So like many tennis fans, I planned to be at the final Saturday of the US Open thinking that I’d see Serena Williams not only defend her US Open title, but also complete the rare calendar Grand Slam. Despite yet another up and down two weeks of emotions, three set matches and battling past her own sister Venus, the World No. 1 looked certain to complete her quest. So long as she kept her nerves together.
But then I got an unexpected surprise.
Take nothing away from Roberta Vinci. The Italian veteran not only didn’t blink or waver in her first ever major semifinal, she played the best I’ve ever seen her play. Even Williams later said it was the best match she’d ever seen the Italian play. For Williams, what was sad to watch was how she let the moment, and potential history, overtake her to the point of near-paralysis on some points. While Williams winning three majors in one year is an incredible feat, she will likely always wonder what might have been if she’d only be able to embrace the well-said phrase by Billie Jean King that, “pressure is a privilege”.
So, after all of that Friday drama, for those of us showing up for that Saturday final, there was a sense of “Well, we’re here, we might as well enjoy it.” The first all-Italian women’s major final between Roberta Vinci and Flavia Pennetta was a shock in some ways. But if you look back over the two weeks that saw seed after seed fall by the wayside, this final felt fitting in many ways. Both these veterans never thought they’d get this opportunity, especially having to face a friend and fellow countrywoman. This t-shirt worn by an Italian fan summed up the day perfectly.
— Erik Gudris (@ATNtennis) September 12, 2015
Instead of what would have been likely a tense, edgy final if Williams were in it, we were treated to a celebration of two solid careers culminating in this unexpected, but well-earned apex. As expected, Pennetta found a way to keep herself ahead in the key moments. While both women admitted to nerves early playing in the biggest match of their life, it was Pennetta who managed to find winners at the right time and not let Vinci slice and dice her way back into the second set. When Pennetta raised her hands in victory, it was perfect timing as the first drops of rain began to fall onto the court still not completely covered by the partially enclosed roof.
And then, talking about perfect timing again, Pennetta then revealed she was retiring from the sport. Not on the spot as many thought but at the end of the year. Pennetta revealed later she had made the decision earlier in the season as it had become too tough for her to give her all anymore to the sport. Like Marion Bartoli a few years earlier, and even fellow Italian Francesca Schiavone who really proved “Impossible is Nothing”, Pennetta firmly deserves having survived a tulmulteous two weeks, and enjoying solid wins throughout (including over No. 2 Simona Halep) to not only place herself in this once-in-a-career opportunity, but also see it through as champion. And that was really great to watch.
So now Pennetta, a fan and player favorite, can walk away having won a major title and soon to be married to her Italian boyfriend and tennis player Fabio Fognini. True Italian style. And for all the memories she brought us, all we can say is Grazie Flavia.