MELBOURNE – Alize Cornet dropped to her knees on the hard blue court, clasped her hands and took a few moments to let it sink in.
In her 17th trip to the Australia Open, her 63rd run at a Grand Slam, and two days after celebrating her 32nd birthday, Cornet finally qualified for the quarterfinals at one of the four major events in tennis.
Cornet recovered after a second-set meltdown in the hot Melbourne sun on Monday to advance to the last eight at the Australian Open with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 win over two-time major champion Simona Halep.
Her victory over Halep, a former Wimbledon and French Open champion and runner-up in Australia, gave her a record for most appearances at a major before reaching the quarterfinals. Tamarine Tanasugarn previously held the mark at 45, set at Wimbledon in 2008.
“It’s never too late to try again!” Cornet said in her on-court TV interview. “To be in my first quarterfinal. It’s a dream come true.
“The journey goes on. I still can’t believe it."
No. 115-ranked Kaia Kanepi had the same feeling, waiting until she was 36 to reach the quarterfinals in Australia and finally advancing when, after wasting four match points, she upset second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka 5-7, 6-2, 7-6 (7).
Within seconds, fourth-seeded Stefanos Tistsipas defeated No. 20 Taylor Fritz 4-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 on Rod Laver Arena to conclude Day 8.
Kanepi's match had to be shifted off the main stadium court because of a late-finishing day program. Kanepi wrapped it up just after midnight on Margaret Court Arena to set up a showdown against 2020 French Open champion Iga Swiatek, who beat Sorana Cirstea 5-7, 6-3, 6-3.
“I thought I was going to lose it after the match points I had on my serve," said Kanepi, who had reached the quarterfinals twice at each of the other three majors. "It was difficult to come back.
It helped her that Sabalenka’s service woes continued and she made 15 double-faults, giving her 56 for the tournament.
“Australian Open was the only quarterfinal of a Grand Slam I was missing," Kanepi said. "At my age, I didn’t believe I would do it.”
Cornet had her issues, too. She led by a set and 3-1 before losing five consecutive games and 16 straight points as Halep took the match to a decider.
The match was 2-2 in the third set after Cornet held a service game at love, saying “allez” after every shot she hit.
Halep got a break-point chance two games later with a forehand down the line that just caught the outside of the paint and which Cornet could barely believe. She saved it and held serve, then broke Halep's serve for a 4-3 lead that set her on course for the quarterfinals.
Cornet will next play American Danielle Collins, a 2019 Australian Open semifinalist who beat 19th-seeded Elise Mertens 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in an almost three-hour match to open play on Rod Laver Arena.
Cornet made her main draw Grand Slam singles debut as a wild-card entry at the 2005 French Open. She lost five previous fourth-round appearances but had gone close to reaching the quarterfinals before, having match points in the fourth round in Australia in 2009 before losing to eventual runner-up Dinara Safina.
With a ranking of 61 — 50 lower than her career-high No. 11 — Cornet came into the 2022 season acknowledging retirement must be close and that it was now or never for a Grand Slam breakthrough.
“I don’t know if it’s helping," she said. “I just told myself that if it should happen, then it will happen. Maybe leave it in the hands of fate, destiny, I don’t know.”
The marquee afternoon men's match was on Margaret Court Arena, where U.S. Open champion Daniil Medvedev beat 70th-ranked Maxime Cressy 6-2, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (4), 7-5.
The second-ranked Medvedev is trying to become the first man in the Open era to win his second major singles title in the next Grand Slam event. The U.S. Open champion is now potentially three wins from achieving that.
Cressy's serve-and-volley style created some frustrations for Medvedev, who said late in the fourth set that this was the “most unlucky day I’ve ever had in my life.” His luck changed quickly. After saving eight break-point chances in the set, Cressy was broken in that game and Medvedev served out at love.
He will next play ninth-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime, who beat 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic 2-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2, 7-6 (4). Medvedev beat the Canadian in the semifinals at last year’s U.S. Open.
No. 11 Jannik Sinner ended Australia's last hope in the men's draw when he beat No. 32 Alex de Minaur 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-4. He will next face Tsitsipas, last year's French Open runner-up.
The temperature hit 34 degrees Celsius (93 degrees F) during the late afternoon, with extra breaks allowed for players to cope with the heat.
Cornet used bags of ice to cool down her head during changeovers, and draped cold towels over her neck.
“I just stopped thinking after ... 30 minutes of playing. My brain was already like, overloaded,” Cornet said. “My vision was not clear anymore. My hands were shaking.”
But, she added, “I thought, on the other side of the court, she was not feeling much better than me.”
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