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Pennetta’s passion shows on court

By Richard Osborn
Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Maybe it’s an Italian thing. Almost as a rule, players from the Mediterranean nation have never been ones to shy away from showing some emotion on the tennis court. When a frustrated Davide Sanguinetti used to argue line calls, he’d wave his arms demonstratively, the classic Italian fingers-pinched-against-the-thumb gesture saying more than any words ever could. So upset was Fabio Fognini over a disputed call in Indian Wells in 2014 that it took a visit from the tournament referee to separate him from the chair ump. Overcome with emotion, Francesca Schiavone rolled in the terre battue of Roland Garros in 2010 upon winning her first Grand Slam title, a giddy schoolgirl let loose in Chatrier’s sandbox.

Flavia Pennetta has been known to wear her heart on her sleeve, too.  

During the first set of her match against Maria Sharapova earlier this year in Indian Wells, Pennetta wiped tears from her eyes between points, and after dropping the set she sobbed before leaving the court to compose herself.

“Panic attack? No. Just a lot of emotion in one night,” explained Pennetta, who returned a different player and climbed her way back in the match to win, 3‑6, 6‑3, 6‑2, her 14th career victory over a Top 5 opponent. “Sometimes women have these moments, so I was just trying to handle it. I just breathed and let it pass.”

“Sometimes," she continued, "you just need to get everything out. On the court it's not easy to do that.  When I finished the first set I was feeling, ‘OK, I have to go out, just go and let everything out, scream, do something.’”

Italy’s second-highest ranked woman (after Sara Errani) has long been a fiery competitor, unafraid to express herself in the heat of the moment. Like the time, during a tense Fed Cup match against France in 2009, she flipped the bird to the chair umpire.

“She should have been removed right away,” asserted her opponent, Amelie Mauresmo.

“I am not pleased with myself, but that's the first time such a thing has happened to me,” said Pennetta, who reached a career-high of No. 10 in 2009, when she became the first-ever Italian woman to crack the Top 10.

Perhaps that on-court fervor is a sign that the 33-year-old tour veteran, who has a penchant for pasta and Al Pacino, is as passionate about the sport as ever. This week the 26th-ranked baseliner finds herself in her sixth US Open quarterfinal in the past eight years. On Wednesday, she’ll face world fifth seed Petra Kvitova on the hard courts of Flushing Meadows, where she’s played far and away the best tennis of her decade-and-a-half pro career.

“This tournament, this city, is something special for me,” she said.

Special indeed. Of her seven career Slam quarterfinals, only one has come away from Flushing Meadows, also on a hard court at the 2014 Australian Open. Here’s someone who hails from a country of proud clay-courters, who doesn’t even particularly care for the cacophonic mayhem of the Big Apple.

“It's too crowded. Too much traffic,” she said. “I’m a person for a small city.”

Whatever the reason, the baseliner from Brindisi has an affinity for the hard floors of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The 25-year-old Kvitova will have to be at her best against Pennetta, who’s developed a reputation for neutralizing her opponents’ strengths.  

“My big weapons don't seem to be weapons against her,” said Aussie Sam Stosur, who fell victim to Pennetta 6-4, 6-4 in the round of 16, her seventh straight loss to the Italian.

“I think she's on fire,” said Kvitova, who advanced to the quarters with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Brit Johanna Konta. “She's playing well here. She beat Sam in two sets. So I think she really is feeling well. It's the quarterfinals, so I don't really think that’s someone easy to beat.”

The Penneta-Kvitova head-to-head stands at an even 3-3, though they haven’t faced each other since 2012 at the London Olympics, Kvitova earning a 6-3, 6-0 win. One thing's fore sure: should Pennetta be the one to move ahead on Wednesday and gain a semifinal berth at the US Open, it'll be an emotional ride.