Flavia Pennetta: Anything Can Happen

Rob YorkSenior Writer ISeptember 7, 2009

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 06:  Flavia Pennetta of Italy celebrates after defeating Vera Zvonareva of Russia during day seven of the 2009 U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 6, 2009 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Heiman/Getty Images)

Based on her play, Flavia Pennetta did not “deserve” to beat Vera Zvonareva on Sunday night.

The 27-year-old Italian was clearly outperformed for the first set, and for most of the second, for that matter, by the 25-year-old Russian. Even when Pennetta managed to break twice in the second set, she promptly surrendered it both times.

When Zvonareva held serve to get up 6-5 in the second, it stood to reason that she would break a final time to close out the No. 10 seed. Four match points in Pennetta’s service game indicated that this reasoning was correct.

But every time she faced a match point, the Italian came up with her best shots against the Russian, eventually holding. Two more match points came in the tiebreak that followed, but with the same result: Five of those six match points ended with winners from the Italian. 

“On the match points, I just was playing very aggressive,” Pennetta said afterwards.

A lesson not enough players, on either the men’s or women’s tours, seem to realize is that they should fight to the last point: If you stay in the match, anything can happen.

Against Zvonareva, anything did. The Russian, who has struggled with a both mental and physical frailty during her career, was reduced to tears as the match points came and went.

The third set was an unmitigated disaster for Zvonareva, who was warned for use of audible obscenity, had to call the trainer for bandaged knees, and failed to win a single game.

Now the gritty Italian has equaled her best-ever performance in a major, which was a quarterfinal at last year’s Open. She has already won two titles this year, including her first Premier event in Los Angeles last month. Her current ranking of No. 10 is the best of her career which has spanned almost 10-years. 

She is deserving of all this, just as she ultimately deserved to win based on her greater inner strength.

But that will do little to impress her next opponent, who goes by the name of Serena.

After the defending US Open champion’s 6-2, 6-0 demolition of Daniela Hantuchova, that’s an awfully intimidating assignment. Based on raw stats, Penneta’s chances against Serena Williams aren’t good.

She made only 30 winners to 37 errors and served at 45 percent for the whole match against Zvonareva (compare that to the 73 percent Williams managed against Hantuchova).

We advise Pennetta to play every point as if she’s a match point down. We advise her never to quit, because anything can happen. 

Both of these statements are cliched, of course, but for her they actually seem to work.