In tennis, there have always been certain players who were always close to the glass ceiling but would often miss it by just an inch or two. Alize Cornet of France has always been one of those players.
At 30 years of age, Cornet has multiple achievements to her name which makes her well-positioned to be one of the big names in women’s tennis. She has a career-high WTA ranking of number 11. However, her biggest rise to fame was when she got three straight victories against Serena Williams in the year 2014. One of these victories came at Wimbledon.
Alize Cornet turned some heads at the beginning of the year when she reached the quarter-finals of the ASB Classic. In a world of women’s tennis where the older players quickly lose relevance, she has been attempting to carve her own niche.
The French star talked to Essentially Sports in an exclusive interview where she talked about a range of issues that affect her career. These obviously included but we’re not limited to questions about her training during the tough lockdown period.
The quarantine imposed by the Coronavirus pandemic has been tough on all of us. However, it’s been especially tough for tennis players who find it more and more difficult to stay fit. Alize Cornet views it in a more positive light. She feels this gives her a much-required break. Often, the only breaks that tennis players get is due to injuries, a fact that Roger Federer has lamented about in the past. According to her, even if by force, this is a required break for her as she never really gets injured.
“It’s been going pretty well so far. In France, we are actually having our eighth week of lockdown. So yeah, it’s been two whole months without playing tennis, without being able to go out. I mean we can go out but it’s been really strict. So it hasn’t been very easy every day but it’s also given me a little break. I realize that it was not so bad to take some time to be home, to rest, which I haven’t done for 15 years, I think. Because I haven’t had big injuries in my career so I actually never stopped playing for more than a month. So I really enjoy this time at home. But now I feel it’s time to go back on court.”
While practicing has been a struggle for most of the players, Alize has her own arrangement figured out.
“I played maybe three times in two months. Because one of my friends has a tennis court in his residence. But it’s like 30 kilometers away and it’s not easy to drive with the police and stuff. So I’ve been going there just three times. But it was actually pretty nice to feel the ball and hold the racquet for these three times. But now I can’t wait to be free to play as much as I want.”
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A big concern for most tennis players would be to she’d the rust which would have developed on their game. Not everyone has access to a private tennis court. In fact, exercising daily without a game approaching is also not everyone’s cup of tea. That doesn’t seem to be a concern for Cornet who has made it a habit to work out daily so she can maintain shape. We asked her if she feels that she can be her old self once tennis resumes again.
A player who began playing at the tender age of 15, she has certainly seen her fair share of stoppages in her long career.
“I’ll tell you in a week (laughs). I’m not really sure. The thing I’m most sure about is that I’ve really worked out every day during this quarantine. I don’t know how I had the will to do it every day but I just thought that it was better for me and it would be easier for me to come back if I was in shape. So actually I did fitness every single day of the quarantine.”
“I guess when I’d be back on the court it would be okay physically, probably. Even though I’d have to get used to the tennis movements and everything. But then for the tennis feelings, I’m not sure. These three times I played, I was feeling quite well. So I would say it would come by easy. And you know I’ve been playing tennis for more than twenty-five years, so I guess two months is not gonna change a lot.”
This is a question that has been troubling the fans the most. We are all looking for an optimistic reply which is unfortunately lacking. Alize Cornet wasn’t really sure either. However, she’s still keeping her fingers crossed for at least one event in 2020. It’s not hard to guess the one she’s rooting for.
“I have no idea what’s gonna happen for the rest of the season, I have to be honest with you. Nobody saw this pandemic coming. And I think nobody has a small idea of what is coming next. Of course, we are all hopeful for some tournaments to happen before the end of the year. Roland Garros for me which is my home grand slam. We have no clue how is it going to be. The lockdown is gonna be over on the next Monday. And then I guess we’re gonna see how the evolution is gonna go. But if we can play some tournaments before the end of 2020, I think it would really be a victory. But we will definitely have to adapt and maybe it’s gonna be a year without tennis but I would be very sad.”
This was an interesting question. Even in an injury, you are often required to sit out. However, for a tennis player, are these the same experiences? Surprisingly enough, Cornet believes that the quarantine is actually better than an injury. That coming from a player who’s been rarely injured herself in her own words!
“As I said earlier, I didn’t have many injuries in my career. I’ve been really really lucky about that. The longest injury I had was six weeks maximum. I had few tears, here and there and of course, I had this shoulder which was bothering me for six months. But I didn’t actually stop playing tennis. I was playing with this pain which was actually really annoying but I didn’t stop because of that.”
