Pucin: Flavia's Real Championship

Diane Pucin takes a look back at Flavia Pennetta's road to the BNP Paribas Open title, from some early wins over some young Americans to the championship final of the Premier Mandatory tournament.

Published March 16, 2014 12:14

INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - Don't judge Flavia Pennetta's championship at the BNP Paribas Open by Sunday's championship match at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

There wasn't much tension or many great points.

Pennetta, 32, an Italian and the 20th seed here who almost retired last year after having wrist surgery in 2012 and having her ranking drop to No.166, upset second-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, 62 61, in an hour and 13 minutes. Pennetta won a million dollars and her ranking will be No.12 in the world Monday.

But to reach this final, Pennetta had to win a trio of three set matches over 10 days at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

Radwanska, who almost always plays with her shoulder taped, also had her left knee taped Sunday and by the end, the 25-year-old from Poland was in tears as she spoke to the crowd.

"I am fighting but I am so sorry I couldn't run as much as I could," Radwanska said. She stopped a moment to compose herself and then said, "I still had a great two weeks, my first final here. Maybe one day I'll get the trophy."

Twice Radwanska called for a trainer who re-taped the knee but Radwanska relies on her gliding movement. It's that ability to skitter around the court that allows her to hit a variety of shots most players disdain - volleys, drop shots, lobs.

Pennetta was sympathetic but had overcome her own injury struggle.

After her surgery, she came close to retiring. Her last title had come four years ago in Carson, California. On that day she became the first woman from Italy to be ranked in the Top 10.

But the thought of fighting back at her age after falling so far in the rankings seemed overwhelming.

"I think I need a few days to realize," she said. "Right now I'm too calm I think... I call my dad and he was like he couldn't breathe. And I tell him, 'Papa, respirare, breathe, okay?'"

After a few moments of contemplation, however, Pennetta was able to put into words what this victory meant.

"I think this one is, after so many years, so much work and everything, this is the moment I have always waited for. And it's coming when you don't expect it and everything," she said. "Because in the beginning of the week I never expected to be the champion or to be in the final or semifinal.

"I mean, I was here and tried to play my best tennis... So for me it was something I was waiting since long time, and finally I have a good trophy in my hands."

If the championship match didn't test Pennetta's grit and guile, the tournament did.

Those three set wins came against two upcoming young Americans, Taylor Townsend and Sloane Stephens, and 2011 US Open champion Samantha Stosur.

This is the Italian's first win in a Premier Mandatory event, a level just below the four Grand Slams. In fact Sunday was her first appearance in the finals of such a tournament. So even though Pennetta knew she was playing against an injured opponent, she couldn't help dropping to her knees after Radwanska hit a forehand long on Pennetta's second match point.

Radwanska said her tears came from frustration.

"I think it's just the worst thing for a player to not give 100 percent, especially in the final of a big event," she said. "I just couldn't run as much as I normally do. Bad luck."

Radwanska said the knee has bothered her for a few days but, she said, "I just didn't expect it was going to be much worse today. I thought maybe it was going to be better and I would just keep going but that didn't really happen."

The WTA tour moves to Miami now for a second Premier Mandatory event and Radwanska said she would wait to see how her knee responds although she's not sure what the injury is.

Pennetta doesn't have a decision to make. She can't wait.

Diane Pucin has covered tennis for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Los Angeles Times and has been to all four Grand Slam events.

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