Rising Star Ferro Continues String Of Palermo Upsets

WASHINGTON, August 6, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Fiona Ferro may be overshadowed by her more well-known French teammates Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia – even Alizé Cornet. Yet, the French No. 3 who was born in Belgium but now resides in Valbonne, France, and has represented French tricolor in Fed Cup, is a rising star both in her home country and on the WTA Tour.

On Wednesday afternoon, in her second-round match at the 31st Palermo Ladies Open in Sicily, the 53rd-ranked Ferro showed tremendous confidence and form – not to mention great fitness. It all added up for Ferro in her 7-5, 6-2 victory over World No. 27 and eighth seed Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia, the highest-ranked player she has beaten this year. The win represented Ferro’s second career triumph over a Top 30 opponent and it kept Alexandrova from reaching her third quarterfinal of the year.

The victory also lifted Ferro’s win-loss record during the interrupted 2020 season to 6-5 and advanced her into Friday’s quarterfinals against 2012 Palermo champion Sara Errani, who came from behind to defeat unseeded Kristyna Pliskova in three sets. It marks the second consecutive Palermo quarterfinal for Ferro.

“I think it was a good match from me today,” Ferro said after beating Alexandrova, who became the fourth seeded player to lose in the first two rounds. “I had a slow start because she has really powerful shots, so it took a bit of time to get used to this. It got better and better from me, so I’m very happy with my performance today.”

Ferro fell behind 2-0 early in the first set, but leveled it two games later after the first of five break points she won against Alexandrova. Later, at 5-all, she broke the Russian in the 11th game and won the set with a service winner. Then, Ferro jumped ahead 3-0 in the second set after stringing together six consecutive winning games going back to the first set. At 3-2, she held, broke at 15, then served out the victory by saving two break points. She won on her second match-point opportunity.

“I think I served well in the important moments, especially at the end of the first set,” said Ferro, who previously beat Argentine qualifier Nadia Podoroska in Tuesday’s first round to set up her first meeting against Alexandrova. “When I won the first set, I got more relaxed, and so my shots were more powerful and faster. That made things more difficult for her.”

Ferro, 23, stayed busy during her five-month hiatus from WTA competition due to the coronavirus pandemic. With a tennis court at her house in Valbonne, she alternated her days between practice and fitness between March and May. After her coach, Emmanuel Planque, arrived, she concentrated on hard-court training and it paid off for her. During July, she won two FFT-organized tournaments, going undefeated with a 10-0 win-loss record.

“I tried to see the break as an opportunity to improve and get better,” said Ferro, who lifted her first WTA trophy last year at Lausanne in her first final by beating Cornet. “I think I have in some parts of my fitness, and improved some parts of my tennis. Those two months definitely weren’t wasted time.”

Around Center Court

• Qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus ended the run of wild card and hometown favorite Jasmine Paolini of Italy, 6-0, 6-2, in just 72 minutes. The 119th-ranked Sasnovich, who was once ranked as high as No. 30, reached her first WTA quarterfinal in 18 months with her victory against No. 95 Paolini, who knocked out Russia’s Daria Kasatkina in a three-hour first-round match Monday.

Sasnovich converted five of six break-point opportunities against Paolini while saving all eight break points she faced. The Belarusian outpointed Paolini 65-41.

“I played very well in the first set because I knew how to play against my opponent,” Sasnovich said during an on-court interview after beating Paolini. “I’ve seen a few matches of hers, and she’s a really great player. I think the Italian public really likes her, and I like her, too, because I like how she plays.”

• Two-time Palermo champion Sara Errani of Italy advanced to the last eight for the eighth time with her 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over No. 69 Kristyna Pliskova from the Czech Republic. It was the 169th-ranked Errani’s tour-leading 180th clay-court triumph, more than any other active player. But it didn’t come easy.

The twin sister of World No. 3 Karolina Pliskova was half way to a golden set as she jumped out to a 3-0 lead and captured the first 13 points of the match. However, the former World No. 5 Errani, who received a wild card into this year’s tournament, regrouped and saved five set points across three games before Pliskova finally won the opening set on her sixth try.

After the first set, Errani found her game – raising her first-serve percentage 61 percent to 90 percent in the second set – and began to regularly win points through the use of a variety of slices and drop shots. In the third set, Errani broke Pliskova to move ahead 3-2 and saved two break points during a lengthy 14-point sixth game to hold for 4-2. After holding serve, she closed out the match breaking Pliskova for the sixth time during the two hour and one-minute match.

“I’m not worrying about the ranking, I’m not thinking like that,” said Errani, 33, during a video chat, quoted by the WTA website. “I know that these are the last years of my career, so I’m just trying to enjoy every match and try to be relaxed to play my best. To be on the court, free of too many fears, like I’ve had the last two years… now I just try to enjoy every match.”

In the final match Wednesday evening, 19-year-old wild card Elisabetta Cocciaretto stunned No. 6 seed Donna Vekic by winning 6-2, 6-4 to reach her first WTA quarterfinal. The native of Ancona, Italy, outplayed the 24th-ranked Croatian throughout their one hour and 35-minute match in just her fourth main draw appearance.

Cocciaretto, who is one of three Italians remaining in Palermo draw along with wild card Sara Errani and unseeded Camila Giorgi, came into her second-round match against Vekic fresh off her first-round win over World No. 45 Polona Hercog, which was both her first Top 100 victory and her first WTA main draw win. She went to work and fought through a 16-point first game to hold serve. It set the tone for the rest of the match, in which Cocciaretto broke Vekic in consecutive service games to win the opening set. Then, she broke her opponent twice more to bookend the second set and complete her surprising upset. Cocciaretto outpointed Vekic 73-60, with seven of those points coming on double faults.

Afterward, Cocciaretto expressed the thrill of her victory. “I’m so excited, I think I played a very great tennis,” she said. “She (Vekic) is one of the best tennis players of the moment, so it was a pleasure to play against her. 

“I’m so happy about the win, but especially so happy with how I played tonight.”

Next, Cocciaretto will face the winner of Thursday’s second-round match between No. 4 seed Anett Kontaveit and No. 65 Laura Siegemund. “It’s really great [to reach my first WTA quarterfinal], especially because it’s in Italy,” she said.

“When I was younger, I was watching this tournament on TV and watching Flavia {Pennetta] and [Sara] Errani, and I dreamed of playing this tournament for so many years. And now I’m here and I’m one of the players on TV, like when I was young. It feels very great.”

Passing shots

Four quarterfinal berths will be decided on Thursday. Of the eight participants in action, only three of them are seeded: No. 1 Petra Martic, No. 4 Anett Kontaveit and No. 7 Dayana Yastremska. They will be joined by two qualifiers – No. 117 Liudmila Samsonova and No. 121 Kaja Juvan – plus, a lucky loser, No. 116 Oceane Dodin and two unseeded players.

The 15th-ranked Martic will play Samsonova in the second match on Center Court at the ASD Country Time Club. Play starts at 4 p.m. CEST with Kontaveit facing unseeded Laura Siegemund. Other second-round matches include Juvan against No. 89 Camila Giorgi and Yastremska against Dodin.