France's Alize Cornet beat a despondent Serena Williams 6-4 6-4 in the semi-finals of the Dubai Championships on Friday in what the world number 26 described as the biggest win of her career.
Cornet's heroics have earned her a final appearance against Venus Williams, Serena's older sister, who earlier trounced Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki 6-3 6-2 under a fading desert sun.
Few in the Aviation Stadium crowd would have given Cornet, who had lost her previous three meetings against Serena, much chance of denying the Williams sisters a first tour final against each other since 2009.
But the Frenchwoman was unbowed as she slugged it out from the baseline against the world number one.
"This is the biggest win of my career," Cornet said in a courtside interview. "I had to forget about Serena on the other side of the net and concentrate on my own game. I tried to play very deep and stay focused."
The first eight games went with serve before Williams scuffed a forehand long to give Cornet the first break of the match and the opportunity to serve for the first set.
The 24-year-old made no mistake when her moment came, leaping to play a baseline backhand winner down the line to claim the set, then punching the air as the crowd bellowed her name.
Cornet was energetic while Williams looked lacklustre as the 17-times grand slam singles champion committed a series of rudimentary blunders.
"I'm a wee bit embarrassed," Williams, 32, told reporters. "I don't think I have made that many errors in a match in I think at least three, maybe four years. Out of 10, I was like a minus 283.
"I started out extremely slow. I need to be able to play better than that if I want to be playing on the professional tour. Maybe I can go to amateurs," joked Williams after only her second defeat in 30 matches.
Her competitive fire did awaken after Cornet took a 2-0 second set lead. She let out prolonged roars with every winner as she surged to 3-2 ahead, the set now back on serve.
But Williams, playing her first tournament following a month out with a back injury, could not sustain that surge.
Cornet broke again for a 4-3 lead with a drilled forehand down the line past Williams, who was stranded at the net.
Serving to save the match at 5-3 down, Williams saved four match points to hold eventually.
Yet Cornet was undaunted and