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The 11-year-old that was taken to hospital for anxiety during her first ever competitive tennis match has come a long way.

After recent wins over the likes of Venus Williams and Jelena Jankovic, there’s little doubting that Italian Flavia Pennetta now has the nerve required to succeed at the very top of the women’s game.

At the relatively mature age of 26 (for a female tennis player that is), Pennetta is enjoying a breakthrough year on tour.

It’s not that she hasn’t enjoyed success before, but greater consistency and regular wins over top 20 players during 2008 have helped push her up to a career-high No.14 in today’s WTA singles world rankings.

The latest demonstration of her abundant talent came in Zurich last week where she reached her fourth singles final of the year.

Until recently, the Brindisi-born right hander was perhaps better known as the former girlfriend of a certain Carlos Moya, but that relationship is now ancient history and Pennetta is letting her tennis do the talking these days.

If she continues in the same vein the bubbly brunette could soon become the first Italian woman ever to break into the world’s top 10 – an achievement that would mean a great deal.

“The Italian people and press always talk about that,” Pennetta told at last week’s Zurich Open. “I would like to be the first, but it’s going to be very difficult.

“To be top 10 you have to be very consistent in one year, not just one month, but I’m going to have the chance if I play well in Australia – if I play well there, I should make it.

“I’ve never played very well there, but where there’s sun, it’s always a good tournament!”

Pennetta has put herself within touching distance of that milestone by winning two clay court titles this year, in Vina del Mar and Acapulco, as well as lifting some doubles silverware with Russian Maria Kirilenko in Estoril.

She has also beaten Venus twice – at Roland Garros and in Moscow this autumn – and shocked world no.1 Jankovic in three sets in Zurich last week.

Other notable results came during the North American summer hard court swing where she proved that she’s much more than just a clay-courter.

Pennetta was runner-up in Los Angeles during July before backing that up with a run to her first grand slam quarter-final at Flushing Meadows a few weeks later.

Another run like that in Melbourne in January will earn her a place in Italian sporting history.

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