Six years ago, life was a breeze for France’s Alize Cornet. Still in her teens, she had a girls' singles title at Roland Garros in the bag and had made it onto the cover of L’Equipe, France’s premier sporting publication.
A year later, in 2009 and only days past her 19th birthday, she was the 11th-best player in the world. Everybody liked Alize.
It was all going wonderfully for the girl from Nice on the Mediterranean’s Cote d’Azur. Today she has three WTA titles and is the number one-ranked woman in France, but it’s tempting to think that by 2014, and certainly from that beginning, it should have been a whole lot more.
The majors tell a tale. Cornet has 27 Grand Slam tournament appearances in a row but just one last 16 appearance, here in Melbourne some five years back, and synching with her world 11 ranking. Cornet plays them all, but is yet to truly threaten.
The fall, when it came, was gradual, and she bottomed out at a year-ending ranking 89 in 2011. Two WTA titles since have helped the climb back to 25, but the drift away from the challenge for the top has bewildered the French media and public alike. For a good few years, Alize Cornet became the girl who was always there, but also wasn’t.
The revival, which saw Cornet as part of a successful French team at the 2014 Hopman Cup earlier this month, is detailed on her Twitter and Facebook accounts, pics aplenty, all happy and smiling.
It was very much this way six years ago when she made her bow as the clean-cut antidote to some of the more outgoing French players.
"When I saw myself where so many stars have been, on the cover of L’Equipe, I said to myself, 'That's it, I've made it,'" she told ESPN in 2008.
A route from the qualifiers and beating five seeds on her way to the Rome clay court final in 2008, where she lost to Jelena Jankovic, is the highlight to date, but she is yet to come close to repeating it.
Smiley, chic and confident, Cornet was noted for her mental strength and attitude in the early days, her childhood ambition to be the world’s best driving her on at breakneck speed.
She was quirky too; Andy Roddick was her childhood crush, so much so that she named her pet dog Andy after him.
Maybe her well-to-do background has unknowingly plotted against her. She has it all, good looks, the ever-present smile, athletic excellence, brains and even an agent who is a doctor and her brother.
Maybe, just maybe, the psychologist might say, she hasn’t always needed to succeed because it’s all there anyway.
Perhaps the realisation has now hit home that at 23, it’s now or never if she wants to crack the top 20 again and then the top 10.
Maria Sharapova in Melbourne, however, stands in her way. They’ve met just once, two years ago on clay when Cornet retired at the start of the second set. On Saturday, the stakes will be infinitely higher.
After the L’Equipe cover six years ago, Cornet was in ebullient mood.
“Roland Garros is winnable for me one day, but not this year. Mentally and physically, it's too soon to be able to manage a tournament like this for an 18-year-old, but I'm learning.
“I can wait five years, 10 years, 20 years, the important thing is to win it someday. That would be incredible.”
An excellent outlook, but maybe Cornet now knows that while time is still absolutely on her side, it won’t be forever.
Cornet faces Sharapova in the opening match of the day session at Rod Laver Arena on Saturday.