Top seed Serena Williams is heading home early from a major for the third straight time as Alize Cornet pulled off a huge upset in the third round of Wimbledon with a three-set win (1-6, 6-3, 6-4).
Williams, 32, cruised through the first two rounds of the tournament. She dropped just five total games in triumphs over Anna Tatishvili and Chanelle Scheepers. It solidified her status as the favorite, but Cornet, 24, was definitely going to provide a tougher test.
The pair played earlier in the year on the hard courts of Dubai, where Cornet was able to pick up a straight-sets victory. That was her first win in four meetings with the American. Most impressively, she faced only one break point in the match.
ESPN passed along comments from Williams after her second-round win over Scheepers about the challenge the French star presents:
Cornet, she does everything good. That's why she was able to get a good win off of me. She never gives up, she's a big fighter. She gets a lot of balls back.
But I'm ready. It's time for me to step up my game and do what I know I can do and do what I'm best at.
Those remarks proved prophetic as Cornet played some very strong defense early. She was even turning it into offense with some flat shots off both wings to pressure the top seed. It was enough to score an immediate break, the first of the tournament against Williams.
The lead didn't last long, however, as Williams broke back in the second game of the opening set to get back level. Consistent holds against the power of the No. 1 player in the world is always a challenge.
Cornet was able to make inroads on the return for the second straight time before rain started falling with the third game at deuce. Wimbledon announced the delay:
After more than four hours waiting out the weather, they finally returned to the court and the complexion of the set quickly changed.
What was previously a hard-fought grind quickly became a Williams romp. She swiftly held the game that was at deuce before the rains came, then started pulverizing winners off both wings while not showing a single emotion.
Perhaps watching Maria Sharapova—her potential quarterfinal opponent—win on Centre Court during the delay was serving as motivation. It was an awe-inspiring display of tennis, and when she plays at that level, nobody on the WTA Tour can beat her.
Joe Fleming of USA Today pointed out how quickly things went after the extended break:
Live Tennis provided a shot of a focused Williams after the set:
Then, suddenly, the second set began and it seemed like Williams had lost the motivation she had when the match resumed. Instead of cruising to the finish line, she was pulled into a battle. Her movement reverted back to the sluggishness she had shown early in the match.
Credit to Cornet for picking up on that and taking advantage. She cracked her returns hard toward the middle of the court to get Williams off balance and then hit some very nice winners to the corners of the court before the top seed could reset her footing.
Between that and improved play defending her own serve, the No. 25 seed was able to frustrate the tournament favorite. She raced out to a 5-0 lead in the set. Williams made a mini-rally to get back within striking distance at 5-3 before Cornet finally closed it out.
The five-time Wimbledon champion had 11 unforced errors in the set while Cornet had just four. It was a complete turnaround from the post-delay first set.
SI Tennis noted the crowd started to get behind the underdog as she made the comeback:
The intensity went way up during the opening game of the final set. Williams was forced to work extremely hard to hold, causing her to go from stoic to boisterous.
Wimbledon provided an example of that emotion:
Despite that hold, it was Cornet who was eventually able to edge ahead in the set. Another long service game at 2-2 by Williams, who wasn't getting nearly as many free points off her serve as she usually does, led to the first break of the set.
From there, Cornet made a concerted effort to make Williams do as much running as possible. She mixed in a heavy dose of drop shots, and it was very effective. The top seed wasn't moving well and she paid for it.
The upstart underdog then proceeded to get a second straight break. Williams was able to get one break back and hold to amp up the pressure on Cornet. The Frenchwoman responded with a very composed game to pull off the upset.
BBC Tennis provided remarks from her after the match:
Ben Rothenberg of The New York Times commented on the showing from the top seed:
Douglas Robson of USA Today points out it's the second straight major that the women's top players, Li Na being the other, were sent packing early:
Finally, Brad Gilbert of ESPN summed up the match as only he could:
For Williams, she's now been eliminated in the fourth round or earlier in all three Grand Slam events this season. The last time that happened in a year where she competed in all three tournaments was 1998, which was her debut campaign on the major stages.
Cornet advances to the fourth round of a major for the first time since 2009. She will play Canadian rising star Eugenie Bouchard in the next round. They have played just once before, a win for Cornet on clay last season.
It's a winnable match, but the toughest part will be coming down from the emotional high of today's win to refocus. The draw is certainly opening up with each passing round.