Sara Errani finds herself in a land of giants at the U.S. Open. She is in the semifinals with three other women whose physiques dwarf her and whose careers overshadow her.
The 25-year-old Italian is a mere wisp of a player, just 5-4 1/2. As she walks through the players lounge, nearly every other woman looms over her. You might suspect she would be a good doubles player, and she is. She's the No. 1 women's doubles player in the world along with partner and best friend Roberta Vinci, whom she beat in the quarterfinals to advance to Friday's semifinal against the 5-9 Serena Williams.
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After another doubles victory Thursday, Errani was all laughs and smiles. The pending matchup against Williams, the most dominant player in the women's game, the player with a blunderbuss serve, was just another tennis match for "Poco Gigante," the little giant.
Errani switched to a new racket this season, moving from Wilson to Babolat (giving up the Wilson endorsement money). The new racket is an inch longer, a touch heavier, and on results alone, far more effective. She's won four of her career six titles this season, and reached her first Grand Slam final, losing to Sharapova in the French Open on clay, her favorite surface. She has nicknamed the racket "Excalibur."
"It helps me with everything, my serve, forehand, all my shots," Errani said. Williams has won the three matches they have played, though Errani did manage to take a set off her at Dubai in the last one in 2009.
"She's playing well," Williams said. "I mean, the finals of Roland Garros and now semis here, potential finals. I can't underestimate her. It's not by luck she's been doing so well . . . She's a great fighter and has a great attitude and believes. I think when you have such self-belief in yourself then you can do anything. I love her attitude, I do. I'm inspired by it, actually."
Sharapova is a head taller than Errani, but knows firsthand what she is capable of. She beat Errani, 6-3, 6-2, in the French final, in a match that was more competitive than the final score.
"She just shows you don't have to be tall and to have a lot of power," Sharapova said.
Sharapova will be up against the world's No. 1 player in Azarenka, whom she lost to this year in the Australian Open final and the Indian Wells final, both on hardcourt. She beat Azarenka on clay at Stuttgart.
"She's had a solid year, her breakthrough in terms of winning the Grand Slam, being so solid, so consistent, being No. 1 in the world for the first time," Sharapova said. "So a lot of firsts for her, which I think a lot of people expected in the last few years."
Azarenka returns the props. "She really stepped up her level, winning the French Open," Azarenka said. "You know she is always fighting and is really tough mentally. It's going to be a tough match no matter what. What do you expect differently in the semifinal of a Grand Slam?"
Undoubtedly the key for Errani will be returning Williams' serve. Will Excalibur help?
"I hope," Errani said.