The last decade has quite clearly been the golden age of Italian women’s tennis.
After housing no Grand Slam semi-finalists from the start of the Open Era in 1968 to 2009, Italian players reached the final-four six times between the 2010 French Open and 2013 US Open alone while, having never fought a Fed Cup final before, Italy won an unrivalled four of the last nine.
However, there was concern recently that the peak had been passed. Whereas their first three semi-final appearances were victories, the latter three were losses. Seven slams then went by without one of the nation’s stars venturing so far and the golden age were beginning to approach retirement age.
Francesca Schiavone – who became their first and only Grand Slam winner at the 2010 French Open – is 35, Flavia Pennetta is 33 and Roberta Vinci 32, while even 28-year-old Sara Errani hasn’t equalled her 2012 finishing positions in each slam since. At 23, Camila Giorgi is the pick of the next generation, but has yet to make the quarter finals of a major or break the WTA rankings’ top 25.
If anyone at the Federazione Italiana Tennis was starting to panic, the events of the past fortnight have shown that the country’s old guard still have a huge amount to offer.
Instead of simply revisiting the heroics of 2010 to 2013, they have been bettered: Vinci has joined Schiavone, Errani and Pennetta in the Italian semi-finalist hall of fame and, because Pennetta has progressed as well, Italy have booked out two of the final-four vacancies for the first time.
There has been an element of luck-of-the-draw about Vinci’s path, not facing a single seed owing to Eugenie Bouchard’s withdrawal with a concussion, but no such accusation can be aimed at Pennetta, who took out former champion Sam Stosur and fifth seed Petra Kvitova in successive rounds.
The survivors are in opposite halves, keeping alive the prospect of a maiden all-Italian final, though the odds are heavily in favour of the reverse scenario in which both are beaten.
It is 1/16 that Vinci’s 0-4 career record against Serena Williams is transitioned into 0-5, versus 8/1 that the shock of the tournament takes place, and 3/10 that Victoria Azarenka-slaying Simona Halep ends Pennetta’s challenge versus 5/2 that the clash’s elder stateswoman qualifies for her first final.
There is a trend which should encourage outsider-backers and Tricolore-wavers alike: on six of the previous eight occasions that a nation has boasted a representative in both semi-finals of a Grand Slam – and it last happened in 2010, to put the feat into context – at least one made it into the final.
Pennetta has to be judged the likeliest of the pair to defy her price, firstly because she isn’t facing Serena, but more pertinently because she has triumphed in three of her four prior meetings with Halep, including one at the Flushing Meadows two years ago.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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