Two Italians Land in Round of Sixteen
September 4, 2009 -- Italians and New York City are in separable. At the turn of the 20th Century, Little Italy became the home to thousands of Italian immigrants. It continues to charm tourists, and locals, drawing them to myriad restaurants along Mulberry Street.
When fans learned that Flavia Pennetta, the #10 seed in the women's singles draw, and her countrywoman Francesca Schiavone, the #26 seed, had made their way to the round of sixteen today you could almost hear the cheers rising from lower Manhattan.
It is the first time since 2002 that two Italian women have advanced to the round of sixteen at The U. S. Open. If Sara Errani wins her match against Yanina Wickmayer tomorrow, then she will join her countrywomen, making a perfect trio.
Flavia Pennetta performance at this year's Open has been impressive. She has played three rounds and has given up a total of six games. In her second match of the tournament she defeated Sania Mirza 6/0 6/0, converting eight of eight break point chances. Her percentage of points won on first serves is above 80%, which parallels the same stat for Andy Roddick.
Pennetta defeated Canadian Aleksandra Wozniak today 6/1 6/1 in fifty-two minutes. The Italian was all smiles, for the most part.
"I think I play very good match today," Pennetta said. "I'm really happy, you know. Still my serve doesn't work in the way I would like to, but I'm really happy."
Even though Pennetta's first serve percentage was a meager 34%, the percentage of points won topped out at 85%. She wants to keep that figure high.
Pennetta is the first Italian woman to be ranked in the top 10, which she reached on August 17. She began competing on tour in 1997, at lower level events. In July this year, she made the semifinals at Bastad and won her seventh tour singles title at Palermo. Then in August she won her eighth title at Los Angeles. In Cincinnati she was defeated in the semifinals by Dinara Safina, but defeated Venus Williams in an earlier round. In New Haven she reached the semifinal, too, losing to two-time champion Caroline Wozniacki.
"I think I just starting to win more and more matches," Pennetta said. "I starting to more confidence and everything's come, you know. Tennis, it's very strange sport, because for one point everything can change. You have to be very mentally very focused in all the moments."
Pennetta's concentration on one point at a time could be key to her advancement, along with her technical skills and strategic plans. Without the ability to put aside the last point, prepare for the next one, and execute it, no player can expect to improve or advance a career.
All of the WTA players are phenomenal athletes. They hire competent coaches with outstanding resumes. However, the ones in love with their sport match after match, and tournament after tournament, bring joy to themselves and the fans. They don't just survive the up-and-down nature of the Tour; they look forward to the challenges.
Up next for Pennetta is Vera Zvonareva, who is seeded #7. Their head-to-head record is 1-1. They met last in Los Angeles, where Pennetta prevailed.
"I think it's going to be very tough," Pennetta said. "In this kind of court she play good, so it's gonna be tough match. I have to play my best tennis."
Francesca Schiavone (#26 seed) had never beaten Victoria Azarenka in their two previous meetings. But today, the five-foot-five Italian used every tool in her court bag to take out the ninth seed in three entertaining sets 4/6 6/2 6/2.
Sports' pundits and the WTA have touted Azarenka as the next big tennis star. She won her first tour title in January this year at Brisbane and followed that up with her second title in February at Memphis. At Indian Wells, the BNP Paribas Open, she fell in the semifinals to Vera Zvonareva the eventual champion and her doubles partner with whom she won the doubles title. Azarenka defeated Serena Williams in the finals at Miami, which added to the buzz about this tall Belarusian who screeched on court at about the same annoying pitch as Maria Sharapova.
In April injuries surfaced - first a right shoulder problem, then a hip strain. Azarenka didn't play in July and when the summer hard-court season began, her spirit had dulled and her tennis had wandered. She lost in the opening round of L. A., didn't go past the third round in Cincinnati, and only made it to the second round in Toronto where she lost to wildcard Kim Clijsters. It was not a proud moment for Azarenka.
Schiavone didn't do much for Azarenka's confidence on Grandstand Court today. The Italian ran her from side to side, to the net and back to the baseline. Once Azarenka reached the baseline Schiavone would hit a drop shot that not even the speediest player could have reached. Schiavone's one-handed backhand looped high over the net and bounced ferociously, forcing Azarenka to hit outside her comfort zone. Her balance was disrupted, her mental strength undermined. Schiavone's experiences in doubles, along with Fed Cup action, gave her a decisive edge once she penetrated Azarenka's fragile attitude and baseline game.
Schiavone will play Na Li in the next round. They are 1-1 in head-to-head matches, too. Schiavone defeated Na Li in Beijing at the Olympic Games. This could be reason enough for the 18th seed Li to take revenge in their match on Sunday. Li is a strong baseliner who likes rhythm. Schiavone might have to employ the same tactics with the top Chinese player as she used against Azarenka.
Schiavone has consistently maintained a top 30-50 ranking since 2002. This is the first time she's reached the fourth round at the U. S. Open in singles. Her best result at a Grand Slam came in 2008 at Roland Garros. She and her doubles partner, Stacy Dellacqua, lost in the finals to Medina Garrigues and Ruano Pascual.
To relax in her time off court Schiavone likes to drive her car fast. Perhaps her love of speed and the confidence she has gained at this U. S. Open will help her drive through to the second week of competition. Her diverse style of tennis is a welcomed pause from the standard baseline fare that seems to have overgrown the courts at Flushing Meadows.