“So yeah, I’m very grateful that my body was able to hold all this pressure and practice and all those matches for that long. But of course, the feeling of being injured is much worse than what we are living right now. That’s because at least we are on the same chase, we are all living the same thing. But when you are injured you see the tour, that keeps living without you. You watch it on TV and you cannot do anything except rehab and try to come back as soon as possible. But it’s a very frustrating feeling. So I guess for all tennis players, I wouldn’t say that this quarantine makes it better, but it makes it easier. You let it go, you have no control over it anyway. So you just have to enjoy it as much as you can.”
This is an issue that has become the biggest tennis story coming out of the quarantine. The lower-ranked players have been left without a regular source of income after the stoppage of all tournaments. This led to the governing bodies coming together. Cornet, who is herself out of the top 50, considers it a major problem. However, in her own knowledge, the tennis players around her seem to be having a pretty good time.
“I haven’t been in touch with many other tennis players, to be honest. I mostly talk to the French girls. They are my mates in Fed Cup, so we would kinda keep in touch. And I saw a lot of videos on the social media about my fellow tennis players. What I feel of their role is that everybody is leaving this quarantine pretty well. I mean it’s not easy psychologically to cope with that. But I had the feeling that everybody is pretty happy to enjoy some time off. The thing that is a little bit more annoying and bothering for the future is that we have no visibility of what is going to happen next. And I think that’s the most worrying thing that we are totally unsure if we’d be able to earn money or if we would be able to play tennis. That’s definitely not easy for everyone. But so far from what I saw and what I heard, tennis players seem to be pretty okay.”
Alize Cornet was part of the French Fed Cup team that won the title after 16 long years. In the finals, the team beat Australia. It also included an upset victory by Kristina Mladenovic over the top-ranked Ashleigh Barty. This was one of the biggest memories of Cornet’s career. She found it difficult to express this supreme feeling in words.
“Well, that was an amazing, amazing experience to win this Fed Cup. I don’t even have the words to describe it. I mean it’s such a powerful feeling. It’s such a huge happiness to win this title with my friends, with my team. To represent France for so many years and to finally bring this title home from Australia which was a long way to go. So it was really amazing and I mean the whole campaign of 2019 was great. I played and I won. All of the players of the team played and brought the point to their team. So that was real teamwork. And this crazy final with Kristina playing against Barty, and oh my God it was a roller coaster of emotions. And actually, when we went back to France, we had the chance to meet the President of the Republic. That was something pretty awesome. Definitely some memories that I would keep in my mind forever.”
It’s not a secret that Cornet’s days are numbered. She’s already thirty years old and the younger players are quickly hogging the spotlight. However, it’s not like she’s not able to catch up. Even in 2019, she got big victories over younger players like Aryna Sabalenka and Elina Svitolina. For Alize Cornet, the challenge has become tougher due to rising levels of athleticism but that has also motivated her to step her own game up.
“Being on tour for more than 15 years, I can definitely see the evolution of the game on the WTA. There’s no doubt about it. I mean the girls they hit harder and harder. They are so complete. They are so athletic first of all, which was not the case 15 years ago where some girls were not that athletic. Now it’s the case of all the players from the top 100 or the top 150 I would say. They are all playing so good it got really competitive. It was in the past but I mean now, you cannot let go a single match, you cannot let go a single set, not a single point. Because all the girls are on your back and they are playing such good tennis, so yeah it’s a big challenge to stay at this level. And that’s why I’m proud to be a part of the top 50 for the last 8 years. Now it’s challenging but I’m working so hard to be there and I hope it would be the case till the end of my career.”
Alize Cornet became the first player since Justine Henin in 2007 to defeat Serena Williams three times in a row. That’s not it. For a player who has never been ranked inside the top 10, she has a staggering 19 victories against the top 10 players. This proves that she steps up her game when playing against the big guns. Alize Cornet tried to explain the reason.
“I saw this stat about me, for the last six years, I’ve beaten a lot of top 20 and top 10 players. Yeah, which is nice but the fact that I have nothing to lose maybe. I know it’s a bit of an easy answer but that’s pretty much the truth. Going on court without any expectations. It’s the expectations that kills the game the most. When you go on court and have the feeling that you need to win and you actually cannot play freely on court, that’s the worst feeling. And again these top players, I’m just going on court and I’m playing full power I guess. I have no expectations, I just give everything I have, because I know that if I don’t I will lose anyway. So I guess that makes it a little bit easier and what it shows me is that I have the level to beat these players. I miss a little bit of this consistency with these results through the year. But you know I’m still looking for this consistency, and I hope I’m not over yet at 30 years of age.”
One of the reasons why Roger Federer continues to dominate his competition is that he has been able to modify his game with his age. Alize Cornet has the same goals in order to extend her career. With new Polish coach Sandra Zaniewska, she has been looking to play an aggressive game.
