Some of Flavia Pennetta's tennis--especially in the serve department--left much to be desired tonight in her U.S. Open round of 16 match against 7th seed Vera Zvonareva. But much of it was superb. Zvonareva, who recently said she was thinking too much about her ankle and not enough about her shots, showed up with heavy strapping around both knees, yet she moved expertly around the court, hitting accurate groundstrokes on both sides, and winning repeatedly at the net.
In the first set, Pennetta went for too many winners too quickly and wound up making too many errors. The 10th seed lost that set, but slowed down in the next set, exercising more patience in the rallies, some of which were beautiful. She missed several opportunities, however, to take advantage of Zvonareva's second serves, and found herself painfully close to losing in straight sets.
Then, serving at 5-6, the Italian put on a stunning display of the toughness for which she has become known. Saving four match points, she forced a tiebreak, then saved two more match points to win the tiebreak 8-6. Saving six match points is dramatic under any circumstance, but what made this occasion so special is that Pennetta saved five of them with winners, creating one of the most thrilling moments of the U.S. Open so far.
At the beginning of the third set, Zvonareva started fooling with the tape around her knees, and got into a minor argument with the chair umpire about needing a pair of scissors to adjust the tape. Umpire Lynn Welch pointed out the obvious--Zvonareva should have called for a trainer between sets. Zvonareva continued to focus on the tape, and virtually stopped focusing on the match, though--it should be noted--she still made some good shots. But it was all Pennetta by this time.
When Zvonareva fell down in straddle position, she took some time to beat her knee with her racquet before she got up. She whacked herself in the head. She became the Zvonareva of years ago, when her emotional meltdowns took her out of the top 10. The Russian still likes to crack her racquet now and then, but she said last year that now, she does it as a way to release tension, and it doesn't disturb her game. But not tonight. Tonight she simply went to pieces.
Zvonareva later said that--in the middle of the second set--she knew she wouldn't physically last through a third set. That being the case, one has to wonder why she played so conservatively in the latter stages of the middle set. If she was going to wear out, anyway, what could it have hurt her to play more aggressively and try to grab a straight-sets win?
The only answer I can come up with is that Zvonareva hoped Pennetta would get tight and make a fatal error She guessed wrong. Pennetta, with a 3-6, 7-6, 6-0 win, goes to the quarterfinals. It is her second year in a row to do so. She will play defending champion Serena Williams, who overwhelmed Daniela Hantuchova with a 6-2, 6-0 win.