Flavia Pennetta initially struggled when returning from wrist surgery last season but, supremely motivated to show that she still had an elite level in her, the Italian has climbed all the way back. On Sunday, Pennetta took down Angelique Kerber 6-1 4-6 7-5 to reach her first Australian Open quarterfinal.
The 31-year-old all-court player was shaky in trying to close the match out when serving for it at 5-3, but she regained her composure, held to 6-5 with a huge backhand crosscourt, and then stepped on the German, who ended the contest with two errors, one on her backhand side and another with a forehand into the net.
"I am really happy,” a tearful Pennetta said. “I am shaking. I am a little old, so I am enjoying it so much."
It was a measure of revenge for Pennetta against Kerber at a Slam, as she had lost to her both at the 2011 US Open quarterfinal in a match she was favored to win, and also at Roland Garros in 2012.
Back in 2010, Pennetta cracked the top 10 for the first time as she had become a more mentally-secure player who had begun to trust her offense more. A standout doubles player who won the 2011 Australian Open title with the now-retired Argentine Gisela Dulko, Pennetta is a consistent return of server who can volley more than a touch.
She can also dictate with her forehand, and all those elements came into play against the left-handed Kerber, who is a standout defensive player and can also dictate off the ground.
But Pennetta played more ambitiously on the day, roaring past Kerber in the first set and ripping 14 winners to only three from the German.
In the second set, Kerber began to find her rhythm and managed to extend numerous points and coax the angry Pennetta into over-hitting and committing 17 errors.
But Pennetta calmed herself, and then competed as hard as she could in the tight third set, stepping inside the baseline as much as she could and daring the German to hit through her. While Kerber certainly had her chances, she couldn’t contain her forehand or do enough damage with her serve.
“I think the first set was perfect, I was really aggressive,” Pennetta said.
“Everything was working pretty good. My serve, my return, everything was perfect. In the second set, I just starting to wait a little bit more. She starting to play much better. Of course, it's normal. I had few chances in the second set and I didn't make it. But in the third it was a little bit up and down for both of us; 5-3 I was serving for the match and I play really bad. But I just try to keep going and try to be aggressive, and in the end was working pretty good.”
Pennetta will face a stiff test in the next round when she faces two-time Australian Open finalist Li Na.
“She is so good,” Pennetta said. “Like she's one of the best player. Backhand, unbelievable; forehand, really good; physically she's strong. So it's going to be really a good fight on the court.”