Friday, January 28, 2011

Dulko & Pennetta win Australian Open doubles championship

When Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta left the court after their semifinal victory, right before they went into the tunnel, they did one final "keep the faith" high-five. On Friday, as they came out of the tunnel and walked onto the court to play the final, they turned and looked at each other for just a moment. It was subtle, but it was an unmistakable "this is it" exchange, maybe with a touch of "let's kick some ass" thrown in. The top seeds served so well and played so well in the semifinal against Liezel Huber and Nadia Petrova, it was easy to believe they had the confidence to win their first major.

But it didn't play that way--not for a while, anyway. Dulko, in particular, looked like a shadow of herself, and had a hard time serving. Victoria Azarenka and Maria Kirilenko, on the other hand, played very aggressively. Azarenka hit the ball really hard, and made a number of flashy volleys. In no time, the 12th seeds had won the first set 6-2.

The pattern continued, with Dulko and Pennetta occasionally showing their number 1 style, but they just didn't have enough going for them to resist the speed and precision of Azarenka, and it didn't seem to occur to them to launch an attack on Kirilenko, who was not playing quite up to her partner's level. Azarenka and Kirilenko went up 4-1, and were a point from going up 5-1, when--perhaps inspired by Li Na--Dulko woke up, so to speak, and went all crazy on them at the net. For the next few games, Dulko was unstoppable.

Azarenka and Kirilenko weren't the same after that, and neither were Dulko and Pennetta. The signature Dulko lobs and Pennetta steady groundstrokes and penetrating volleys began to appear in great numbers, as Azarenka increasingly missed her volleys and hit balls outside the lines. The top seeds won the second set 7-5, and they cruised throught the third, winning it 6-1.

I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone as happy lifting a trophy as Dulko and Pennetta were, especially Pennetta, who is the first Italian player to win a championship at the Australian Open. The two have been very close friends for many years, and they have always played doubles together when they felt like it. Last year, however, they made a commitment to be a regular doubles team, and they shot up to the number 1 spot in the world. This is their first major championship, however, and they won it in a very dramatic way.