Errani doesn’t shrink from spotlight
If you happen to find the gritty 25-year-old Italian Sara Errani inspiring, you’re not alone. Serena Williams, her opponent in Friday’s semifinal, does too. And when Serena Williams talks, people listen. “She’s a great fighter and has a great attitude and believes,” said the 14-time Grand Slam champion on Wednesday evening, upon hearing that Errani would be her semifinal opponent at the U.S. Open. “I think when you have such self-belief you can do anything. I love her attitude. I’m inspired by it actually.”
Now that Errani has become the first Italian woman to reach the U.S. Open semifinals in the Open Era, you can also count all of Italy among the growing number of Errani fans that are getting inspired.
“It just shows you that you don’t have to be tall and have a lot of power,” said Maria Sharapova, when asked what she felt that Errani was doing so well in New York. “She has so much variety in her game. Moves really good around the court. She’s extremely tricky. Makes you hit so many balls.”
At her size, Errani needs to be tricky. She’s at least five inches shorter than the other three players who will take the court in the U.S. Open semifinals today, and even though she’s benefited from switching to a longer racquet at the beginning of this season, there are still obvious limitations placed on a player of her stature.
Still, the feisty, 5′ 4″ Bologna, Italy native has long been a solid player on tour, as her four consecutive top 50 year-end finishes from 2008 to 2011 can attest. But in 2012, Errani has stepped into another realm as a player. Not blessed with a big serve or easy power, Errani has embraced the physical elements of her game, working tirelessly to improve her footwork, her stamina, and to develop the type of punishing topspin groundstrokes that suit her favorite surface – red clay.
While it might seem to many that Errani has literally burst onto the scene in 2012, her rise has been anything but rapid. A ten-year pro, Errani’s arduous journey to the upper echelons of the game has been an exercise in perseverance, adaptation and good old-fashioned boots-on-the-ground training. Unhappy with the support she received in Italy as a teenager, Errani shipped off to Valencia, Spain at age 16, to train under the tutelage of her current coach Pablo Lozano.
In 2008 she cracked the top 50 for the first time, but there was nothing about Errani’s game or results that gave any indication of the kind of success she was destined to have.
Errani clung to her top 50 ranking for four years, but the big wins in the big tournaments always seemed to elude her. She lost her first 28 matches against top ten players, and up until 2011, Errani had only managed a pedestrian 15-17 record in Grand Slams with just three third-round efforts to her name.
But in 2012, something clicked. Errani reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open, losing to Petra Kvitova in two tight sets.
Next came the real shocker, this year at the French Open. Errani had the biggest two weeks of her career there, reaching the finals after taking out Angelique Kerber and Sam Stosur (she also defeated former champions Svetlana Kuznetsova and Ana Ivanovic) and making the largest jump into the top ten in the history of the WTA–moving all the way from No. 24 to No. 10 after the tournament.
“I don’t feel like top ten now, but now I will be, so it’s a strange sensation,” a still euphoric Errani said at the time. “Maybe my problem was that I couldn’t believe too much to win with the strong players.”
The belief appears to finally be taking hold, as evidenced by Errani’s historic run on the hard courts in New York. Along with her rise in singles, Errani’s success on the doubles court is also playing a role in beefing up her confidence. She’s won seven titles with her best friend and partner Roberta Vinci this season (the pair will contest Sunday’s final against Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka) and will finish the week as the No. 1-ranked doubles player in the world.
“She’s a little bit different,” says her doubles partner Roberta Vinci, whom Errani eliminated from the singles draw on Wednesday. “She’s mature. She’s more sure of herself.”
Errani agrees, she has changed. “Two or three years ago it was a bit difficult going on the court and feeling I can win [against] the best players. Now I feel different. I feel that when I’m on the court I feel good and I can fight with anybody.”
It’s been a remarkable year for Errani, and at 25 and with so much confidence, her best years might lie straight ahead.