“Well, yeah I had some goals for 2020 but obviously not easy to keep these goals going on. Started working with Sandra Zaniewska last year, a Polish coach that’s a really good person and a really good coach, and what we set up for the 2020 season, which is going to be the case for the next year if it happens next year, is to make my game a little bit more aggressive. I don’t have any ranking goals or result goals.”
“I really have some, let’s say, tennis goals, but in a global way, like I really want to be more aggressive, go more to the nets, trying to shorten the points a bit, because I’m not getting any younger, running 1 meter away from the baseline for 3 hours is something that I don’t enjoy doing as much as before. So, we’ve been working on this for the off-season. And I actually started my year pretty well. I won many matches, and I was playing aggressive, I was enjoying it, I love going to the net, I love volleying, I was serving better, and yeah it’s a shame that this season didn’t keep going because I was in a really good move. But you know, I will have to keep it in mind for when we will be back.”
Alize Cornet clarified that singles will be her priority. Despite her three doubles titles on the WTA tour and recent good performances, her body just doesn’t allow it. That’s where smart work becomes important.
“I don’t think so, actually. For the past years already I’ve been playing doubles on the out-Slams, but not on the WTA tour because my body can’t allow it anymore. If I play singles and doubles, after 3 or 4 matches, I’m done. So, I need to keep my focus and my energy on singles. And it’s a shame because its something I like to do. But now I have to admit I cannot follow this rhythm anymore and I really need to take care of myself and not play too much.”
The second biggest story except the lower-ranked players has been the ATP-WTA merger. While the idea was floated by Roger Federer, it has been picked up by many players. Alize Cornet gave one of the more balanced answers.
“That’s the question I’m still asking myself. I’m not sure about the answer I’m going to give you because it has been on my mind for the past weeks and I don’t know what to think about it actually, to be honest. I think I would need to see where it’s going to have maybe more card in my hand because right now we’re just talking about a merger but we have nothing concrete, and its’ bothering me to give my opinion without having all the facts. But definitely the whole image of tennis, I think it would be amazing to do only one tour and be all together, that would show a great image to the other sports to do the same thing, maybe. I like the idea that we would stop talking about men’s tennis, women’s tennis, but it would be an entity, you know, all together.”
“You are right, I fear a little bit of loss of power if I can say that, from the WTA to one with the men, because we know that the ATP is a little bit more present in the media, they have more money, they have more sponsors, and I’m wondering if it’s going to be really equal with men and women, or if we’re going to still fight for it even though we’re one tour. So, this is the question I’m asking myself. I would say I’m more for it than against it, let’s put it like this.”
We asked her whether this was the right time to float these discussions.
“Well I think its definitely a good time because we’re all going through a huge crisis, international crisis that everybody is in, and I think it’s a very good idea in this critical time to have this kind of conversation to be able to change something because we have time, tours not going on, there’s no matches, there’s no actuality. So, I think it’s the perfect timing to try to make things change, in a way. But I think this is not something we will be able to change in a few weeks or in a few months, it’s going to take time, It’s going to take a lot of discussion, between both organizations but also between the players. And yeah, I cannot wait to see my fellow tennis players, male and female, to talk about it and see in which direction we want to go!”
This is an aspect of her which not many know about. Alize Cornet has actually appeared in a French movie as a child. Hear it from her mouth how the experience changed her and continues to affect her.
“Yeah! When I was 11-years-old, I was an actress in a movie in France, yeah that’s true, and that was a really nice experience. It was 3 weeks of, you know, making and I have really good memories from this experience, but I will definitely stick to tennis, and that’s what I told myself right after the making of the movie. I was like “okay, that was fun, but I definitely prefer tennis.” The thing is now when I see it on the TV, and when the French TV shows the movie again, I’m still emotional about it and I tell myself “this is great stuff that would be able to show my children.” So, yeah, I definitely don’t regret this experience, but I won’t be behind the TV as an actress.”
Alize Cornet was all set to release a book on her life at the WTA Tour and beyond. However, the Coronavirus pandemic and the resultant lockdown halted its progress. We asked her if a second edition was in the pipelines but she rightly told us to hold our horses!
“Well, don’t go too fast, the first one isn’t even out yet, you know! It’s going out in September, so let’s share this one first in September, hopefully, before Roland Garros, I hope Roland Garros is going to remain in September so that my book will have a real visibility. And then, about the second book, you know, I’m writing it, enjoying writing it a lot, it takes me actually a lot of time during my day, which is nice because sometimes you can get a little bored during quarantine. So it’s nice to have this kind of a hobby that you really like. We’ll see if I publish it or not, but definitely, in this time of lockdown its been helping me a lot to pass the time and I think this is the main goal of this book. Maybe you’ll hear about it later, I have no idea!”
A 15-year career would certainly have some shattering memories. Not every collection from your career is full of roses and stars. There are always those losses that affect you even after you’re retired. We asked her about her heartbreaking loss in 2014 to Taylor Townsend. This was at the Roland Garros.
