No. 26 Alize Cornet stunned top-ranked Serena Williams 6-4, 6-4 in the semifinals of the Dubai Championships on Friday, spoiling an all-Williams final.
The 24-year-old Frenchwoman defeated Williams for the first time in four attempts, scored her first victory over a player ranked higher than fifth and advanced to her first hard-court final. Cornet entered the match with three wins against top-10 players but only one since 2008 -- a first-round victory this week over No. 9 Simona Halep, who retired trailing 6-1, 1-1.
The surprising result came after 33-year-old Venus Williams clinched the first spot in the final with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Caroline Wozniacki. But Serena, who took a wild card into Dubai for her first tournament since a fourth-round loss at the Australian Open, wasn’t able to set up the 25th meeting between the sisters and their first final since 2009.
This marked Serena's first loss before the final of a non-Grand Slam tournament since a quarterfinal defeat to Angelique Kerber at the 2012 Western & Southern Open.
In Saturday’s final, Cornet will look to become the eighth player to defeat both Williams sisters at the same tournament. The 44th-ranked Venus is 3-0 against Cornet, with the only victory in the last five years coming in the second round of the 2013 Australian Open. Venus, also a wild-card-entry, has rolled through top-35 players Elena Vesnina, Ana Ivanovic, Flavia Pennetta and Wozniacki without dropping a set.
Cornet played a steady and smart match against a sluggish Serena, who couldn't find her rhythm off the ground or on her serve. Cornet finished with 11 winners and 11 unforced errors, with Williams struggling to hit through her scrambling defense. Serena had 25 winners and 35 unforced errors, giving far too many free points to her underpowered opponent.
Williams credited Cornet for playing well but also lamented her error-strewn performance.
"I think out of a 10, I was at like a negative 283, so ... wow," Serena told reporters.
Serena saved four match points while serving at 3-5 in the second set. But Cornet, who has a history of losing her nerve late in matches, held at love to close out her first victory over a top-four player in 18 tries.
"I know her, and I know she feels the moment when she has to put more into making the opponent feel that she's still here," Cornet said. "But I did it, too. I showed her that I would be there till the end.
"So when she was screaming louder, I was screaming louder. She was hitting harder, I was hitting harder."
What was Cornet thinking when she got up for the changeover to serve for the match? "For once, nothing," she said in her on-court interview. That was her smartest move of the day.
But her best move of the day? That goes to this incredible lob late in the second set:
This post has been updated.