Continuing her impressive late-career resurgence, Flavia Pennetta is through to the fourth round at Australian Open 2014.
The Italian braved Melbourne’s heat wave and an opponent gathering in confidence as the match progressed to record a 6-1 7-5 victory, setting up a last 16 date with No.9 seed Angelique Kerber.
Ranked in the top 10 in 2009, Pennetta was forced to sit out six months in 2012 as she underwent surgery on her right wrist.
It proved a slow comeback – returning in February 2013, she lost seven of her first 10 matches and fell as low as world No.166 during the Wimbledon fortnight.
But a fourth-round run at the All England Club, followed by a career-first Grand Slam semifinal appearance at the US Open – all the more notable at 31 years of age – saw the stylish all-courter return to the top 30.
Thanks to this year’s run at Melbourne Park, she stands to rise even higher.
Pennetta revealed following victory over Barthel that she’d taken advantage of the cancellation of her doubles match yesterday to sleep, recover and stay sheltered from the scorching weather.
And it showed, particularly in the first set.
Dialed in from the first point, she broke in the opening game to immediately establish the ascendancy, as a listless-looking Barthel sprayed balls all over the court.
The Margaret Court Arena crowd – packed entirely into the shaded sections of the court – sympathetically groaned as the German quickly fell behind 5-1, undone by 19 errors for the set (compared to Pennetta’s four).
Pennetta, meanwhile, leaned into her powerful backhand, struck the ball sure and deep and maintained impressive intensity to romp through the opening set in less than half an hour.
Despite the dire situation, Barthel didn't surrender.
The 39th-ranked 23-year-old has made a habit of blistering starts to the season in Australia the past two years; she won the Hobart title in 2012 as a qualifier and built a 10-match winning streak with her third-round finish at Melbourne Park that year, and in 2013, went 12-3 in her first four events, a run that included another trip to the Hobart final.
And into the third round at Melbourne Park for the second time in three years, she wasn’t planning to buck her own trend any time soon.
Settling into the contest and benefitting from a dip in the level of her opponent, Barthel dug herself out of some tense deuce games to establish a 5-3 lead.
But errors again proved her Achilles’ heel. She finished the match with 45 in all, and with Pennetta vocally urging herself on after a crucial service hold to remain alive in the set at 5-4, Barthel’s challenge crumbled.
The Italian charged through the final four games, sealing the match as Barthel erred on another forehand.
Next up is German ninth seed Angelique Kerber.