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Champion's Corner: Alizé Cornet

Champion's Corner: Alizé Cornet

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

MELBOURNE, Australia – Alizé Cornet started her 2016 season with a flourish last week, winning the Hobart International for her first title since 2014. The No.43 lost just one set all week and ran away with the title in Saturday’s final, beating a resurgent Eugenie Bouchard 6-1, 6-2 for her fifth career title. So excited was the already excitable Frenchwoman, she went so far as to thank her dog Andy – a 10-year-old Jack Russell terrier named after Andy Roddick – in her victory speech. The emotions were plain to see. This meant a lot.

Cornet describes her 2015 season as decidedly average. She began the season at No.20, having scored three wins over Serena Williams in 2014, but struggled in the latter half of the year to finish at No.43, her lowest ranking since 2012. After some soul-searching, she decided a change was in order. She brought on a new coach in Benjamin Ebrahimzadeh, former coach to Angelique Kerber, and changed her training base to Nice. With a new team and a renewed sense of urgency, she trained hard over the off-season. But she never expected the pay-off to come so quickly.

WTA Insider sat down with Cornet at Melbourne Park, where she had just arrived after a quick flight from Hobart the night before. She describes her lowest moment of last year, her perilous relationship to confidence, and how a conversation with Patrick Mouratoglou put her career back on track.

WTA Insider: What does this title mean for you?
Cornet: It means a lot actually. It’s the reward for all the hard work I did during the last couple of months during the pre-season preparation. So I’m really really happy and proud that it’s already working out for me. It’s paying off and it feels amazing.

I had such a great week there. I was playing good tennis, good attitude on the court, great fighting spirit as always. It’s amazing when you have the trophy and you don’t lose a match in the week.

WTA Insider: You had such a great season in 2014. Is it fair to say that 2015 was average for you?
Cornet: The first part of the season was not so bad. Roland Garros I made the fourth round. The second part of the season was just a disaster. I was motivated but I was a little bit sad on the court. I was practicing really hard and I didn’t have any results. I was getting really tired of tennis.

But a career is very long and there are a lot of up and downs. You have to try to hang on and try to stick to your dreams and to your passion for the game. That’s what I did. I restructured myself in the winter. I found a new academy with new coaches and new staff with me. Now I feel like a totally new player. Now I want to forget 2015 and learn what I can from that year but now I really want to show the improvements that I made during this off-season.

WTA Insider: Sometimes the tour can get stale. Same team, same schedule, same cities. Sometimes players make a change just to keep things fresh. Is that what happened here?
Cornet: The thing is it has to be a good change. If you change to change it doesn’t work either. Last year I stopped with my coach Biljana Veselinovic right after Wimbledon. Then I finished the season alone. I was totally alone for the last five months. It was good but really tough at the same time. I really needed someone at that point but I couldn’t find a good person so I preferred to be alone.

So then talking to Patrick Mouratoglou I decided to go back to the south of France and practice in his new academy in Nice. He asked me if I wanted to work with one of his coaches there, Benjamin Ebrahimzadeh. I said of yeah why not, I trust you, I’m gonna try. It clicked right away with this coach. I also had a new physical coach.

It was just the right change at the right moment. I didn’t rush and I was waiting for the good person to take care of my tennis. I think I found it.

Now I’m traveling with a hitting partner because my coach is not traveling, he’s staying at home at the academy. I have this structure that I was dreaming about. So that’s why I feel good on the court and totally ready for new challenges this year.

WTA Insider: What was your focus during the off-season?
Cornet: Physically I have a good base. It’s one of my strengths. We just had to gain 2-5% to be more efficient on court.

I think the big work was on the tennis side. I spent a lot of time on the tennis court. Benny my coach was not changing things but trying to improve things by doing lots of repetition. In the beginning it was tough because the rhythm was crazy. I was coming back home at night and I was totally dead. I couldn’t even cook for myself I could only lie on the couch. But it was worth it because now that I see the results I’m just very happy.

WTA Insider: Did you think you lost your tennis in 2015?
Cornet: You can lose your tennis. You don’t know exactly what to do on the court, how to move, how to play the right shots in the right moments.

The scary thing is you can lose it so fast. It takes months to have confidence and it can take days to lose it. This is really tricky. That’s why you have to keep working all the time and keep working the good way with the good person. That’s very important. Because when you start losing your way it’s very tough to find it again. I guess I lost it for a while.

WTA Insider: What was your worst moment last year?
Cornet: The US Open. It’s been maybe three years since I lost in the first round of a Slam. I was supposed to win this one. I was so much ahead in the score and then I got confused once more and I ended up losing. This was really painful. From this moment I just told myself you really have to do something with your career because you’re just losing it. That’s when I talked to Patrick and really tried to restructure myself.

