Italian women making mark at U.S. Open

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Add a little Italian seasoning to this year's U.S. Open. Flavia Pennetta, the first Italian woman to rank No. 10 in the world, is through to the fourth round after thumping Aleksandra Wozniak, 6-1, 6-1, Friday. That comes on the heels of a 6-0, 6-0 bagel job against Sania Mirza. Francesca Schiavone, ranked 28th in the world, got by the tough Victoria Azarenka, the eighth seed, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. The day before, Sara Errani (No. 42) eliminated veteran Swiss player Patty Schnyder, the 19th seed, 7-5, 6-2.

When Pennetta became her country's first top-10 player this summer, it was news even in soccer-mad Italy."The first sport is soccer," Pennetta said, "So to be on the first page of newspaper with soccer is huge . . . In Italy, everyone is going crazy." Unlike neighboring France, where tennis has been a big deal, Italy has a small but thriving tennis community. It's a private sport, largely void of publicly accessible courts. Few Italians reach the higher levels of tennis, though Farina Elia and Schiavone each reached 11th. Pennetta has been part of Italy's run to the Fed Cup finals, where her team, which includes Schiavone, will play the U.S. team that might include the Williams sisters.

Pennetta's title run in Los Angeles this summer, during which she defeated Samantha Stosur in the final after beating Maria Sharapova, Vera Zvonareva and Natalie Petrova along the way, was her biggest victory among eight career titles. "I'm proud," she said with an ever-present laugh and constant smile. Maria Sharapova Samantha Stosur Caroline Wozniacki Venus Williams Aleksandra Wozniak That smile disappeared for a long stretch in 2007 when she broke up with longtime boyfriend Carlos Moya, the Spanish player. She lost 15 pounds in a month and visited a psychologist. She came out with a better sense of self, and this year, that has translated into a better game. Pennetta's style is classic with solid strokes on both sides and good movement. She doesn't give away many points.

Schiavone, 29, hasn't had the success of Pennetta, 27, and has only one minor career title. But she remains a stalwart of Italy's Fed Cup team and a scrappy competitor who could beat a top player when she's on her game. Zvonareva, the seventh seed and Pennetta's next opponent, this summer compared the styles of Schiavone and Pennetta. "Schiavone has the better shots," she said. "But Pennetta has the better strategy." One of the best fourth-round matchups was set up when Kim Clijsters beat fellow Belgian Kirsten Flipkens, 6-0, 6-2, and Venus Williams beat Magdalena Rybarikova, 6-2, 7-5. Clijsters and Williams will meet Sunday.

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