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On Transcendence: Alizé Cornet makes peace with rollercoaster career through stirring autobiography
Inspired by a self-reflective meditation journey, the French former world No. 11 shares her side of the story in her book's English translation.
Published Sep 19, 2021
WATCH: Cornet is on track to finish inside the Top 100 of the WTA rankings for a 15th straight season.
It’s difficult to imagine Alizé Cornet in a state of total stillness. The French former No. 11 is instead famous—perhaps even infamous—for her limitlessness of movement, her entertaining range of expression.
Sitting across from her on a hotel couch in Manhattan and watching her eyes widen through the mask-induced fog of her glasses, one immediately recalls her greatest hits: her rush from behind the Wimbledon curtain to acknowledge the No. 1 Court crowd after a 2014 upset of Serena Williams, her wide-eyed surprise when Sara Errani exasperatedly asked her, “Why[‘d] you say ‘Vamos?’”
Cornet is, to quote a colleague, a “GIF with legs,” one rarely contained by the four corners of the tennis court through nearly two decades on tour. With her autobiography Transcendence: Diary of a Tennis Addict, she aims to add the sound back to those silent images—not to contextualize her career so much as bring readers inside the mind of a hyper-analytical athlete.
“I think part of why I stayed at this level for so long was because I analyzed and questioned myself all the time,” she muses, “putting everything into perspective to see where I could be better and how I could do things better. Sometimes that could be too much, and the tunnel vision attitude can be less exhausting, but that’s not the person that I am.
“Life is about accepting who you are, and I tried to live as myself. It’s not easy to be a sensitive person on tour, but I think I did a pretty good job of keeping my feet on the ground.”
Some people told me they were already a fan and my book helped them understand me better, but the best feedback was from people who told me that I wasn’t a player they ever liked but now they love me because of my book! Alizé Cornet
It took Cornet, who made her Grand Slam main draw debut at 15 years old, into her late 20s to perfect the balance her critical mind craved, first seeking refuge in journaling and poetry before embarking on a spiritual journey that inspired her to share her story.
“I started writing this book the year I began meditating. It was done with the understanding that this wasn’t a farewell to tennis; I knew I would play a few more years. But I woke up one morning at Wimbledon and started thinking about how I always wanted to write a book, so why not now?
“Writing is a way for me to express myself, especially when I was going through tough times or not feeling happy on tour, which was unfortunately quite often.”
Now 31, Cornet describes a lonely early life on tour, one highlighted by a breakout run to the 2008 finals of Rome and the fourth round of the 2009 Australian Open, where she held match points on eventual finalist Dinara Safina as a red-capped teenager.
“I didn’t feel like I belonged to the tour in the beginning, like this world was very solitary and alone. In some ways it’s like a big family and in other ways it isn’t, because we all know each other but we don’t really know each other at all. We don’t have deep connections and it’s all surface relationships. In the beginning, I was afraid of this side of the tour, and I stayed so much with my coach and my mom.”
It was this closed-off approach that Cornet believes fueled her “divisive” reputation; Transcendence represents her side of the story.
“My goal in writing the book was to be 100 percent honest,” she says, specifically in reference to an opening-chapter admission about a certain former world No. 1.
“I didn’t want to hide anything about what I was feeling on court, or why I could be a divisive player: some people like me and others hate me, and this was because I was so into my emotions. I wanted to explain my emotions, where they come from, and why I’m like this. I go back into my childhood, to what kind of kid I was, what my personality was like from a young age. The reader enters so deeply into my life that they can completely understand everything from my perspective. From when I started to write, I decided it would be an open-heart book, and that the reader would learn everything about how I really felt.
“I was disappointed in other biographies I’d read before because I felt they were more surface and didn’t go deep enough for me. I wanted to gain a deeper insight into the athlete and learn more about what exactly what was inside of them. I told myself: ‘I’m not a very famous player, but at least I know I can write a book that will make the reader know everything about what goes on in a player’s life.’ That was my challenge, and I think I did it pretty well because by the end you really have a feeling you know me.”
That feeling is reinforced by the stream of positive feedback Cornet has received, both from fans and late converts, on social media.
“The best feedback was from people who told me that I wasn’t a player they ever liked but now they love me because of my book! Every person who has ever played tennis knows how it feels on the court, and can relate to those moments when you just want to freak out! Tennis can be a freaky sport, so the way I explain those emotions, anyone who has ever played tennis can identify with this.”
Having long since made peace with the rigors of tour life, Cornet at last feels that same sense of relief when it comes to those who’ve watched—and too often judged—what it means to be an emotional player.
“I think this was perfect timing that my book should be coming out in English right now. I wrote it two years ago, but I feel now people are that much more aware of the emotional side of tennis players and they accept it better. You think of players like Naomi Osaka who put things at the forefront and told the world that we are just human beings. People knew this, but it was definitely taboo.
“Now it’s in the air, everyone knows it and we can talk about it. When people read my book, they’ll understand these feelings that much deeper. It’s a tough sport and for an emotional player, it can really be a nightmare. I think it’s great that this awareness is happening right now. It should have come earlier but it’s never too late and it’s good that people not only see the image that we show on TV, but also everything that goes on behind it.”
After almost a half hour in conversation, it was still difficult to reconcile Cornet’s commitment to stillness, and that it has become an essential element to her on-court persona, with the persona itself. My own meditation on that very duality ultimately brought me back to her lifelong quest for self-reflection, how even in the twilight of her career, Alizé Cornet is still eager to adapt.
“I’m not moving for 15-20 minutes, and I’m just trying to disconnect from all my thoughts, which isn’t easy because I have a lot of thoughts every day! I’m better able to stay present on the court, and we know how important that is, otherwise your brain is going anywhere and everywhere. My life on court has changed because of that, and I’m very happy for this discovery, even if it was a bit late in my career. It’s never too late to change something.”