During the course of the 2013 U.S. Open, no player has traveled a more difficult road to the semifinals than Flavia Pennetta of Italy. With multiple top 10 foes, past champions and rising stars looking to bring her down, Pennetta has risen to the challenge and reached the final four as an unseeded player.
But don't think her success can be described as just a Cinderella story.
By conventional standards, an unseeded player who makes a run through fierce competition to reach the semifinals is your definition of a Cinderella story. After all, the proverbial slipper is only worn by the unlikely candidates.
With that being said, Pennetta's being unranked is like Inception—it's not really what it seems.
Pennetta has been the face of Italian tennis for the better part of a decade, setting the groundwork for players such as Errani, Vinci and Camila Giorgi to rise up the rankings. She's consistently experienced success at the U.S. Open and broken the mold for European players to shine off of the clay courts.
In 2013, she's proving that with a healthy wrist, the sky is the limit.
Pennetta has experienced success at this event in the past and should not be viewed as anything less than a Grand Slam player. Not only is she one of the most skilled players in the world, but Pennetta has made a living out of prospering at the U.S. Open.
This is just the next step in her greatness.
Tracking Her Path
Pennetta began the 2013 U.S. Open with a dominant 6-0, 6-2 victory over fellow unseeded player Nicole Gibbs. Unfortunately, that success wasn't to be rewarded with a manageable second-round match, but instead one against a top five foe.
And that's when the glory ensued.
Rather than backing down and losing to No. 4 Sara Errani, Pennetta responded with a stunningly dominant 6-3, 6-1 win. Errani was later quoted as saying that she cracked under pressure, per Jane McManus of ESPN; but the rounds since have sent a clear message: this was no fluke.
Pennetta proved that as early as the third round.
Going up against 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, Pennetta refused to blink, winning 7-5, 6-1. It was her second consecutive straight-set victory over an opponent of star quality and proved that she was a legitimate contender.
Unfortunately, it wasn't about to get any easier.
Pennetta was tasked with playing No. 21 Simona Halep, who improved her conditioning and turned heads with a 6-1, 6-0 win over No. 14 Maria Kirilenko. With a 6-2, 7-6 (7-3) victory, however, Pennetta began to rival Serena Williams as the most dominant force in the 2013 U.S. Open women's draw.
A 6-4, 6-1 win over No. 10 Roberta Vinci to reach the semifinals doesn't just establish her greatness, but confirms something even more important—Pennetta is one of the best players in the world.
Past U.S. Open Success
There's no question that the bracket Pennetta faced made her an unlikely pre-tournament selection to reach the semifinals. Unlike many other players in the men's and women's draws, she hasn't experienced the luxury of seeing top seeds fall before she encounters them.
Pennetta has consistently battled the best and walked away victorious every time—and we shouldn't expect anything else.
Pennetta has reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open in four of her past five appearances. She also made it to the fourth round of the 2013 Wimbledon tournament and was ranked No. 10 in the world as recently as 2009.
If not for undergoing wrist surgery, she'd likely have been a top 20 player entering this year's tournament.
Pennetta missed both the 2012 U.S. Open and 2013 Australian Open as she recovered from the procedure. Prior to the surgery, Pennetta was forced to retire from multiple matches due to the lingering wrist injury, which had a devastating impact on her WTA ranking.
For that reason, Pennetta isn't exactly a Cinderella as much as she is an extraordinary comeback story.
More times than not, a player is unable to recover from surgery on their wrist and return to top form. Not only has Pennetta succeeded in doing so, but she's made this recovery at the age of 31.
That's not the sign of a player who shocks the world and overachieves—it's a reflection of Pennetta's magnificent talent. Now, she's two wins away from U.S. Open immortality.
An honor that's a long time coming.