WTA Insider: So you worked really hard in the off-season and felt like a new player. When you landed in Hobart last week, did you believe you could win the title?
Cornet: I was playing some really good tennis in Brisbane. I felt that I was close to something really good but I didn’t think it would happen so fast.

Some players say when they arrive at the tournament that I’m going to win the tournament. I always keep it in the back of my mind but I never convinced I’m going to win it. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I have a lack of confidence but it’s like this. It’s always unexpected when I win a title because it’s amazing. We play maybe 30 weeks during the year and there’s not many weeks when you end the week without losing a match. Now I arrive for the Australian Open in the best condition, in the perfect mood, and some victories behind me, so it’s great.

WTA Insider: There’s been some talk about the dangers of playing a tournament the week before a Slam. Do you think it can be a curse?
Cornet: I arrived Saturday night. It’s a good thing I’m playing on Tuesday. Actually I hurt myself a little bit in the final. So it can be a good thing or a bad thing. For sure, physically you lose a little bit energy. But you win so much confidence. So you just have to follow your instincts. I felt like I needed some matches before the Australian Open that’s what I did and I don’t regret anything.

WTA Insider: You played so well in the final and the scoreline was quite easy. At what point did you allow yourself to think you were going to win the title?
Cornet: I try to play point after point. I try not to think about the future. This is the best way to lose yourself during a match.

I saw on the court that I was playing better than her. I was handling the wind much better. She was getting frustrated but I really needed to stay in the match because I knew she wouldn’t give it to me. She’s a great champion, she’s a very good tennis player. So I really tried to stay focused and not think about the victory that was coming closer and closer. Then you have all the relief on the match point.

WTA Insider: During the trophy ceremony you thanked your dog. What was that about?
Cornet: They are totally part of the family. When I am so far away from my family for so long I miss them so much and my dog is just part of it. I could just thank my mother, my father, my boyfriend and not mention my dog. I couldn’t do it! I was picturing my whole family in front of the TV with my dog and it just came.

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Czechs Stun Williams Sisters In Rio

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Czech dynamos Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova played pitch perfect doubles to dispatch reigning Wimbledon winners and three-time Olympic gold medalists Venus Williams and Serena Williams, 6-3, 6-4, in the first round of the Olympic tennis event.

The Williams sisters came to Rio with a perfect 15-0 record in Olympic doubles, having captured three gold medals in Sydney, Beijing, and London. But the top seeds faced stiff opposition in the Czechs, who have won four of the last five Fed Cup titles – including last year’s championship, where Strycova helped win the decisive doubles rubber.

Safarova and Strycova recovered from an early break to win six of the final seven games of the opening set, setting the stage for a titanic second set that saw both teams face massive swings in momentum. The Czechs appeared to clinch the necessary advantage by breaking in an almost endless fifth game, but the sisters immediately struck back, saving another break point to get within two games of a deciding set.

Saving three break points of their own, the unseeded duo broke serve one last time to serve out the biggest upset of the tournament in just over 90 minutes.

For Venus, the loss marks what could be the end of a disappointing Olympic outing – unless she opts to participate in the mixed doubles event – losing in the opening round of both singles and doubles.

With No.2 seed Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic losing their first round on Saturday, the doubles draw is wide open, with a host of talented teams capable of grabbing a medal in Rio. Americans Bethanie Mattek-Sands and CoCo Vandeweghe dropped just two games in their first round against Anabel Medina Garrigues and Arantxa Parra Santonja, 6-1, 6-1. Chinese duo Xu Yi-Fan and Zeng Saisai were equally emphatic against the Kichenok twins from Ukraine, defeating Nadiia and Lyudmyla, 6-0, 6-3.

Former No.1s Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci made their long-awaited reunion at the Olympic tennis event, dispatching Germans Andrea Petkovic and Angelique Kerber, 6-2, 6-2.

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Serena Survives Cornet Challenge

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – World No.1 Serena Williams saved a pair of set points to defeat an always-dangerous Alizé Cornet, 7-6(5), 6-2, to reach the third round of the Olympic tennis event.

“It was really big for me just to win that first set,” Serena said after the match. “Or else I’d probably still be out there fighting.”

Ranked just inside the Top 50 after an up and down season rife with injury concerns, Cornet still had reason to be confident heading into her second round clash with the 22-time Grand Slam champion, having won their last three meetings in 2014 – including an epic third round thriller on the lawns of Wimbledon. Recovering from a double break down in the first set, the Frenchwoman moved her illustrious opponent about the court, drawing uncomfortable errors with the help of her signature drop shot.

