Sunday, September 4, 2011

Pennetta retches, stumbles and sweats her way to U.S. Open quarterfinals

Perhaps from now on, the world "Italian" should always have the adjective "fighting" in front of it. Yesterday, it was Francesca Schiavone who fought her way back from a near-loss; today, it was her friend and countrywoman, Flavia Pennetta. The 26th seed had to fight more than a strong opponent, however. During the first set, Pennetta looked a bit woozy. When the first set was over, it became evident that she was ill. She grew pale, her eyes glazed over, she wasn't moving steadily, and she was pouring sweat.

Pennetta won that first set against Peng Shuai 6-4. Surely she could hang in for the second--or could she? Winning the first one wasn't easy: Peng seemed to be all over the court, getting back everything Pennetta gave her. When she served for it at 5-4, Pennetta faced three break points, two of which she saved with aces.

In the second set, no one held until the fifth game. By this time, Pennetta's illness was evident every moment. At 2-3, down 15-40, though, the (fighting) Italian found a way to hold. She was breathing heavily and dripping with sweat. But suddenly Peng was serving for the set at 5-3. Pennetta broke, then served for the match at 6-5. She soon received a warning from the chair umpire because she took too much time between points. Because time passes quickly when you're dry-heaving against the wall in Louis Armstrong Stadium. Pennetta yelled and gave the umpire a sharp "I'm trying to vomit over here!" look.

Pennetta then foot-faulted, which led to a double fault, which led to a break of serve. The tiebreak began, and Pennetta went for some more wall-slumping dry heaves. Throughout this display, Peng remained calm, and efficiently went up 5-0 in the tiebreak. It didn't look like there was any way the Italian could play a third set, so Peng appeared to be two points from a match victory.

But then Pennetta made her first point in the tiebreak. After that, she hit an ace. She prevailed when Peng had set points. On her fourth one, Peng saw an overhead she had hit come back from Pennetta's racquet and whiz past her. When the tiebreak reached 6-all, the crowd went crazy. And then, just like that, Pennetta won it, 8-6, when Peng tried to hit a drop volley that did not go over the net.

The occasion must have been a terrible one for Peng; for Pennetta, it was a scene more or less revisited. In 2009, she saved six match points against Vera Zvonareva in the round of 16 by going on a tear and hitting consecutive winners as Zvonareva went to melted down. Pennetta won that match, too.

In the quarterfinals, Pennetta will play unseeded Angelique Kerber, who defeated Monica Niculescu--also unseeded--6-4, 6-3.

After the match, Pennetta explained that her on-court illness was a reaction to the humidity. The weather in Flushing Meadows became suddenly humid today, which caused trouble for several players.

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