SINGAPORE – For reality checks, Flavia Pennetta isn’t ready to go home, and Maria Sharapova wants to beat her before she waves bye-bye.
Pennetta out-stroke Aga Radwanska 7-6 6-4, while Sharapova out-bashed Simona Halep 6-4 6-4. Pennetta is 1-1 in the Red Group Singapore, having lost to Halep on Sunday. Sharapova out-lasted Radwanska in three sets.
If Sharapova wins a set against Pennetta, then she will qualify for the semifinals. If she loses in straight sets, then who knows? In fact, no one really knows as Pennetta and Halep (who blitzed the Italian on Sunday) can have legitimate chances, and Radwanska also does, too. Ping-Pong.
The soon-to-be-retired Pennetta isn’t just happy to be here. Before she came out, many of the people in the stands were unsure. She has finally won a Slam andis going home in Italy very soon. So, all she had to do is play hard and don’t worry about the score. Uh-uh.
Against Radwanska, Pennetta pushed herself extremely hard. She served big, attacked the net when she could and went toe-to-toe from inside the baseline. When Pennetta missed a few bad shots, she grew angry. Guess what? When she went on court, she forgot this is her last tournament.
“I’m not thinking like this,” she said. “I don’t have this way to think. I don’t go in the court and think, ‘Oh, it’s going to be maybe my last one or I have tomorrow,’ I have three more. I just go to the court and say, ‘Okay, I have to play.’ That’s it. I don’t know how it’s happen, but it’s like this.”
Everyone talks about how smart Radwanska is, and that is very true, but Pennetta knows where she is going and that she can go for her shots when the lines are barking at her. Her forehand and first serve give the Pole a lot of trouble, and when they were contesting long rallies, Pennetta would hit behind her, or nail huge shots right down the middle. She has matured a great deal.
The same goes with Sharapova, who faced No. 2 Halep. She cannot allow Halep to go inside the court. Whether she was serving or returning with authority, Sharapova was the dictator. Halep is faster and would prefer to run around side-to-side, but there is no way that she can yank her around all night long when the Russian/American wouldn’t be able to hammer the corners.
That is why Sharapova is now 6-0 head-to-head against Halep: she consistently bothers her because she doesn’t allow her to grind every point. Halep can certainly grind on occasion, but she can’t handle her forehand side and she doesn’t push Sharapova back enough. Maybe the Romanian will do so again if they happen to a face off on Sunday, but right now, she is confounded by her.
Sharapova and Pennetta have played each other five times before, all three-set matches. Pennetta bested her at 2015 Indian Wells. She loves at the tournament, especially when she won her first big title there in 2014. Pennetta was a 31-year-old then, and while she has been very good at times over the past decade or so, few sensed that she was getting better and better.
At the 2015 US Open, she finally put it all together and won the crown. As Sharapova said, she was a little surprised that she won, but she truly deserved it. They will clash again on Thursday. Without a doubt, they respect each other, but both of them want to win badly.
“It is [a little surprising], but I feel like there is always a moment for people to shine,” Sharapova said. “I know there are players that are extremely consistent that are at the top of the game, and I’ve been playing for many years and been fortunate to win Grand Slams. But I work hard and I don’t just sit there and say I’m only player that does it. There are hundreds of players that probably work harder than I do and commit more time than I do and sometimes don’t get the results. I realize how fortunate I am.
“I know that Flavia has been through a lot in her career with surgeries, injuries, work and effort coming back, stopping. A lot people don’t talk about that, but I think you should. That matters. I think that when you go through those moments, eventually it pays off. That was her time to shine, and I was really, really happy.”