Flavia Pennetta grinds down Petra Kvitova to make US Open semi-final
Italian holds on as heatwave adds to Czech star’s problems
Flavia Pennetta of Italy celebrates after defeating Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic in their US Open quarter-final match at Flushing Meadows in New York. Photograph: Adrees Latif/Reuters
After two hours and 23 minutes of a gruelling fight at the height of the tournament’s second heatwave, the Italian forced a final weary backhand out of the two-time Wimbledon champion to wrap up a deserved 4-6 6-4 6-2 win and secure a place in her second US Open semi-final.
“I just tried to chase every ball,” Pennetta said. “I was really in trouble. It’s not just the heat. The tension of the match, what you want to be, what you want to do. I’m sorry for her. It’s not a good feeling when you’re so tired. She has to be proud of herself.”
There were impediments to check the Czech’s progress, not all of them Italian. In the first set, the willowy left-hander, who is still coping with the residual effects of glandular fever, struggled as the harsh sun beat down from its midday high-point on her serve at one end of the Arthur Ashe Stadium.
She tried to slow the pace of the game, a strategy that cost her three time violations. Serving for the set at 5-3, she hit a sixth double fault on set point – forced to look directly into the sun on her ball-toss – and handed the break back to Pennetta.
On top of the virus that seems to be the curse of the tennis tour, Kvitova also has asthma and does not much care for the hustle and pace of New York. But her fighting spirit is considerable, whatever her light-hearted off-court demeanour, and she screamed like a banshee when she struck two glorious winners for set point on Pennetta’s next serve, smiling with relief when the veteran double faulted for the third time at just the wrong moment.
Pennetta had been strong to this point; her challenge was not to let that mistake drain her resolve, especially with Kvitova there for the taking as the temperature and her own physical problems gnawed away at her composure.
A seventh double fault dragged Kvitova to deuce in the first game of the second set and her left arm, so often a weapon, had become a liability. As her legs too began to feel the strain, the 20-second time limit between points now hung over her like a suspended sentence.
The time-limit rule in the four slams – five seconds shorter than on the rest of the tour – has become an embarrassment, especially when applied at the discretion of the umpire rather than being linked to a visible clock. There have been villains on both Tours who have turned the serve into a drawn-out performance that has angered opponents and slowed the entertainment considerably, but this is no way to police it. The boundaries are way too vague.
David Kotyza. Kvitova’s coach, was candid in a mid-match observation on ESPN. “Both of them are struggling with the shadow and the sun. And Petra is suffering after her third time violation on the serve. It is a big battle for her. She has to keep the points short.”
The conclusion of the set, though, was a cavalcade of missed opportunities. Within 42 minutes, Pennetta was serving to stay in the tournament. Kvitova looked shot to pieces after what had been a monumental effort just to stay upright. For the second time, Pennetta blew set point, pushing a regulation forehand into the tramlines with her opponent stranded at the net. A teasing drop shot, a speciality, got her back to deuce before they traded more unforced errors, the last of them a tired Kvitova forehand drifting long and they went to a third.
They had already played for 103 minutes, five longer than the three-setter of the Williams sisters in the cool of the previous evening. Pennetta, still strong and flexible, bending low in the shot, sensed this was her moment. Kvitova, stretching the boundaries of slow-serving, looked shattered. She dropped serve in the fifth. The Italian gathered her greater physical resources for a final charge, to love for 4-2, broke for 5-2 and served out to end her opponent’s agony.