NEW YORK — Italian tennis fans can count on a celebration almost every day at the U.S. Open.
The women from Italy have, once again, infiltrated a Grand Slam draw, and for the second straight year, at least one is guaranteed a spot in the semifinals at Flushing Meadows.
Flavia Pennetta defeated Simona Halep 6-2, 7-6 (3) on Monday to set up an all-Italian quarterfinal against her friend, 10th-seeded Roberta Vinci, who beat – who else? – Italian Camilia Giorgi in another fourth-round match.
"It's going to be nice for us because one of us is going to have the chance to be in the semifinal," Pennetta said. "In the other way, it's always not easy to play with your friend."
Nobody's dealing with that feeling more these days than Vinci. Her match against Pennetta, a showdown between 30-somethings who have known each other since they were 8, will be her third straight match against another Italian.
Pennetta, meanwhile, knocked out fourth-seeded Sara Errani of Italy in the second round.
With five of the six Italians clustered in one quarter of the draw, there were three all-Italian matches over a five-day period, with the fourth coming later this week in the quarterfinal.
Giorgi, a 21-year-old who is ranked 136th, made a surprise visit into the second week by knocking off No. 6 Caroline Wozniacki on her way to the fourth round.
"I always thought I could do it, reach this level," Giorgi said. "So it's not like the victory over Wozniacki surprised me. I had been waiting for that."
Vinci celebrated her win over Giorgi with a huge fist pump – not so much, she said, because she relished beating someone from her own country, but because she knew her opponent was swinging freely, playing with nothing to lose.
Four years ago, Vinci played the role of the underdog, while Pennetta was at the head of the Italian tennis renaissance – the first woman from that country to reach the top 10. Now, Pennetta is on the comeback from a wrist injury that sent her down the rankings. She's in her fourth U.S. Open quarterfinal. She had partnered on and off in doubles with Vinci, when Vinci was still up-and-coming.
"I got better. I matured. I was maybe a little more insecure, a little more resigned" to being behind Pennetta in singles, Vinci said. "When we were together, she was the stronger one, the singles player. I felt like more of a doubles specialist. And now, I've grown, gotten more mature, and I'm aware of my strengths."
When they meet next, it will be Vinci favored to move on and Pennetta playing with nothing to lose.
That was how she approached her match against No. 4 seed Errani, which turned into a surprisingly easy 6-3, 6-1 victory.
After that, she said there was an agreement to go to dinner afterward, no matter who wins.
Same thing after she faces Vinci?
"I hope so and I think so," Pennetta said. "Maybe not that day, but the day after."