Updated: November 25, 2015 9:11:48 am
For any sportsperson, injuries are the greatest hindrance to a fluid season. US Open champion Flavia Pennetta had her share in the 15 years she played on the professional circuit. And yet, more than the wrist injuries and her teenaged tryst with Typhus — a bacterial disease — the 33-year-old remembers the heartbreak she had to deal with.
While dating Carlos Moya, the Italian learnt of a secret relationship the 1998 French Open champion was embroiled in. That, too, when she was contemplating retiring from the game to start a family with him. Rolling down the years in Mumbai as part of the Mumbai Tennis Masters squad for the Champions Tennis League, Pennetta had a feisty take on her relationship with the Spaniard.
“I have to thank him for what he did, because maybe my life would have been completely different! At this point, after so many years I have to say thank you to Carlos for everything because if all these things didn’t happen, I’d never be here, and never be a champion of a Grand Slam,” she says.
Tennis and love did give her a second chance. Pennetta, the first Italian to break into the top-10, is engaged to fellow Italian player Fabio Fognini. And with Pennetta having retired from competitive tennis, there is a sense that she will often be present at courtside to cheer for Fognini, who is known for his notoriously temperamental on-court demeanour.
“It’s funny because you never know what’s going to happen. You cannot think he’s going to be perfect or that he’s not going to say anything. If you’re expecting that, don’t come to see Fabio,” she laughs. “But if you like to see extravagant things or something talented, then he’s amazing,” she adds.
The singular US Open title, won in her last ever Grand Slam, had a special meaning in her career. Though she had won a doubles title in the Australian Open back in 2011, it was the New York event that had seen her garner a more successful run in the singles event — four quarterfinals, one semi-final, all topped by the win in her last appearance. “Every player has some place where they do well. Maybe we feel good and comfortable at the place. New York is crowded, but I feel nice here. If I have to travel to a place in a car for an hour there, I don’t mind. But if I do the same at some other place, I get so pissed. So it’s just some place that where you arrive, you just feel good,” she recalls.
But before hitting the high notes at Flushing Meadows, there were innumerable days when Pennetta had to go through what most journeymen on the circuit do. “Sometimes I was depressed also, but you get depressed because you feel alone most of the time. It’s not just about tennis. If you win, it’s easy. But if you lose and you go to your room and you start to think about it, and your family is away. You feel alone. But I was always with a good team and that was important. Coaches Gavi Lupi, for 7 years, Salvador Navarro for the last 3 years and my physio Max, I worked with him for 8 years.”
On rough days she gritted it out by telling herself, “Sometime you aren’t at your 100 per cent, you might just be at 4 per cent, and you can put the blame on other things. It’s not the racquet, not the ball, it’s not the umpire, it’s just you. The solution is always you.”
The singular victory put Pennetta on the map. She had already been a part of the victorious Italian Fed Cup team on four occasions, but the Grand Slam was the missing piece. Most of her career had seen her shy away from magazine photoshoots — an aspect that would have provided her the glamour quotient enjoyed by most players.
Yet on the occasion when she announced her retirement, just moments before she was to be handed the coveted US Open silverware, her career felt complete. And so, when the presenter at the ceremony at the final wore an expression of shock, the Italian simply said, “It’s okay. I’m happy.”
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