NEW YORK - Flavia Pennetta made it to her first grand slam semi-final and climbed back on top of Italy's competitive tennis ladder by defeating 10th-seeded Roberta Vinci 6-4 6-1 at the US Open yesterday.
Back in 2009, the 31-year-old Pennetta became the first Italian woman to crack the top 10. But she fell out of the spotlight in her country's tennis scene after the emergence of Vinci and Sara Errani, combined with a wrist injury that sidelined her during the end of last season.
Pennetta came into Flushing Meadows ranked 83rd, but will leave with victories over both of Italy's top players.
After her win over Vinci, a longtime friend and former doubles partner, the Italians met at the net and hugged. Vinci gave Pennetta a kiss on the cheek and told her, "Brava."
"It's amazing," Pennetta said. "I am really happy. I cannot believe it. It was really tough today to play against Roberta.
"It's really difficult."
This was Pennetta's fourth straight win over a seeded opponent — a run that began with a 6-3 6-1 win over fourth-seeded Errani and also included a victory over No.27 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 2004 US Open champion.
Pennetta hasn't lost a set en route to the final four of the year's last major. Her next match will be against either Victoria Azarenka or Daniela Hantuchova.
Hantuchova and Vinci are both 30 and among the five thirtysomethings to reach the quarter-finals this year, matching the most in the Open era of grand slam tennis.
In the lead-up to the match, Vinci conceded it took her a long time to shed the label of doubles specialist and start believing she could beat players such as Pennetta, who she played doubles with on and off through the mid-2000s.