Flavia Pennetta makes light work of Simona Halep and goes through to her first Grand Slam singles final, at the age of 33. Here's how the match panned out.
The smile right after she hit her last forehand winner said it all. It was a very tough shot to win a point with, but Flavia Pennetta's confidence was already sky-high. She knew that she could count on her strokes any time, so she just went for it.
After a few seconds it sank in. She will play her first career Grand Slam singles final, after defeating world number 2 Simona Halep in two very straight-forward sets on Arthur Ashe Stadium, 6-1, 6-3.
At the age of 33, Pennetta is living the dream. After her first four wins of the tournament, few would have given the Italian any real chance of overcoming two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova in the quarterfinals, but battling hard, that's exactly what she's done. A set down, then a break down in the decider, Pennetta kept fighting and booked a semifinal showdown with Halep, who too won a three-setter showcasing a fine performance on Thursday against Victoria Azarenka.
Halep was looking to continue her fine form and repeat her win over Pennetta from spring season Miami. A two set defeat at the hands of the Italian in the 2013 round of 16 here was no doubt in her mind though.
The match started evenly, with both players holding very much comfortably in the opening two games. Everything changed after the next Pennetta service game witnessed a marathon battle. Halep had a break point opportunity but ended up hitting wide after a long rally, and Pennetta managed to edge in front, 2-1. She never looked back.
The next game, the Italian broke for the first of many times in the match. Halep's multiple unforced errors helped pave the way for Pennetta to win the set, but it was her game too that stopped the Romanian from playing on her own terms. A swift hold to 15 at 3-1 allowed Pennetta to take control of the match, and during another long game, she managed to break again on the third try.
It was the moment when Pennetta gained the confidence to switch to a more aggressive style of tennis. She took the opening set with ease, off the back of more mistakes coming from her opponent's court. The net seemed to be a fair few centimeters higher for Halep, as the Romanian was not able to stay in play long enough to get a grip on her shots.
A short toilet break in between the sets didn't aid Halep, as she dropped serve once again after the match got under way again. She needed to change something, and she did just that. Maybe due to a short lack of concentration on the other side of the net, Halep came back into the match. She started hitting the ball better, and slowly built courage to be more aggressive - which payed off.
After breaking back to balance the score at 1-1, Halep looked more motivated than ever. She pumped her fist two times and fired shots which Pennetta couldn't handle, including one of her trademark backhands down the line to go 2-1 in front. The crowd was starting to get behind her too, and flying high, Halep seemed able to bring the match into a deciding set after she broke once more. The wheels were in motion, the tables had turned, and nobody expected Pennetta to be able to fight back, at least not in the second set. But the Italian is a highly experienced veteran of the tour.
A lot has been said about Italy's place in tennis. On the WTA tour, Pennetta, Roberta Vinci and Francesca Schiavone look like they've been at the top end of the rankings for ages. They all have a vast amount of knowledge in the game. Sara Errani is there too, although she is younger, and Camila Giorgi is the fresh face of Italian tennis. Errani and Vinci have been spearheading the doubles tour for a long time, and Pennetta herself is a very accomplished doubles player as well, winning the Australian Open in 2011.
During the course of these player's careers, Italy has won the Fed Cup four times, defeating the likes of the United States and Russia in the finals. Somehow though, Grand Slam singles results seem to very much evade them. Schiavone winning the 2010 French Open was a huge surprise, and apart from her unique performance, Errani's Roland Garros final in 2012 was as close as they got to tasting individual success. It was surprising to see Vinci and Pennetta, who are born almost exactly one year apart, make it to this year's US Open semifinals, and even more surprising to think that only once before had any of the two done it before - Pennetta at the 2013 US Open.
Seeing herself in a difficult position, 1-3 down in the second set, Pennetta decided to go for it. Her game tuned even more aggressive. Halep aided a comeback with a tame service game, but then it was Pennetta all the way.
Twelve straight points won by the Italian totally changed the scoreline, and Halep suddenly found herself needing to serve to stay in the tournament. It was a passage of play of rarely-seen domination from Pennetta. She did extraordinarily well to stay in the opening point at 3-3, defending for her dear life, but most of the time, she was the one attacking. She no longer played it safe, waiting for the rallies to become longer and longer. Her ground strokes were close to perfection every single time. At 4-3, she held to love opening the court beautifully within each point.
Halep finally won a point on her last game at this year's US Open, but a double fault signaled the end. It came three points later, Pennetta hitting a difficult forehand winner from a tough position perfectly cross-court. Both players knew it was over. While Halep acknowledged her defeat, Pennetta was over the moon. Her smile seemed to tell the world she wanted to play more. She was in the zone.