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Pennetta Too Strong, Takes Out Sharapova

Maria Sharapova was 12-0 in three-setters this year until she played Flavia Pennetta in New York.

Published September 02, 2011 12:00

Pennetta Too Strong, Takes Out Sharapova
Flavia Pennetta

NEW YORK, NY, USA - With crafty net play and drop shots to complement some fierce hitting from the baseline, Flavia Pennetta recorded one of the biggest wins of her career on Friday afternoon, beating the No.4-ranked player in the world, Maria Sharapova, in the third round of the US Open.

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Pennetta certainly isn't done full justice by her No.26 seed - she's a former Top 10 player, Italy's first in fact, and has had much success at the US Open, reaching her only two Grand Slam quarterfinals here in 2008 and 2009. And the form that took her to all those accomplishments had already resurfaced as she rolled through her first two opponents, Aravane Rezai and Romina Oprandi.

Pennetta started strong against No.3 seed Sharapova in the third round, racing out to a 4-0 lead and eventually winning that set, 6-3. The middle set was all Sharapova but the 29-year-old Italian again went out strong in the third, going up 4-1. The fight that had taken Sharapova to a 12-0 record in three-setters this year began showing as she evened it at 4-all, but Pennetta held her nerve and serve to go up 5-4, and she broke the Russian one last time to end it, 63 36 64.

"I'd like to thank the crowd for supporting me the whole time. It's amazing to be here," Pennetta said in her on-court interview. "This is one of the best victories of my career. I have so many good memories from Arthur Ashe Stadium."

Pennetta, who had also beaten Sharapova in their last meeting two summers ago in Los Angeles, already had seven Top 5 wins to her name but none at a Slam - now she has eight, but more importantly her first at a Slam.

"You have to be focused until the last game with her, until the last point, actually," said Pennetta, who hit a backhand down-the-line winner on her first match point. "She had a lot of double faults today. She has played very well this season and has had some good results, but she wasn't serving like before.

"I'm really happy to be in New York. I feel really comfortable here. Everything is really nice. I don't know why, but I love to be here in New York, and I always play really good tennis here. That's why I was really happy to come back."

Since winning here in 2006, Sharapova has not been beyond the fourth round. She fell in the third round in 2007 (to Agnieszka Radwanska), was out with an injured shoulder in 2008, another third round loss in 2009 (to Melanie Oudin) and a fourth round loss in 2010 (to Caroline Wozniacki). She is now 21-6 in Grand Slam third round matches, but curiously only 3-4 here at the US Open.

"I got myself back in the match, but when you're down 4-1 and get back in a position where you can win again then you start making errors, it's just too inconsistent," Sharapova said. "I wasn't comfortable with most of my game today. I made way too many errors. I had chances - I just didn't take them.

"It's disappointing... It's disappointing to lose in the middle of nowhere. It's disappointing to lose in New York. Losing isn't fun for anyone, because we work to win - we obviously don't work to try to lose. But it's all right."

Next for Pennetta will be No.13 seed Peng Shuai, who won a tight ending against No.19 seed Julia Goerges, missing four match points at 64 65 but dusting it off in a tie-break, 64 76(1). Serving down 5-6, Goerges saved four match points - two with huge forehand winners - but it was all Peng once they got to the breaker, and she fired an ace on her fifth match point.

Pennetta leads Peng in their head-to-head series, 4-0. The matches have not been easy though - their last three matches have gone to three sets.

Also in that section is perhaps one of the more unlikely fourth round pairings, Monica Niculescu and Angelique Kerber. Both 23-year-olds are in the fourth round of a Slam for the first time - Niculescu, ranked No.68 in the world, upset No.27 seed Lucie Safarova in the first match of the day, 60 61; the No.92-ranked Kerber beat Alla Kudryavtseva in the second match to finish, 63 61.

Niculescu beat Kerber in their only previous meeting, although it was three years ago at an ITF Women's Circuit event (and it was extremely close).

One of Peng, Pennetta, Niculescu or Kerber will reach the semifinals here.

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