“We’ve had so many tough matches in the past, so I couldn’t let the elements get into my head. I hadn’t played great against Alizé in the past – I don’t know how many matches! – so I thought how I at least wanted to get a win.”

Suddenly, Serena found herself serving to stay in a set she’d been on track to win, and faced a pair of set points back-to-back at 15-40. It was then that the Serena serve kicked into high gear, helping her save both set points and ultimately escape with the opening set unscathed – though not without a tense tie-break to decide the contest.

The second set saw the American take fuller ascendency, and though she failed to serve out the match on her first opportunity, she duly broke back in the next game to clinch the encounter in just under two hours.

Up next for the top seed is rising Ukrainian star and No.15 seed Elina Svitolina, who has been working with Serena’s own former rival and recent International Tennis Hall of Fame Inductee, Justine Henin.

“It’ll be fun for me. Elina is such a great person; she’s really young and does really well. We’ve had some really tough matches too, but it’ll be a good match.

“I hope I win, but she’s such a great girl and I’m always rooting for her.”

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Kerber Passes Stosur Test In Rio

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Reigning Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber continued on course for her first medal at the Olympic tennis event, winning a topsy-turvy 6-0, 7-5 match over No.13 seed Samantha Stosur.

In the midst of a career-best year, the World No.2 aims to add some Olympic hardware to a season that has already seen her triumph in Melbourne and finish runner-up at Wimbledon. Playing a former US Open champion in Stosur, Kerber won a deceptively competitive first set – one that featured a combined 14 break point chances – without losing a game.

The second set proved a far tenser affair; Kerber served for the match at 5-4 but double faulted on her first opportunity to seal victory. Emboldened by the lifeline, Stosur triumphed in a long game that she hoped could trigger a deciding set. But Kerber was undaunted, and keeping her side of the stat sheet clean – 14 unforced errors to 37 from Stosur – the German broke serve once more and clinched her spot in the last eight after 90 minutes on court.

Maintaining a postitive winner to unforced error differential, Kerber hit 19 winners to book a quarterfinal clash with No.10 seed Johanna Konta.

Konta was down a set and a break to No.8 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, and had to withstand a late surge from the Russian in the final set before sealing a 3-6, 7-5, 7-5 victory in three hours and nine minutes.

Kerber and Konta have played just once before, earlier this year in the semifinals of the Australian Open; Kerber won in straight sets.

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Bondarenko On The Way Back

Bondarenko On The Way Back

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

Kateryna Bondarenko left the WTA tour in 2012, thinking she had accomplished everything she could in a sport where she had been a Top 30 singles player, Australian Open doubles champion, and US Open quarterfinalist.

Four years and one daughter later, who’d’ve thought the Ukrainian veteran would back and close to breaking new ground in Melbourne?

“Yesterday, before I went to sleep, I was thinking about how I’d never passed the second round at the Australian Open,” she told WTA Insider.

She actually reached the third round once before, losing to Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2009. But the 29-year-old woke up on Wednesday morning and did it again, getting her revenge on the former No.2 and Apia International Sydney champion, 6-1, 7-5, to reach her first third round at any major tournament since 2011.

“It’s amazing. I didn’t think I’d come back because in 2012, I was already tired of tennis and I decided to stop.

“Then I got pregnant, so definitely I decided to stop.”

Kateryna Bondarenko

One half of Ukraine’s preeminent tennis sister act, Kateryna and Alona Bondarenko played some of their best tennis in the late 2000s, coming together to capture the Australian Open women’s doubles trophy in 2008 and backing it up with a run to the semifinals of the French Open a few months later.

Alona had the higher career-best singles ranking when she retired (No.19), but Kateryna had the better Grand Slam finish, upsetting former No.1 Ana Ivanovic in a thrilling three-setter on Louis Armstrong Stadium and double bageling Gisela Dulko en route to her first major quarterfinal at the US Open.

“The tour has become even stronger; if you don’t practice all day, you won’t be able to play a normal match on the court because everyone is getting stronger. Every year, it’s stronger and faster.”

Bondarenko played the last match of what she considers her “first career” in Flushing back in 2012; she got married and gave birth to daughter Karina soon after. It wasn’t long, however, before she felt the urge to return to the game.

“I missed tennis so much and it was boring at home, doing nothing. The emotion when you win a match or even a point is great. You miss these emotions.

Kateryna Bondarenko

“So I decided to play tennis again. I didn’t think that I could make it because in the 25Ks, I was losing in the first round – passing through the qualifying, but still losing first round. I was thinking, ‘Ok, why did I start again?’

“Now when I have a good result, it’s just amazing to be a good player again.”

