Monday, September 3, 2012

Mamma Mia!

Fighting Italians don't give you the match; you have to take it from them, and neither Angelique Kerber nor Agnieszka Radwanska was up to the task today. In fact, neither of them was up to taking even a set off of Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci. While the veteran Fighting Italians, Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone, have faded this season because of injury and age, Errani and Vinci have put the boot back in Italy.

Together, their doubles record has been outstanding. Errani reached the semifinals of the Australian Open, and was the runner-up at the French Open. Recently, Vinci won her first outdoor hard court title, dropping even more of a hint that the Italian pair was more than ready for play in Flushing Meadows.

6th seed Kerber was the favorite going into today's round of 16 match, a fact that probably played right into Errani's graceful hands. The opponents exchanged constant breaks through the first set, and Kerber looked a bit sluggish. At 3-4, Errani hit what seemed to be the perfect drop shot, but Kerber somehow got to it, and hit an angled volley that got the attention of everyone, including her opponent. And just as Kerber had come to life after hitting a big stretch volley against Venus Williams, she came to life after hitting this spectacular volley off of the Italian's drop shot.

The first set went to a tiebreak, but when Errani had three set points, she completely backed off of the two she had on her own serve. Suddenly tentative, she looked like a different player. But then something happened that may have permanently changed the direction of the match: Kerber double-faulted, giving Errani the set.

Errani held easily in the first game of the second set, then broke Kerber on her sixth break point, and followed that feat by holding serve at love. By this time, Kerber was rushing her serve and was moving forward in uncharacteristic ways that were generally unsuccessful. She looked as though she needed to think, but didn't have time to do so, so she was acting on impulse.

Kerber did hold for 1-3, however, and then broke Errani to get back on serve. But Errani--putting the same kind of spin on the ball that used to take Kerber out of the French Open--would get to 5-3, and then win the match on her first match point.

Kerber made 38 unforced errors, and many of them, she made in moments when she appeared to be just mentally worn down by Errani's willingness to take control of most of the games, and by her refusal to give the German star the kind of pace she likes for hitting her groundstrokes.

Errani and Vinci come as a pair, and a pair of Fighting Italians can be a dangerous thing, as some Fed Cup competitors know very well. Errani is gritty and clever, and Vinci--when she's really on--is just plain clever. But so is Radwanska, so probably no one (except maybe a couple of Italians) predicted that the 2nd seed would win only five games against Vinci.

Vinci out-Radwanska'd A-Rad herself, breaking the Polish player five times with her relentlessly aggressive net play, a solid serve and an unwavering forehand. Hitting 29 winners and making only 16 unforced errors, Vinci beat Radwanska 6-1, 6-4. It was her first victory over the world's number 2 player.

Errani and Vinci will now play each other in the quarterfinals, and one of them will become the first Italian player in the Open Era to reach the semifinals of the U.S. Open. Errani and Vinci are not only doubles partners; they are also best friends. It will be interesting to see how even Fighting Italians handle their emotions in such an unusual situation.

But wait--there's more! The Italian pair also came from a set down yesterday to win their third round doubles match. They will play Julia Goerges and Kveta Peschke in the quarterfinals.

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