“Oh, yes. I’ve had many, many, many hard losses, I can’t even count it because its endless. Like every tennis player, I hate to lose and every loss is hard. Some are harder than others because some of them you give everything you have and the opponent is just better than you and you have to accept it. This is probably the easier loss to took up with, but definitely there were so many times when I felt that I didn’t do right on the court, that I could be so much better, that I could behave better, play better, that I could be bolder.”
“I mean, all these matches, when you lose the, it’s horrible. You go back to your locker room, you cry in the shower, and it feels awful. We’re kind of used to it, you know, and we’ve been losing since a younger age, so we’re living with this feeling and we bounce back very quick, that’s the power of a tennis player. I think it helps you also in the real-life because when you get down, you get up again, and it’s very useful.”
Alize Cornet is certainly the most energetic tennis star you’ll come across. Her infectious sense of excitement is almost palpable. She fist pumps and falls to the ground even in the most uneventful matches.
“Yeah, I’ve been very emotional throughout my career, in a bad and in a good way. I think it’s always entertaining for the fans to watch me play because there is always something happening on the court. For the past year and a half, I’ve been much more quiet on the court. Of course, it doesn’t erase the 10 years where I’ve been like everywhere, but I started to meditate, to control my emotions better, and the main reason for that is I think that it was not helping me in general, to waste so much energy by being so emotional. I was helping me sometimes but most of the times it was just a waste of energy, and I was losing my focus.”
“As I said before, tennis is now so competitive, you just have to give everything you have to the match, and that was not the case sometimes. So, its been 1 year, I’m much more proud of myself on the court, I think I’m really behaving like a champion now. So, I really have to keep this direction because I think its helping my tennis and helping this consistency that I’m looking for, for some time already.”
Alize Cornet wasn’t too happy with us asking her this question. The reasons were simple enough. She is a Frenchwoman out and about and would love to take home the trophy from the iconic Roland Garros.
“As a French player, I think Roland Garros would be very, very special. I love all of the slams, I think its definitely the rendez-vous that I’m most looking forward to in a year but, sure, willing Roland Garros in front of my friends, in front of my family, in front of the French crowd, that would be the wildest dream.”
Alize Cornet had one of the best times of her life at Wimbledon 2014. She defeated the legend, Serena Williams. However, she lost out to Eugenie Bouchard in what would be a disappointing end to a promising start.
“No, definitely this match is the best memory I have from my career and I think it was tennistically the best match I also played against this amazing champion, I mean, Serena Williams in Wimbledon. Beating her there was, yeah, pretty much a miracle. Specially because before that year, I was not feeling comfortable on grass, and this year I was so inspired on the court, and yeah beating Serena on this court will forever stay in my mind, definitely, as the best memory of my singles career. The only regret I have is I was very close against Eugenie Bouchard to go to the quarters and, yeah, this hurts.”
At Essentially sports, we always ask the players to create their own perfect player, so that we can show you different perspectives on whom the players consider the actual GOAT. Alize Cornet gave out her own list. This is what she had.
“If I could create a player or if I could take shots from everyone or is that the same question? Okay. I don’t know what I would keep of myself! I would keep my fighting spirit because I think it’s pretty good. Then the rest, I would take the fitness of Simona Halep. I would get the serve of Serena, definitely, and her power too, because yeah, it’s impressive. What would I get? It’s not easy, I’ve never thought about it. Oh yeah, I would get the forehand of Ash Barty, yeah, that’s wow. I love her game in general, but her forehand is marvelous. And backhand? There’s lots of girls that have beautiful backhand, it’s really not easy. So yeah, maybe.”
We weren’t satisfied as we thought she definitely should include her volley in there!
“Yeah, maybe I would keep mine, no! Yeah, Ashleigh Barty, she also has such great volley, Petra Martic is a very good volley-er too. I’d say Petra. She’s my friend, so I would like to add her in my perfect player.”
Alize Cornet has been doing quite a few Yoga poses on her social media. We asked her if she could teach us some of what she had learned. She isn’t exactly an expert yet on this exercise which she has developed a liking for.
“I wish I could give you some tips about yoga, but I actually just started like during the quarantine. So, I’m not a professional yet. What I like is that it’s a completely different type of sport from what I’m doing usually, and what I like also is that you’re always focused on your breathing, you know? This is something that is very relating also to meditation. So, that’s why I like to do this kind of meditation sport.”
“But if I could give you any advice it’s just to take time, to take time to do it, to enjoy, to listen to your body, to listen to you physical feeling, and to listening to everything that happening in you. That’s what I like about yoga – But I definitely have to improve, because I’m not the stiffest player on tour, but I’m not as soft as a yogi, so you have to give me some time!”