By Steve Keating
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Flavia Pennetta crushed Romanian second seed Simona Halep 6-1 6-3 to kick off a packed day of action at the U.S. Open on Friday with an stunning upset that put the Italian into her first grand slam final.
Pennetta, 33, entered the contest as the clear underdog but the 26th seed showed her experience and was not overwhelmed on the big stage having reached at least the quarter-finals at Flushing Meadows in six of the last seven years.
"It's amazing. I didn't think to be so far in the tournament," said Pennetta, who will play either compatriot Roberta Vinci or top-seeded Serena Williams in Saturday's final. "Today I think I played really well."
After rain forced officials to postpone the women's semi-finals by a day, the clash had an undercard vibe to it as it preceded the match featuring Williams, who is two wins away from sweeping the year's four grand slams.
Pennetta, playing in her 49th grand slam, needed 59 minutes to get by Halep and secure a long-awaited berth in the final of one of the sport's four blue riband tournaments.
Aside from her U.S. Open resume there was little to hint at a U.S. Open final by Pennetta, who by her own admission had an unimpressive run-up to the year's final grand slam that included second-round exits in Toronto and Cincinnati and a first-round loss in New Haven.
"I just tried to play every match the best I can from the first one. Try not to think too much about the draw, just play match by match," Pennetta said after her win.
"I tried to be focused on what I have to do all the time when I get on the court and here I am, so I’m very happy."
With the crowd still filing into Arthur Ashe Stadium Pennetta grabbed the first break of the match to go up 3-1 and then pulled away from an out-of-sorts Halep.
Halep's problems followed her into the second set as Pennetta broke again to take the early initiative before the feisty Romanian finally began to push back breaking the Italian and surging into a 3-1 lead.
One of the WTA Tour's best counter punchers, Halep tried to go on the attack but a calm Pennetta would not crack and swept through the next three games to regain momentum and a 4-3 advantage.
Serving to stay in the match, Halep fought off one match point before her resistance collapsed, Pennetta finishing off her opponent with stinging forehand winner.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)