NEW YORK -- She calls herself "Fighter Girl," but No. 2 seed Simona Halep looked every bit like a 23-year-old caught in unfamiliar New York traffic -- in this case, her first US Open semifinal -- as a charismatic 33-year-old Italian seized the day Friday.
Moving on to her first career Grand Slam final, No. 26 Flavia Pennetta won 15 straight points after trailing 3-1 in the second set and 19 of the final 21 points to close out a 6-1, 6-3 victory.
"I mean, it's amazing," Pennetta said. "I didn't think [I'd] be so far into the tournament. ... I didn't know how [I'd] handle the pressure I had."
Although in the role of underdog, Pennetta was playing in her second US Open semifinal (2013) and had reached four other quarterfinals here.
In the end, her experience showed.
Halep entered the US Open on a roll, having reached the finals in Toronto and Cincinnati, and persevered through her two previous matches with an injured left thigh that had been heavily wrapped.
But she looked flat and atypically back on her heels in the first set, winning the first point of each game before being broken twice on serve.
Pennetta gave Halep an opening in the second set with some ill-timed unforced errors, and Halep temporarily stepped in with an early break, winning three games in a row. But Pennetta snapped back to win five straight games, including three breaks, turning what was anticipated as an endurance test into a 59-minute blowout.
Emerging from a quarterfinal with 2014 US Open finalist Caroline Wozniacki, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and Wimbledon finalist Garbine Muguruza, Pennetta said nothing changed to allow her to make this career breakthrough.
"I just tried to play every match I can from the first, tried not to think of the draw and go match by match," she said. "I tried to focus on what I had to do when I go on court, and here I am, so I'm really happy."