Fiona Ferro's win in Palermo caps tennis' perfect comeback week

Fiona Ferro's win in Palermo caps tennis' perfect comeback week

Where might the young Frenchwoman's all-business athleticism take her?

It’s good to see the family again, isn’t it?

That’s what I kept thinking as I watched the WTA play over the last seven days in Palermo. It was the site of the first official tournament since the pandemic lockdowns began in March, and it felt like a reunion of long-lost friends and relatives.

I’m happy to report that, while those five months may have felt more like five years, not much seems to have changed. Petra Martic is still the picture of stylish understatement. Camila Giorgi is as icy and enigmatic as ever as she hurries from one point to the next. Daria Kasatkina is still searching in vain for the old magic in her racquet. Sara Errani at 33 remains as committed to the fight as anyone on tour. Anett Kontaveit still hits a big ball, in that calm and cultivated way of hers. And there’s still room for a new face, in this case 23-year-old Jasmine Paolini of Italy, to bring a propulsive new energy to the court.

By the end of the week, though, it was another little-known 23-year-old who had taken over the stage and stolen the show from all of our old favorites. Fiona Ferro was unseeded and ranked 52nd at the start of the tournament, and had a total of one career title to her name. Now, after beating Kontaveit in convincing, 6-2, 7-5 fashion, she has two titles. And she has a lot of us wondering how many more she’s going to take home in the near future.

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Ferro is an all-business kind of athlete. She played the semifinals in a blank gray T-shirt, and the final in a blank black T-shirt. She didn’t melt down or berate herself or show any unnecessary emotion, at least while I was watching. She moves from one point to the next quickly, and doesn’t have any wasted motion in her shots, either. The loop on her forehand backswing is short, but it doesn’t rob her of any power; she creates it all with her timing. Ferro doesn’t settle for rally balls or waste time grinding through long points; she hits with aggression and purpose whenever she can. She moves well, defends well, and she can slide to her right and snap off a forehand winner in in one smooth motion.

It took just two games for a match-defining pattern to emerge in the final. Both times, Kontaveit moved ahead in the score and seemed to be in control, only to see Ferro come up with something better to grab the game. That’s how the rest of the match went; Kontaveit was always on the verge of turning it around, and Ferro was always finding a way to stop her. Many ways, actually. Ferro hit aces, drop-shot winners, big forehand return winners and crosscourt backhand winners. And she did all of it with a naturally athletic flair. My favorite shot of hers is the leaping forehand she hits from deep in the court.

“I think it was my best match of the week,” Ferro said. “I was feeling relaxed, but I don’t know why, because it was a final. I had a good intensity throughout the whole match, I didn’t miss a lot, made a lot of winners, so I’m really happy to have the trophy with me.”

Ferro played well in a couple of European exhibition events during the lockdowns, and she’ll make her debut in the Top 50 this week. Is she headed for the Top 20 or beyond? She’s only 5'7", which makes her undersized by the standards of today’s WTA. But the most recent Grand Slam champion, Sofia Kenin, is the same height. There’s a Kenin-ish quality to Ferro’s game; she plays with a similarly prudent mix of aggression and margin. It would be nice to see Ferro use it as successfully.

“This title means a lot, especially after five tough months of practice,” Ferro said. “I was already feeling so happy to be back on court and competing, so this is an even nicer way to finish the week with a win.”

For fans, making a new friend in Ferro was a nice way to finish the week, and  a nice way to welcome the sport back into our lives.