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Flavia Pennetta v Taylor Townsend analysis: Can Townsend make it a second Italian upset?

Hannah Wilks in WTA Tour 8 Mar 2014
Flavia Pennetta (MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images)

Twentieth seed Flavia Pennetta, who has reached two quarterfinals in 2014 already including at the Australian Open, begins her Indian Wells campaign against 17-year-old wildcard Taylor Townsend, who has already scored one big win in the Californian desert.

Twice a quarterfinalist already in 2014, Pennetta seems to be bent on proving, on 32, that she is still highly relevant on the WTA Tour. She upset Angelique Kerber at the Australian Open to reach the quarterfinals, where she lost to eventual champion Li Na, and then successfully qualified for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and upset Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4, 6-1 before losing to another eventual champion – Venus Williams.

On the other hand, Pennetta hasn’t exactly eliminated surprising losses from her recent record, losing to world no. 99 Su-Wei Hsieh at the Qatar Total Open in Doha and losing three out of four matches she played after reaching the semifinals of the US Open in 2013. 

Pennetta has only once been beyond the third round at Indian Wells – in 2009 when she fell to Ana Ivanovic in the round of 16 – but she has reached that stage five times and there’s no reason why she shouldn’t play well in the Californian desert. Seeded 20 and projected to meet Samantha Stosur in the third round in 2014, Pennetta has to get past a teenage opponent with nothing to lose in the shape of wildcard Taylor Townsend.

Taylor Townsend (Photo by Manuela Davies/Getty Images)

Townsend and Pennetta have never played, which is unsurprising as 17-year-old Townsend’s career is so young. A former junior world no. 1 who won the Australian Open juniors in 2012, Townsend has won precisely two WTA Tour matches so far – at Indian Wells in 2013, when she beat Lucie Hradecka, and in the first round of this year’s event, when she battled to a 7-6(1), 6-1 victory over Pennetta’s compatriot Karin Knapp, ranked 49. It’s an impressive win, given that Knapp had posted very solid victories in Fed Cup in 2014 as well as coming very close to defeating Maria Sharapova in an epic Australian Open match that ended 8-10 in the third.

Townsend’s major weaknesses at this point, however, are ones that Pennetta should be easily able to exploit. She’s inexperienced, which Pennetta is definitively not; and she’s not very quick around the court, particularly changing direction, which the Italian’s clever point construction should be able to expose. Townsend obviously plays well in the desert, but this might be a bridge too far for the American teenager.

Pennetta and Townsend are scheduled on Stadium 4 at 3.30pm (11.30pm GMT)

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Flavia Pennetta v Taylor Townsend analysis: Can Townsend make it a second Italian upset?

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