By E.J. Crawford
Throughout the year, EmiratesUSOpenSeries.com will feature players who could make an impact during this year's Series. Here’s a look at resurgent 32-year-old Italian Flavia Pennetta.
The Baseline: A former Top 10 player, Pennetta fell to No. 166 in the world in 2013 after missing six months following wrist surgery, and she failed to qualify for the Emirates Airline US Open Series event in New Haven, Conn., the week prior to the US Open. But she has been a different player ever since. At last year’s Open, Pennetta knocked off four Top 30 players in a surprise run to the semifinals. She followed that up in 2014 by reaching the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and in Dubai to break back into the Top 25.
That all served as a setup to her most startling result yet, last week at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. As the 20th seed, the resurgent 32-year-old knocked off Top 20 players Samantha Stosur, Sloane Stephens and the event’s top two seeds – Li Na and Agnieszka Radwanska – to win the biggest title of her 14-year career. With the victory, Pennetta, who blitzed Radwanska in the final, 6-2, 6-1, ascended to No. 12 in the world.
The Breakdown: Pennetta has been a remarkably consistent performer throughout her career, finishing in the Top 100 each year since 2002 and in the Top 50 every year since 2004. But rarely has she strung together such a series of impressive results as in the past six months. In fact, she reached the quarterfinals in only three of her first 40 Grand Slam events before advancing at least that far in the last two.
Further bad news for her potential opponents in this year's Series is that, throughout it all, she has always excelled on North American hard courts; she won previously in Los Angeles, advanced to the quarterfinals or better on three occasions in Cincinnati and reached the US Open quarterfinals in 2008, 2009 and 2011 before her run to last year’s semifinals. Now, with the confidence of an elite title on hard courts in Indian Wells and a ranking that keeps her away from the top players until later in draws, she is a definite threat in this year's Series.