Flavia Pennetta, an Unlikely Semifinalist

By Jane Voigt

September 4, 2013 -- If you or someone you know picked Flavia Pennetta to be in the semifinals of the U. S. Open, please stand up. You deserve a seat next to Billie Jean King in the parade that honors your vision.

Ranked 83 in the world, Pennetta wham-bammed her way through her friend, Roberta Vinci, the No. 10 seed, in the quarterfinals today earning her first-ever semifinal berth at the U. S. Open, and at any major. Two sets was all she needed: 64 61. 

This was Pennetta's fourth quarterfinal run in New York. She has made her way to the 4th round at Wimbledon, the Australian Open, and Roland Garros, but never beyond. She did not play the Open last year, having suffered a wrist injury in Montreal in 2012 that kept her off court until March of this year. 

For her semifinal position, she is guaranteed $650,000 USD. 

Pennetta and Vinci have known each other for 20 years, said Vinci. They grew up on tennis courts in the Italian Federation. 

"I think she's really a positive girl," Pennetta told the press. "She always try to find the light, no? When you see everything really dark. So she always really a good person."

USOVinciQFSept42013

Roberta Vinci runs down a forehand in her quarterfinal match today against
Flavia Pennetta. This was Vinci's second-consecutive quarterfinal at the U. S. Open.
Photo credit tennisclix

Have Flavia's favorable results this year been luck? In a way, yes.

According to the WTA, Pennetta was not on the direct entry list into the tournament. However, when 18-year-old Yulia Putintseva of Russia withdrew, Pennetta took her spot. That's nothing less than mysteriously delicious. 

"From the first day of the tournament I never think to be here and talk about the semifinal," she said. "You know, I didn't play my best tennis in the last six months, and I just try to keep working in the same way every day. Every day much better and better, and every day was tougher and adjust, try to use everything I had now and put it in the court and play my best tennis."

As improbable as it seems that a player ranked No. 83 would make a run to the semifinals at the Open, she is not the lowest ranked woman to achieve that result. Angelique Kerber was ranked No. 92 when she made the semifinals in 2011 . She lost to the eventual champion, Samantha Stosur. 

Pennetta started her trek to the semifinals by beating another friend and fellow Italian, Sara Errani, in the second round. Errani was seeded No. 4. In the third, Pennetta stood tall against veteran and former U. S. Open champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, seeded No. 27. Next up for Pennetta was the hot Simona Halep, seeded No. 21. 

Pennetta did not drop one set against these seeded players. Yet the semifinals of the Open is another level of competition. It could cause the Italian to waver or lose her nerve. 

"I'm confident because I'm here," Pennetta said. "I don't know who is going to win tonight, but anyway it's going to be a good match." She will face Victoria Azarenka or Daniela Hantuchova next. Their match is scheduled for Friday. 

Of the 8 quarterfinalists, five were 30 or over: Flavia Pennetta (31); Roberta Vinci (30); Serena Williams (31); Na Li 31; Daniela Hantuchova (30). 

USOPennettaQFSept42013

Flavia Pennetta, ranked No. 83 in the world coming into the U. S. Open, earned her first-ever berth in a major this afternoon when she defeated her good friend, Roberta Vinci, 64 61. Vinci was seeded No. 10 and would have moved into the top 10 following the conclusion of the tournament. Photo credit tennisclix

"It's good to stay physical, in a good way, and play this good tennis at this age, of course," she said. "I'm proud of me. I'm 31 and physically I feel good finally. I'm in the first semifinal in a Grand Slam. There is nothing to say more."

No male or female from Italy has ever reached the final of the Open. 

"No, I really don't feel the pressure," Pennetta said. "In Italy we already have one champion on Grand Slam [Francesca Schiavone won Roland Garros]; Sara [Errani] make two final, one semifinal. Right now, really, nothing at all. Maybe tomorrow night I starting to feel a little bit, but now I'm okay."

The match was an emotional one for both women. There was no unconvincing limp handshake at the net, when the match ended. They wrapped their arms around each other in an authentic display of kinship.   

"It's not easy to play your best friend," Flavia told fans on Louis Armstrong Court. 

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013