Post hypnotizing three-set quarterfinal combats, second seed Simona Halep confronts seasoned Italian Flavia Pennetta with a place in the final of the 2015 US Open on the line. With Serena Williams in all likelihood to await in the final, Simona Halep takes on Flavia Pennetta in the semifinals of the 2015 US Open. Can Halep subvert her losing record or is the veteran Italian set for a first Grand Slam final?
Despite Flavia Pennetta’s emblematic record at the US Open, reaching the quarterfinals four times and the semifinals once since 2008, nobody would have picked the 26th seed to reach the semifinals in New York. Pennetta had done little in the season so far, with the exception of quarterfinal finishes at Indian Wells (where she was the defending champion), Dubai and Marrakech and reaching the fourth round at the French Open, and went 2-3 through the build-up to the US Open, with her last activity a three-set loss to Magdalena Rybarikova in New Haven (her 15th defeat for an offset of just 17 wins in 2015).
But the Italian has shone once more in New York, beating Jarmila Gajdosova, Monica Niculescu, Caroline Wozniacki’s conqueror Petra Cetkovska, former champion and 22nd seed Samantha Stosur and finally fifth seed Petra Kvitova 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 to reach her second semifinal at the US Open. While Pennetta’s win over Kvitova lacked the flawlessness of her performance against Stosur, it was a triumph of determination and defense, dragging the fifth seed – who traditionally struggles in conditions like this and was recently diagnosed with mononucleosis – into a third set and running away with the match as Kvitova rapidly faded physically.
Pennetta could not be facing a more different challenge in the semifinals against Halep. Compact where Kvitova is lanky, consistent off the ground where Kvitova is error-prone and nimble where Kvitova is … not, Halep’s game is actually a lot closer to Pennetta’s own in terms of a skillful blend of counterpunching, defense and pace-absorption with aggression.
The second seed looked like a different player from the one that took on Sabine Lisicki in the fourth round. Cramping in legs and back, limping between points and shedding unforced errors at what was, for Halep, an alarming rate, the Romanian struggled through that match against Lisicki but was sublime against Azarenka.
Pennetta actually leads the head-to-head with Halep 3-1, beating Halep on clay in 2010 and then twice in 2013, the transitional year in which Halep picked up six titles but had yet to really challenge at the biggest events: Via retirement on clay in Bastad, and in the fourth round of the US Open itself, 6-2, 7-6(3). Since Halep became a top-10 player, they have met just once, in Miami this spring when Halep – fresh from capturing the Indian Wells title which Pennetta had won the year before – won 6-3, 7-5.
With both players so good at defending, the match does look likely to become something of a marathon (within points, if not necessarily in terms of duration) and that could disadvantage Halep. The second seed has already played in more Grand Slam semifinals than Pennetta and also has the experience of having won one once, and she also played her best tennis of the tournament in the last round, suggesting she is peaking at the right time. The better aggressive player, Halep needs to do whatever she can to shorten points wherever possible without overpressing. It’s a fine line, but if anyone can walk it, it’s Simona Halep.
PREDICTION – Halep in 3 tight sets
Halep is the in-form player since the start of the US Open Series reaching the finals at both Toronto (l. to Bencic) and Cincinnati (l. to Serena). Expect Pennetta to put up a brave fight; but the Romanian should hold off the veteran to advance to her 2nd major final. SERENA watch out!!
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