News & Press

Friday, September 04, 2009

Pennetta’s ‘Perfect’ Match Takes Only 50 Minutes

Bagels are not exactly an Italian specialty.But Flavia Pennetta indulged in a New York treat Wednesday when she achieved a rare “double bagel” on Armstrong Stadium Court, blanking Sania Mirza, 6-0, 6-0, in the second round of the United States Open.

As much as the score was a pictorial indication of Mirza’s struggling game, it was even more representative of Pennetta’s soaring one.

After being the victim of the tournament’s first shutout, in a mere 50 minutes, Mirza remarked to Pennetta in the locker room that she had played “perfect” tennis.

Pennetta, a bubbly, personable 27-year-old from Italy, thanked her and later modestly agreed. “I was very focused,” she said. “I didn’t make any mistakes at all.”

It has been that type of summer for Pennetta, who on Aug. 17 became the first woman from Italy to reach the top 10 in the world rankings. The name of her hometown, Brindisi, translates to a toast, which is appropriate considering that the Pugliese city is clinking glasses to her along with the rest of the country.

“In Italy everybody is going crazy,” she said. “But I feel pretty the same, actually.”

She acknowledged, though, that perhaps one thing had changed. “I believe more in myself,” she said.

Two years ago, Pennetta finished the season ranked No. 40. She was struggling from a bitter and public breakup from the tennis player Carlos Moya, and it took about four months to recover from what Sergio Palmieri, the director of the Fed and Davis Cup teams in Italy, called “the injury of the heart.”

By 2008, Palmieri said on Wednesday, “she started to take care of herself more, and take care of her career.”

Pennetta, who does not like to talk about the Moya effect, acknowledged that she refocused her priorities, making tennis No. 1.

“Of course after what happened, I was more piu forte,” she said, meaning she was stronger inside.

Armed with a booming forehand, Pennetta is thrilled with her late surge, especially considering the reality of the sports hierarchy in Italy.

“Soccer is 90 percent, and then there are all the other sports,” she said. So when she made the front pages after ascending to No. 10 in the world, the achievement was especially meaningful.

Women, she said, are gaining more respect in these “minor” sports, especially after Maria Valentina Vezzali’s gold-medal performances in fencing at the 2008 Olympics.

At the Open, the Italian women are ranked higher than the men, with the exception of No. 49 Andreas Seppi. But all the men have left the singles draw.

Adriano Panatta, who soared to No. 4 in 1976, was the highest-ranked Italian. He is best remembered at the Open for his stirring five-set loss to Jimmy Connors in the fourth round in 1978.

Pennetta is the leader today, having won eight tournaments in her career, including two this summer. She won in Palermo, Italy, and the next week she beat Maria Sharapova for the title in Los Angeles.

Francesca Schiavone, ranked No. 28, calls Pennetta a “good example who took the dream.”

What if one day these younger Italian men’s players start moving up in the rankings?

“I know if there is going to be a top-10 man, for the women, it’s going to be over for us,” Pennetta said, half-joking.

Although Italy is her homeland (her parents once owned a gas company in Brindisi called Pennetta Petroli), she does not train in Italy. She and her longtime coach, Gabriel Urpi, who is Spanish, train in Barcelona, Spain, and in Switzerland.

“I left Brindisi when I was 15,” Pennetta said. “I made a normal life until then, went to school in the morning. Now, there are so many young children, they are just kids and they are playing.”

She can afford a bit of reflection from her perch.

“I am old,” she said, “but I am happy with my life.”

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