Azarenka to face Pennetta in U.S. Open semifinals
NEW YORK - A year ago, Flavia Pennetta was hanging out at her parents' home on Italy's heel, recovering from right- wrist surgery, watching the U.S. Open on TV - and wondering how long it would take her to get back on the tennis tour.
Look at her now.
Pennetta is a Grand Slam semifinalist for the first time at age 31, and in her 41st major tournament. Unseeded, ranked only 83d, Pennetta got to the final four at Flushing Meadows with a 6-4, 6-1 victory Wednesday over another Italian, 10th-seeded Roberta Vinci, who happens to be her longtime friend and former doubles partner.
They know each other's games, and each other's personalities, perfectly. While Pennetta was laid up after her operation last September, they spoke on the phone and sent text messages back and forth.
"She went through some ugly times," said Vinci, who lost in last year's U.S. Open quarterfinals to yet another Italian, her current doubles partner, Sara Errani.
In the night's featured match, second-seeded Rafael Nadal powered his way back to the semifinals by overwhelming 19th-seeded Tommy Robredo, 6-0, 6-2, 6-2.
Nadal improved to 20-0 on hard courts in 2013, part of an overall record of 58-3 with nine titles, including his record eighth championship at the French Open in June.
Nadal will now face France's Richard Gasquet, who edged No. 5 David Ferrer of Spain, 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3 in the quarterfinals.
In Friday's semifinals, Pennetta will face Victoria Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion and last year's runner-up to Serena Williams at the U.S. Open. The second-seeded Azarenka reached her sixth semifinal in the last eight Grand Slam tournaments by beating 48th-ranked Daniela Hantuchova, 6-2, 6-3.
The other women's semifinal will be No. 1 Williams, who owns 16 major titles, against No. 5 Li Na, the 2011 French Open champion.
Back in 2009, Pennetta was the first woman from Italy to be ranked in the top 10. But she was off the tour from August 2012 until February 2013, and dropped down as far as 166th after her comeback began with a 3-7 record.
Pennetta was asked whether when she was staying with her folks in Brindisi, along the Adriatic coast, she could have imagined playing at this level 12 months later.
"I hoped so. It's what I hoped for at the start of this year, to be honest. It didn't happen as easily or as quickly as I'd hoped," she said. "But I definitely hoped."
Pennetta and Vinci, 30, were two of five thirtysomething women among the eight quarterfinalists in New York, tying a Grand Slam record for the Open era, which began in 1968. Williams and Li are both 31; Hantuchova is 30.
"I'm a baby. What can I say?" said Azarenka, who is 24.
She already was playing in her 11th career major quarterfinal, and she's won her last seven in a row. Both she and Hantuchova were shaky early, but immediately after Azarenka double-faulted twice in a row while serving at 3-2, she took 10 consecutive points en route to winning the first set. There were more wobbles later for Azarenka, such as a double-fault to get broken while serving for the match at 5-3 in the second.