PostHeaderIcon Sara Errani: The Little Italian That Could

With the upcoming Fed Cup semifinals this weekend pitting the Czech Republic against Italy, I thought it might be a good time to reflect on the winning ways of the “Little Italian That Could”, Sara Errani of Italy.

Errani defeated Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia 6-2, 6-2 to win the Barcelona Ladies Open. She capped her singles victory with a win in doubles, playing alongside her countrywoman Roberta Vinci. This was her second sweep of singles and doubles at a tournament in 2012.The last woman to accomplish this double was Serena Williams in 2009, winning the Australian Open and Wimbledon. This places Errani in very good company. Granted, there’s a significant difference between a Grand Slam and a lesser tour event, but you get the idea.

At this time last year, Errani was 14-9 with no titles. This year she’s 21-7 with two singles and three doubles titles. Her improvement over last year, while striking, doesn’t surprise me in the least. She reminds me of a mini-David Ferrer. As David is smaller than many of the big guys on the ATP tour, Sara is a smaller than many of the other women on the WTA tour, measuring only 5′ 4 ½. But she gets the most that she can out of her small frame by working just as hard in practice as the ATP No. 5, and the results are similarly apparent.

On more than one occasion I stumbled across the Italian team on the practice courts at the Sony Ericsson Open. They like to practice often, and for long periods of time. Though you would expect them to spend some time practicing doubles strategy, more often than not I saw them playing two-on-one: Sara Errani and the practice partner playing against Roberta Vinci, or vice versa.

Mostly it was Errani on the singles side, hitting ball after ball as hard as she could. Her odd grunt in full force, the sessions would go for an hour in the heat and humidity with no letdown. On one occasion I arrived at their practice after spending some time watching David Ferrer during practice. In terms of intensity, focus, and sheer “work”, there was little difference between them.

One drill in particular was my favorite to watch. Sara would be on one side of the court with Vinci on the other side riding the ad court baseline. Their coach would be on the same side as Vinci at the deuce court net. That’s when the fun began!


Both he and Vinci proceeded to hit every shot imaginable at Errani, running her from side to side as well as forward and back. With pace, some flat, some with topspin, it was a vast array of shot-making – that left her singularly unfazed. When he hit volleys, he would aim them like bullets at Errani. Unbothered by the barrage, she would “give as good as she got”: responding to the attack by aiming monster forehands at both he and Vinci. Despite the two-on-one scenario, Errani never looked the worse for wear.

I’m sure that many pros feel they work hard enough in practice that the results should eventually come. But we know it doesn’t work out for many, because for every player who wins a match there must be someone on the other side losing, regardless of hard work. There are also an awful lot of dependencies to a player’s success on tour: their age, their talent, waxing (or waning) confidence, “luck” in the tournament draws, their fitness levels and conditioning, etc.

Roberta Vinci works hard too, but she’s 12-9 on the year. So what’s the difference between her and her practice partner, Errani? It’s hard to say. Maybe it’s just Sara Errani’s “time”. But as Brad Gilbert likes to say, “putting in the hard yards” sure doesn’t hurt.

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