Maybe more people would like women's tennis if they were given the chance to see women's tennis. There were two highly entertaining matches played on Court 12 today at Wimbledon; they lasted for hours; one was an out-and-out thriller that should be remembered for some time. ESPN almost totally ignored these matches, however, choosing not only to show other matches of less intensity, but also to show in-studio interviews.
Meanwhile, on out-of the way Court 12, Eastbourne champion Marion Bartoli and Fed Cup Queen Flavia Pennetta engaged in some high sports drama. Pennetta, never known for grass court play, has been having a poor season, but everything changed today when she took on Bartoli. For three hours and nine minutes, the pair stunned spectators (and each other) with some brilliant shot-making and high-level competitiveness. Pennetta's drop shots and volleys were often deserving of applause, while Bartoli's groundstrokes were equally impressive. Between them, they hit 110 winners, 65 of which were hit by Pennetta.
The Italian player won the first set 7-5, after which Bartoli dismissed her father-coach, Walter Bartoli, from the stands. Bartoli, who saved three match points in her second round match while dealing with nausea (not really an unusual clash of events for the Frenchwoman), looked--at times--to be upset, angry, ill, and generally out of sorts. She fought through to win the second set 6-4, and it certainly didn't look like she could go on for another hour and sixteen minutes, but that's exactly what she had to do.
The third set was about as good as it gets.The quality of play remained very high, and I couldn't help but wonder whether someone finally really had put Pennetta in a trance and told her she was at Fed Cup. I have always enjoyed watching Pennetta because she does so many things so well, and does them with such spirit. She pulled out all the stops in this match, and if it weren't for the extravaganza we saw in the round of 16 of the Australian Open, I'd call this match the thriller of the season.
The third set would last for an hour and sixteen minutes. Each player began with a love hold, and Bartoli was then broken at love. Pennetta then held at love, and then Bartoli went down three break points. It was just the beginning of the set, but things certainly didn't look good for the Frenchwoman. She held her serve in that game, however, after which Pennetta held at love again, ending the game with one of her signature drop shots.
By this time, Bartoli had that "staggering around" appearance, yet, somehow, she held when she served at 3-5. Pennetta then served for the match, went down 0-30, made yet another successful drop shot, but eventually lost her chance to take the match when she double-faulted on break point. Serving at 5-all, Bartoli saved two break points. They went from playing love games to saving break points--just like that.
At 6-7, it was Pennetta's turn to save a match point. She then had to save another one before she held. With Bartoli serving at 7-all, 30-15, Pennetta returned a lob with an over-the-shoulder lob, which set up a forehand up the line winner. The Italian got a break point, but failed to convert it when a wobbling netcord ball stayed on her side of the court. She then missed a routine forehand shot, and Bartoli held.
Try to picture Bartoli at this moment. She's hunched over, she doesn't look happy. She looks exhausted. But she jumps around a bit a holds her racquet as if she were about to use it to fight the entire Italian army. Pennetta's service game went to deuce, and Bartoli got a break point. I was thinking, around this time--why does one of them have to lose? (after all these decades, I still have those thoughts). Just then, the commentator said "It's such a shame one of them has to lose." And then Pennetta double-faulted, and it was over. The 9th seed had won, 5-7, 6-4, 9-7.
Not that long ago, Bartoli would have retired when she experienced nausea or some sort of injury. She still gets ill on the court quite a bit, but she hangs in; it's as if she's only just discovered the power of adrenalin. And for all her windmill service motions and pre-point quirks, the French Open semifinalist is a great striker of the ball and, now, a great fighter, also.
It's nice to have the "real" Flavia Pennetta back, and one hopes that her high quality of play in this match was at least some comfort to her.
As it turned out, Court 12 was not the place for Italians to gather. When the Bartoli-Pennetta match was over, 6th seed Francesca Schiavone and Tamira Paszek stepped onto the same court to finish their rain-delayed match from the day before. When we left them on Friday, they had each won a set; Schiavone had taken the first one 6-3, and Paszek had won the second one 6-4. At that point, they had played for and hour and 37 minutes, and who knew they were about to play for another two hours and four minutes?
Not many years ago, Paszek was considered the phenom of the tour, but--for various reasons--things didn't go her way. Suddenly, here she was in the third round at Wimbledon, competing against a top-10 player known for her ability to fight past obstacles, yet the Austrian was fighting just as hard. She went up 3-0 in the final set, but--not unexpectedly--she was broken back. But Paszek perservered, sometimes dramatically celebrating the games she won.
Things didn't look good for her, though, when Schiavone served for the match at 9-8. After all, this was Francesca Schiavone, who is willing to stay on the court for an entire day to get to match point. But Paszek out-maneuvered the 6th seed, and won eight games in a row to go up 10-9. All she had to do then was serve it out, and she did, achieving probably the greatest moment in her career.