Pennetta with her Singapore Women’s Tennis Exhibition trophy

World No. 25 Flavia Pennetta defied naysayers as she outclassed 2 much more highly-ranked opponents at the Singapore Women’s Tennis Exhibition (SWTE) held from Dec 16 to 18.

The tournament was seen as a warm-up for the approaching Australian Open, and also marked the return of top class professional women’s tennis players to Singapore, as the last time the republic hosted a game on this level was in 2007.

With some of the world’s best participating, organisers might have expected the 10,000-capacity Singapore Indoor Stadium to be packed to the rafters, but the friendly tournament only managed to catch the attention of about 1,000 enthusiasts.

However, despite the lack of spectators, there was certainly no shortage of surprises on the court – and after this sneak peak of the Australian Open hopefuls, tennis fans can certainly expect the unexpected at the Rod Laver Arena come January 2012.

Of the 6 tennis players who came for this tournament, many would have expected the finals to be a matchup between world No. 8 Agnieszka Radwanska and the recent US Open winner Samantha Stosur.

IMG 3 Stosur in action against China’s Peng Shuai during the 3rd/4th placing matchup

However, Italian crowd favourite Flavia Pennetta must have got the script mixed up as she powered past Stosur with a score of 7-5, 6-7, 6-2 in the semifinals, before winning the tournament in convincing fashion with a final 6-4, 7-5 victory over Radwanska.

Pennetta breaking into a dance after winning the finals against Radwanska

The way Pennetta came back from the jaws of defeat against her semi-final opponent added to the shock factor, as Stosur had previously defeated no less than powerhouse Serena Williams at the US Open.

Up against Radwanska, an opponent she likened to a Sony PlayStation, Pennetta dispatched the Pole with ease and even had the time to entertain the spectators with little jigs and dances.

Despite being the world No. 8, Radswanka was outclassed in the finals

While the SWTE was only an exhibition tournament, the 30-year-old Pennetta’s colourful antics were well worth the price of the admission.

Despite approaching what most enthusiasts would describe as the tail end of her career, Pennetta’s victory over 2 much more highly-ranked opponents was as unexpected as the footy skills she showed off as she juggled a tennis ball midway through the finals.

Having won the doubles at the 2011 Australian Open, Pennetta could go one better this time as she’s unlocked the secret to staying calm while going against formidable opponents: getting the crowd behind her.

Pennetta in action during the Singapore Women’s Tennis Exhibition

Photos courtesy of Singapore Sports Council, Sebastien Serandrei and Lionel Lim.

“I’m really happy because the crowd was with me since the first match, maybe when you’re relaxed on the court and you smile and you’re dancing, the people also feel what you feel on the court,” said the Brindisi native at the post match press conference.

Compared to rugby or football, tennis seems less of a spectator sport as silence is usually observed during the game. But there was never a quiet moment when the flamboyant Italian stepped onto the court as her graceful strokes and cheeky banter earned her the cheer and support of the crowd.

Judging by the raucous cheers and enthusiastic applause for every point scored, and words of encouragement and support bellowed for every point lost, Pennetta had indeed endeared herself to the spectators.

The Italian was also a favourite among the children who participated in the kids’ coaching clinic on Saturday and Sunday morning and from her on-court antics, it’s not hard to see why.

Though many of the 1,000 or so spectators might not be heading Down Under come January, Pennetta could very well win herself a new legion of fans there, as she’s thinking of showing the Rod Laver Arena audience her wacky dance steps too.

“I hope to play in the same way at the Australian Open, with a smile and dancing. We will see what happens,” said Pennetta.

Having already chalked up 2 unexpected victories in Singapore, there’s no reason why Pennetta shouldn’t rack up a few more in Australia!