Recent Indian Wells champion Flavia Pennetta has written about her trials and heartbreaks in the very honest and personal memoir “Dritto al Cuore” (“Straight to the Heart”), published last November by Mondadori.
Asked why she wrote the book, Pennetta said, ”I was tired of the usual interviews, where I always said the same things: I talked about sport, which doesn’t have anything to do with who I really am. I come off as cold, less spontaneous. People watch me play tennis and they often had no idea how I got here, what was inside of me, how much I counted on my family …. I wrote the book so the people could really know me, in all my fragility and my emotions. So that they could know that we athletes are real people. I might have chosen not to reveal so much, but the book would have been less true.”
She’s very frank about her relationship with Carlos Moyá, and how much their break-up hurt her. For Flavia, her relationship with Moyá “was one of the most important in my life.” After three years together, and having discussed becoming a family, Flavia discovered that Carlos was cheating on her with the Spanish actress Carolina Cerezuela (with whom he is now involved and has a child). He admitted it only when it came out in the gossip columns. It was a hard blow for Flavia. She lost 10 kilos (22 pounds) in a short space of time, as well as all strength and motivation to get back on the courts.
Pennetta describes their relationship as less than equally balanced. “Perhaps the one I lost was not Carlos, but me. He’s a bastard, what more can I say, but if I made a mistake it was in dedicating myself too much to him, at the loss of myself.
“I had created a reality completely full of Carlos: our friends were Carlos’s, we lived where Carlos wanted to, when we saw family it was Carlos’s. We even spoke Carlos’s language. Carlos has a problem? I’m there. Carlos wants to go out to eat? Even if I’m dead tired, fine, out we go. Carlos is playing Playstation and he doesn’t want to go out with me to see a match, have dinner, or a drink? OK, I’ll stay home.”
She also says of the relationship: “I thought that the rare times we were able to be together were beautiful, sharing our profession. I closed the door to Flavia and opened it to [being in a couple]. After three years I thought I’d arrived: a complete woman and ready to take on a family.”
However, that all fell apart when Moyá’s infidelity came to light.
“You feel pain, and you have to confront it, like everyone,” Flavia told the Italian magazine Grazia. “But at a certain point, it’s not a private problem: the whole world knows. And the public face of pain is strained. People tried to pity me, and I couldn’t even defend myself against that. It was as if I’d lost joy in everything. I tried to anesthetize myself from encounters in life, so as not to invite pain.” She said she’d even lost the ability to feel physical pain.
In difficult times, her therapist told her, “Draw a line in the sand. Move past it, then draw another one. Look inside yourself: you’ll see that the situation is not so bad. It’s you who wants to see it that way.” Pennetta told herself, “I’m twenty-five years old and I have a lot to give. Because of Carlos, I’ve distanced myself from Italy, from my family, from my friends. He was my passion, I gave myself completely, and I lost my balance. I have to get it back. I have to start over from there. I have no boyfriend, no home, no dreams, no future plans. The only certain thing is all the work I’ve done to get to a really good place on the circuit. I’ve played tennis since I was five years old, [been professional] since fifteen, for what? To lie on the couch suffering for some bastard? Never. Finally, the right thing. Finally me, finally my arm, or what was left of it, again free to move. Time to pack my bags. To go back to America to take back my life.
“I was betrayed, but I betrayed myself [too].” As to the notion of loving again, she says she looked into the mirror and told herself, “Flavia, sooner or later the right person will come along, until then, you’re better off alone than with the wrong one!”
She adds a note about the current state of her love life. “I’m in a relationship that’s [in the early stages], with a person I’ve known for a long time. But I’m not prepared to make it public. I’ve learned that I want a man who completes me, but without swallowing me up …. I don’t want to make that mistake again. Even if I come off as a bit of an asshole.”
Flavia also talks tennis, of course: “I live on airplanes: I’ve had to have my passport reissued in Tokyo because there weren’t enough pages for the stamps. The only advantage is … tournaments are nearly always played in heat. I live in a permanent summer.”
Part of her resurgence came from her partnership with Gisela Dulko of Argentina. “[She] and I got dumped within a few months of each other, by two handsome tennis players who were all-too media-prominent.” (Dulko had been seeing Fernando Verdasco of Spain.) “We were suffering at the same time, we talked for hours and then figured it was just time to laugh. We decided to play doubles together, even getting to number 1 in the world.” Dulko/Pennetta won the WTA Tour Championships in doubles in 2010, and the Australian Open Women’s Doubles in 2011.
Pennetta talks also about beating Serena Williams in an exhibition in Milan in 2011, saying that Williams is a player who “never loses concentration, who has no fear,” and calls the win a watershed for her career. However, she says the greatest pleasure was the Fed Cup win for Italy in 2010.
In her book she writes: “At the introductions, I was white as a ghost, I couldn’t get over my anxiety. Before the match I was weeping with tension …. tight as a drum, I went out onto the court.” Italy was playing the US in the final. Pennetta won her opening match, and sealed the win for Italy in the fourth round.
“At match point against Oudin I tell myself, ‘Don’t mess up, don’t mess up, don’t mess up ….’ I win and the Cup is ours. My father starts to cry in the stands. It’s only the second time I’ve ever seen him cry. And I, the woman who always exhibits perfect control, had a choice to make: I let go of a few big, fat tears before pulling myself together to flash my tried and true smile.”
Excerpts from “Dritto al Cuore”