Published: 09:24, May 29, 2024
Zheng cruises into French Open 2nd round as Cornet ends her career in tears
By Xinhua
Zheng Qinwen of China hits a return during the women's singles first round match against Alize Cornet of France at the French tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, on May 28, 2024. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

PARIS - China's Zheng Qinwen opened her third Roland Garros campaign with a dominating win on Tuesday as the seventh seed beat French veteran Alize Cornet 6-2, 6-1 to reach the second round.

Cornet, 34, who had made her debut in Paris as a 15-year-old wildcard in 2005, announced prior to her arrival on the red dirt that this year's French Open would be her last tournament, which meant that this defeat would be the last match of her career.

With the best result at any Grand Slam event as a quarterfinalist and a career-high ranking of 11th place, Cornet holds one of the most impressive Open Era records in the sport - having played a staggering 69 consecutive Grand Slam singles draws, a run that began in Australia in 2007.

"I was in tears for Rafa's match (yesterday), again today," Cornet said in tears on court. "I've been preparing for this moment for weeks, but we're never ready to say goodbye. It's quite a page-turning. A page of 30 years. I started at four years old. It's scary in a way.

Alize Cornet of France hits a return to Zheng QInwen of China during the women's singles first round match at the French tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, on May 28, 2024. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

"Emotion overwhelms me because I see how far I have come. I am proud of what I accomplished, I would have liked to do more, but I gave everything to my sport, and I was incredibly lucky to have lived this life."

It was the pair's second head-to-head clash following 2022 French Open, where Zheng led by 6-0, 3-0 in the third round before Cornet retired. That French Open was seen as the starting point for the Chinese young star's rise to prominence.

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"To some degree Cornet is a special player to me. In my first third-round match at Roland Garros, I played against her on Philippe-Chatrier. Some players are special to me, and Cornet is one of them," Zheng, 21, said. "I didn't want to be the last to send her off, but that's how the draw worked."

"Experiencing a player's retirement in person is quite shocking for me since I am just starting my career," the world No 7 added. "She has played at Roland Garros for 20 years, which is an incredible number, from 15 to 35 years old... Witnessing her final moments on court was touching, especially seeing the video Roland Garros made for her, capturing her growth from 15 to 35. It moved me deeply. "

France's Alize Cornet (left) and China's Zheng Qinwen greet each other after their first round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris on May 28, 2024. (PHOTO / AP)

Zheng, who came from the same province of Hubei as China's former Grand Slam winner Li Na, reached the final at the Australian Open earlier this year and broke into the top 10 in the WTA rankings for the first time in her career.

The match against Cornet went all the way for the Chinese rising star from the beginning as she surged to a 4-0 lead in the opening set. Although her French rival tried to claw back and even broke back to close the gap to 4-2, Zheng restored quickly to earn herself another break and take the first set 6-2.

"At 4-0, I lost a bit of concentration and dropped a service game. In tennis, ups and downs are normal, but against top players, losing a service game can cost you a set. So I'm trying to improve my focus," Zheng said when reflecting on the first set.

France's Alize Cornet (right) reacts next to Roland-Garros Open tennis tournament's director Amelie Mauresmo during a tribute ceremony after her women's singles match on Court Philippe-Chatrier against China's Zheng Qinwen on day three of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros Complex in Paris on May 28, 2024. (PHOTO / AFP)

Cornet managed to save three match points in the second set when Zheng was serving for the victory in the seventh game. But Zheng finally put the indefatigable 34-year-old away - a beautifully angled forehand volley that cut of Cornet's attempted pass.

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Next for Zheng is Germany's world No. 79 Tamara Korpatsch, who overcame world No. 66 Ashlyn Krueger of the United States after a thrilling tie-break in the third set before securing a gruelling 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(11-9) victory.