Friday, January 28, 2011

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Pennetta and Dulko win maiden Slam title

Staring down the barrel of almost certain defeat, Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta staged a remarkable comeback to claim their first major doubles crown as a team and validate their top seeding.
In their first Grand Slam doubles final, the Argentine-Italian duo found themselves trailing 2-6, 1-4 against No.12 seeds Victoria Azarenka and Maria Kirilenko, before drawing on their vast reserves of experience and confidence to storm back and claim a memorable 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 victory.
Speaking after the match, the pair said that their response to finding themselves so far behind was to simply try to extend the match as long as possible. "We were like in shock. I think a set and 4 1 down, in the changeover, we were like looking each other and saying, C'mon, we play less than an hour. We cannot finish the match playing less than an hour in the final," Dulko said.
"We just tried to went for it, don't try to wait for them, try to play more aggressive. Because I think till this moment we couldn't find a good way to play, to win the match. So we just keep fighting and trying."
It was a glamorous match up, and the tennis proved highly entertaining as well. Women's doubles has progressively gone the way of its singles counterpart and is now played predominantly from the baseline, but today it was refreshing to see the four women willing to attack the net and employ tried-and-true doubles tactics throughout the two hour and 11 minute match.
Games went on serve early in breezy conditions on Rod Laver Arena, and it looked like the top seeds would draw first blood, moving ahead 0-30 in the fifth game after Pennetta cracked a forehand return winner down the line. But the less-experienced combination proved resilient, eventually holding serve before embarking on a tear that reaped three consecutive games.
This run was sparked by a crucial point in the sixth game. Azarenka and Kirilenko came out on top of a searching rally - characterised by a series of lobs which forced players to repeatedly switch sides - which Azarenka ended with a short, wickedly sliced backhand that stopped dead. Kirilenko applauded her partner, recognising the artful shot as well as the significance of the moment. The pair would go on to break serve on their way to claiming the opening set in 34 minutes.
Dulko and Pennetta weren't playing badly - they had just come up against a pair that was doing everything better. Azarenka and Kirilenko had more firepower off the ground, were ending points more effectively at net with crisp volleys and powerful overheads, and kept the No.1 seeds under constant pressure.
Despite having never played in a Grand Slam tournament together, Azarenka and Kirilenko maintained their superior form in the second set. Dulko and Pennetta broke serve in the opening game, but Azarenka and Kirilenko broke straight back and surged to a 4-1 lead thanks to some formidable net play.
The top seeds were in dire straits, and desperately needed something to change. After holding serve to remain alive, there was a glimmer of hope when Dulko volleyed a winner after a lengthy rally to help the No.1 seeds break back for 3-4. The top seeds sensed a momentum shift, and showed steely resolve to recover from 0-30 down in the eighth game, forcing two errors from their opponents and playing some excellent tennis at net to level at 4-4.
Despite the No.12 seeds holding serve in the ninth game to remain ahead, Dulko and Pennetta were now hitting more freely and taking advantage of increasingly tense play from their opponents, and they eventually took the second set.
Now with a ton of momentum, the No.1 seeds were not going to blow their chance at snaring a maiden Grand Slam crown. Playing a more cohesive, error-free brand of tennis, they punished short balls and benefitted from Kirilenko and Azarenka's increasing error count.
Azarenka was the main culprit - her exemplary volleying technique disappeared out the window as she repeatedly fluffed points at the net. At one stage she crouched on the court after a missed backhand volley, looking completely shattered after yet another point had slipped away. The wheels had fallen off.
Pennetta sympathised for her opponents - and Azarenka in particular - admitting it was tough to stay positive after letting a big lead slip. "When you have the chance, you have a ball for 5 1, it's almost finished, then you're starting the third set, it's like really tough to come back in the game," she said.
"I think maybe she (Azarenka) start to be a little bit more, you know, nervous and to miss more balls than in the beginning. I think they play very good in the first set ... But I think most important for us that we keep fighting. In the end we believe we can turn the match, so it was good."
From there the No.1 seeds did not ease up, celebrating ecstatically after another error from the No.12 seeds put an end to the compelling contest.
Today's victory iced a stellar 12 months for Dulko and Pennetta. They finished 2010 as the top-ranked doubles team thanks to seven titles from nine finals, and at one stage compiled a 17-match winning streak. They first played together in 2006.
"Last year we played so well," Pennetta said. "We won The Championships, so many good tournaments, but we didn't make any (major) final or we didn't win any Grand Slam. So we start really well to here and I hope to do the same thing in the next one."


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