At 2-0, 40-15, Swiatek was in control of the set but still not of her game and the mistakes reappeared. Unable to close out the game, she dropped her serve and from then on, there was a strange inevitability to the set as Cornet ripped through six straight games to clinch another stunning victory.
Swiatek said part of the reason for her success in 2022 has been how aggressive she has been. On Saturday, as the errors flowed, she could not contain them long enough. “It was really comfortable for me to have the initiative and be proactive (this year),” she said. “But here I couldn’t control the ball, so I needed to slow down a little bit. But then in second set, I kind of made few attempts to speed up again and it didn’t work out. I didn’t come back to being solid. When you play aggressively and you suddenly change the way you play, it’s not easy to keep that. So I got a little bit confused.”
Cornet faces Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia next, a winnable match. For now, though, she wants to enjoy this win, albeit in moderation, without losing too much energy, “Not yet, not quite yet,” she said. “At the end of the tournament, I might have some things to celebrate, maybe even better things. ”
Spaniard Paula Badosa, the No 4 seed, picked up one of her best wins on grass as she beat two-time champion Petra Kvitova 7-5, 7-6 (4).