PARIS, June 5 (Reuters) - Standing at just 1.64 metres, the petite-framed Sara Errani does not exactly cut the most imposing of figures on a tennis court.
But that has not stopped the Italian from leaving a succession of her illustrious rivals dazed and confused - literally - as she reached her first grand slam semi-final with a 6-3 7-6 win over Angelique Kerber at the French Open on Tuesday.
If size mattered in tennis, German 10th seed Kerber should have made her 10cm height and greater wing-span advantage count to deliver an early knockout punch.
Instead, it was Kerber who was left gasping for breath, and survival, at 6-5 in the second set as she fruitlessly chased down a delectable Errani dropshot at the end of the lengthy rally which denied the German a chance to wrap up the set.
Still in full flow from the chase, a panting Kerber ran straight into the umpire’s chair and lent her head on the long green ladder legs and stayed there for a number of seconds as she tried to gather her wits and digest her near miss.
It only proved to delay the inevitable as Errani preyed on her opponent’s fragile temperament and moved in for the kill, smashing the ball into the stands to complete the eighth break, and sixth in succession, of the set.
Once in the tiebreak, Errani broke free with an array of crafty and piercing winners to win it 7-2 and book a last-four date with U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur.
If there was any doubt what the achievement meant to her, Errani tilted her head skywards and let out a primal roar that could be heard all over Roland Garros and probably all the way to her hometown of Bologna in neighbouring Italy.
“I‘m very happy with how I played. I‘m very happy how I fought. I want to fight every match, every point,” a beaming Errani told reporters.
Asked how she compensated for her short build in a sport dominated by the more powerfully built baseliners, she added: ”I changed my racket. It made me feel much better on court as it gives me more power so that things are not too different with other players.
“I also have to think more with my head. I have to be fast and I have to be resistant.”
Stosur, runner-up to Errani’s compatriot Francesca Schiavone in 2010, is unlikely to underestimate the threat posed by the Italian 21st seed as she has also beaten former champions Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova over the past week.
In fact, before Tuesday, Errani’s record against top 10 players stood at played 28, lost 28.
Kerber, who was bidding to become the first German woman to reach the semis since Steffi Graf in 1999, found out the hard way that past records and stats mean nothing when you come face-to-face with a hard-nosed Italian. (Editing by Dave Thompson)