Serena Williams’ initial reaction to her straight sets defeat to Alize Cornet last night was laughter.
The top seed leaves Dubai without the title for a third time in three appearances and the American said she was “embarrassed” after her loss in the semi-finals.
While she tried to give credit to her opponent, Williams blamed herself for what she described as an error-strewn performance.
“I’m a wee bit embarrassed,” laughed the 32-year-old. “She played really well. I just didn’t play today. I tried, though. I just kept hitting errors. I don’t think I have made that many errorswinin a match in I think at least three years, maybe four years.
“She played a solid match. She knew someone was going to hit balls in the stands and just didn’tget the ball in play, kind of. I think she did that really well. It wasn’t my day today.”
Williams came to Dubai coming off a back injury which sidelined her after her Australian Open fourth round defeat to Ana Ivanovic.
She says she felt no pain throughout the week at the Aviation Club but also admitted that she wasn’t able to feel her best stepping on to the court.
“I haven’t felt good this whole week, to be honest, just from my first match,” said Williams.
The 17-time grand slam champion was at a loss when she tried to explain her flat performance, and came up with a bizarre rationale.
“I started out extremely slow. I have been actually looking at a turtle every day. I think it’s so cute. Maybe I was too influenced by it. It’s a really cute turtle in the hotel,” said Williams.
“I need to be able to play better than that if I want to be playing on this tour, on the professional tour. Maybe I can go to amateurs,” she added sarcastically.
Her next appearance will be in Miami next month and she says she is still undecided on Fed Cup. But before she leaves Dubai, she may want to give her sister Venus some tips ahead of her final today.
“I’m sure she (Venus) watched the match. She’s played her a few times. I will obviously tell her what to do, but she’ll be fine,” said Serena.
Alize Cornet will be looking to become only the eighth woman in history to defeat both Williams sisters at the same tournament, after the Frenchwoman pulled off the biggest victory of her career, taking out Serena Williams in the Dubai semi-finals 6-4 6-4.
Cornet, who faces the older Williams sister Venus in the final on Saturday, admits she has a tough challenge ahead of her – mentally digesting her huge win over the world No1 as well as preparing for the title match.
“I’ve never beat a No 1 in the world, so I don’t know my reaction,” said an ecstatic Cornet after the match. “But I know that I will stay in the same kind of spirit, just following the tactic that we do with my coach every day. It’s never easy to play a final. I know that. Venus is for sure more used to it than me.
“There is two things: I just beat the No1, and I have to play the final tomorrow, so it’s a double thing. I think I can handle it. I’m 24 years old. I have a lot of experience now on the tour, so hopefully I can just manage everything and make it work.”
Cornet stepped on the court against Serena last night as the clear underdog, having lost all three of her previous matches to the American and being placed 25 spots below her in the rankings.
But she started the match exuding confidence and did not face a single break point throughout the entire first set.
Cornet got her only break opportunity in the ninth game and took it when Serena sent a backhand long for a 5-4 lead. She served out the set with a brilliant down the line backhand winner and quickly went up 2-0 in the second set.
It looked like a Serena comeback was in the works when the top seed broke back to level at 2-2 but an unfazed Cornet broke again three games later with a forehand passing shot that wrong-footed her opponent.
Serena saved four match points to hold for 4-5 but it was all over moments later when Cornet held her nerve, serving to love to take the match on a wide backhand from the American.
Cornet admitted that the match was almost like a screaming contest in the end: “I know her, and I know she’s a very strong player. She feels the moment when she has to put more to make the opponent feel that she’s still here.
"That’s what she did. But I did it, too. I showed her that I would be there till the end. So when she was screaming loud, I was screaming louder. She was hitting hard, I was hitting harder.”
Earlier in the day, Venus said her current battle to return to the top of the game has reminded her of her early days on tour.
The American has been enjoying an incredible week in Dubai and booked her spot in the final after dominating No8 seed Caroline Wozniacki 6-3, 6-2 in 81 minutes.
“Back to back matches I don’t think are easy for anyone, but for me in general I need back to back matches,” said Venus. “I feel like I’ve just gotten so much better since my first round to now, just feeling comfortable on the court, feeling comfortable when I’m behind, feeling comfortable when I’m in the lead."
World number one Serena Williams remains on course to meet her sister Venus in the final of the Dubai Open after she came through a feisty encounter with Jelena Jankovic.
The two have exchanged testy words on several occasions, the last time in October when Jankovic appeared to question Serena's sportsmanship at the WTA Championships in Istanbul.
Now, near the end of Serena's impressive 6-2, 6-2 win, a dispute blew up over the speed at which the rallies were conducted, an issue which has been a contention between them several times.
It happened when Jankovic appeared to slow the pauses between rallies to the speed she thought Serena had been taking, prompting Serena to hold her arms out wide.
This caused Jankovic to walk towards Kadir Nouni, the French umpire, complaining at length, once gesturing towards Serena as she did so.
The match lasted another four points, when there was a further exchange of words between Jankovic and Serena. Afterwards Jankovic suggested the umpire might have been at fault.
"First he tells me I'm serving too fast," she said. "Then when I took my time. It was like one minute.
"So you never know what to do. Usually if I go over 25 seconds with whoever I play, you know, warning, time violation. Here it's like you can do pretty much whatever.
"I have to follow who knows which rules. If it's 25 seconds, you play 25 seconds. If it goes over, someone's not ready, you should be ready.
"I follow when she (Serena) serves no matter how fast or slow she plays."
Serena was placatory. "I told her at the end I didn't mean anything, and I'm sorry if I played slow. She was like, no – it was more that they say she plays too fast and then they say she plays too slow. She said she couldn't get right."
It nevertheless felt like a sequel to more heated exchanges between the two at Charleston in April when Serena claimed she was not ready to receive and made Jankovic restart her service motion, with Jankovic replying "how long do I have to wait?
That dialogue apparently concluded with Williams saying: "Honestly, you got a problem?" This time she took trouble to take the heat out of the exchanges.
"I just wanted to make sure. I don't like to have a beef with anyone. I was like, look, are we cool? Because I'm cool with you. I'm sorry if anything didn't go right."
Serena has every reason for focusing on her tennis. It was as impressive as it had been uncertain in the first set of her comeback match against, Ekaterina Makarova, an unseeded Russia, on Tuesday.
It made her a strong favourite to reach her first final in six weeks, as it earned her a meeting with unseeded Alize Cornet of France, who defeated Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain 7-5, 6-3.
There could even be an all-Williams final for the first time in more than four years.
Elder sister Venus Williams continued to raise hopes of a return to the top echelons with her third straight sets win in a row to reach a semi-final against Caroline Wozniacki, the former world number one from Denmark.
The seven times former Grand Slam winner overcame Flavia Pennetta, the seed-destroying Italian, by 6-4, 7-5, with a mixed performance which included a slow start and a tense finish but some typically powerful ground stroking during the guts of the match.
Asked how she had managed to recover from her illness and fitness problems, Venus, still ranked outside the top 40, said: "I pray and try a million different things all the time.
"Serena has been extremely supportive and my family have changed their life style for me. It makes me feel better."