Eighteen months into her comeback, the former World No.29 re-entered the Top 100 thanks to a solid run at the US Open that took her through qualifying and into a quality second round encounter with No.2 seed Simona Halep.

“Before, I was just focusing on myself and all my thoughts were on the match, and that’s it. Now it’s kind of different, better, because now I always have my husband and daughter. I have to take care of them and I also have to practice all the time.

“It’s a little bit difficult but still it’s nice to have them with me.”

Kateryna Bondarenko

One of the few traveling mothers on tour, Bondarenko admits it’s not always easy, but at nearly three years old, her daughter is enjoying the ride, and between herself, her husband and a plethora of relatives, a veritable village is on hand to help her raise her child.

“She’s always by my side, always with me. We travel to every tournament together with my husband. Most of the time, we take somebody to take care of my daughter because mu husband goes with me to the court for practice and matches. It’s good to travel with the whole family.

“She likes to travel. We’ll tell her, ‘We’re going to go to America and then Australia,’ and then when we’re in America she says, ‘Now I want to go to Australia!’ As long as she’s with her parents, she likes it.”

Back in position to reach the second week of Grand Slam tournaments, Bondarenko doesn’t see herself as an inspiration, but rather believes her balancing act has made her an even tougher competitor eager to keep up with an ever-improving WTA cohort.

“It’s difficult to start over; I don’t think many people could do what I’ve done.”

Photos courtesy of Christopher Levy and Getty Images.

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Radwanska Tops Bouchard Down Under

Radwanska Tops Bouchard Down Under

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

MELBOURNE, Australia – Agnieszka Radwanska held off Eugenie Bouchard at the Australian Open on Wednesday night. Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova continued their collision course.

In arguably the most anticipated second round match-up of the tournament, Radwanska – the form player by far since the US Open, winning more matches and more titles than anyone on the tour, took on Bouchard – a breakthrough star in 2014 who’s been back at her best this year after a tough 2015.

Bouchard came out harder, stepping inside the baseline time and time again and ripping her huge groundstrokes into the corners to build a 4-2 lead. But Radwanska held her ground, clawing back to take the set, 6-4 – she ripped a huge forehand winner on her fifth set point to seal the one set lead.

And she continued to pile it on in the second set, breaking again in the very first game and never really looking back, one last Bouchard error giving the No.4-seeded Radwanska the win, 6-4, 6-2.

“That was a great challenge for me to play somebody like Eugenie in the second round. Definitely not an easy draw. But I think I was doing everything right today,” Radwanska said after the match.

“I hadn’t played against her for a while, but I think she’s definitely playing better now than last season. I think she’s on a good way to come back, and she’s definitely playing much better tennis out there.

“I think in a couple of months we’re going to see her going deeper in the Grand Slams.”

Meanwhile, another blockbuster match-up – Williams against Sharapova – continued to materialize, as the No.1-seeded Williams routed Chinese Taipei’s Hsieh Su-Wei, 6-1, 6-2 (read more here) and the No.5-seeded Sharapova powered past Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich, 6-2, 6-1 (read more here).

Williams and Sharapova will square off in the quarterfinals should they win two more rounds.

A big upset took place in the late night match, with Daria Gavrilova – now playing under the Aussie flag – weathering the power of Petra Kvitova to surprise the No.6 seed, 6-4, 6-4 (read more here).

It was a solid day for the rest of the seeded players, with No.10 seed Carla Suárez Navarro battling back to beat Greek qualifier Maria Sakkari, 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-2, No.12 seed Belinda Bencic defeating Timea Babos, 6-3, 6-3, No.13 seed Roberta Vinci carving out a 6-2, 6-3 victory against Irina Falconi, and No.28 seed Kristina Mladenovic hitting through American qualifier Nicole Gibbs, 6-1, 7-6(4).

There was another upset, though, with Kateryna Bondarenko holding off a late surge to take out No.23 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-1, 7-5. Kuznetsova was coming off a title run at the lead-up in Sydney.

And on the outside courts, Kristyna Pliskova – twin sister of Karolina Pliskova – was making history, ripping 31 aces, the most aces in a single match in WTA history (the previous record was 27).

The Czech lefty ended up succumbing to Monica Puig in the end, however, 4-6, 7-6(6), 9-7.

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Olympic Medal Rounds Underway

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen | Can Angelique Kerber capture her first gold medal at the Olympic tennis event? Keep up with all the action right here at wtatennis.com!

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Radwanska On Road To Singapore

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

Hear how defending WTA Finals champion Agnieszka Radwanska prepares for year-long journey to defend her title in Singapore – she currently sits at No.3 on the latest Road to Singapore Leaderboard.

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