Flavia Pennetta breaks through
NEW YORK -- When you come from a nation with just a few players in the professional tennis ranks, it's an insular community, with players often knowing each other from childhood or the junior circuit.
So it is with Italians Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci. They were roommates for four years at a tennis academy, and Pennetta said they are now more like sisters than friends.
This story doesn't have a happy ending.
Pennetta denied her friend a trip to the US Open semifinals on Wednesday, taking just 65 minutes at Arthur Ashe Stadium to forge a 6-4, 6-1 victory over No. 10-seeded Vinci. Despite Pennetta's unseeded status, she has not dropped a set while taking out four seeded players, including another Italian, No. 4 Sara Errani, to reach the semifinals.
"I think today was about inside," said Pennetta, currently ranked 83rd in the world. "How you feel inside, how you feel on the court, and how you feel about the situation."
The match started with two breaks, perhaps betraying nerves, but Pennetta kept creating break opportunities, ultimately winning six of 12 break points. Few people know Vinci's game better: the backhand slice, a net game that seems like a throwback to an era of wooden rackets, and arguing line calls.
"I think in the way she plays she's so talented," Pennetta said. "Like, you cannot see another player like her on tour. She's Roberta, and she's the only one, you know?"
They first played 20 years ago, when both would have been about 10. Neither can remember when they first met, or what sparked their friendship. But now it really is as if there was never a time when they weren't friends.
"It was of course a special day for us," said Vinci, 30. "Is a great chance to go to the semifinal. This time she won, but I think that I'm happy, too, about this tournament."
In some ways, Pennetta is the unlikeliest semifinalist. Pennetta, 31, had wrist surgery last year and has had a difficult time coming back. But you would never know that from the way she has been playing.
"I'm proud of me now," Pennetta said. "I'm 31, and physically I feel good finally. I'm in the first semifinal in a Grand Slam."
She is one of at least three women 30 or older who are in the semifinals this year, and she will face either No. 2 Victoria Azarenka or unseeded Daniela Hantuchova in her next match.
Regardless of how that match goes, Pennetta will reach the top 30 in ranking after the points from this tournament are factored in.
"I didn't play my best tennis in the last six months, and I just try to keep working and working in the same way every day," Pennetta said. "I starting to feel more my forehand, my backhand. Everything starting to feel more normal in the way it was before the injury. I play really good tennis here, I think."