September 12, 2015
Flavia Pennetta held her nerve best in a tension-filled, all-Italian US Open final at Flushing Meadows, to triumph 7-5, 6-2 and claim her maiden Grand Slam – the oldest woman ever to do so for the first time.
Amazingly, she then retired from tennis for life – a totally unexpected announcement.
Pennetta said: ‘This is the way I want to say goodbye to tennis. Going out by taking this big trophy home. This was my last US Open and last match so thank you everyone for everything. I love you guys.’
She held her head in disbelief then kissed her boyfriend, men’s star Fabio Fognini, savouring a moment she probably never thought she would see at the age of 33.
Pennetta said: ‘I’m really happy. I never thought I’d be a champion at the start of the tournament. It’s one of the favourites I’ve ever played. It’s been a long time getting here. It’s a dream come true. I’m really happy, I don’t know what to say.’
Roberta Vinci chatted casually with her compatriot after the match, accepting her fate, though in years to come she might think she should have done herself more justice.
‘This one’s mine, I’ll take both,’ joked Vinci, trying to snatch the winner’s trophy.
Neither woman could bring the quality to the final that had propelled them to the showpiece occasion. At least not until Pennetta finally relaxed enough to execute a second-set demolition of her compatriot and friend.
The match hinged on a first-set tie-break that saw Roberta Vinci, conqueror of Serena Williams, tighten to over-hit some key shots. When those errors landed beyond the baseline, the crowd’s favourite began to realise she was fighting a losing battle.
This was a different Vinci. Gone was the joyful sense of adventure during the match, replaced by the tantalising knowledge that she was so close to Grand Slam glory. In the end, that was her downfall.
Pennetta was there for the taking, particularly after Vinci broke back to level the first set and even went ahead a couple of times in games. Flavia had undone Simona Halep in their semi-final with the unerring depth of her shots. But, like her opponent, she was simply trying to make as few mistakes as possible in the final.
Vinci, again the underdog, the star who had charmed New York in her post-match interview 24 hours earlier, gasping in manic disbelief after beating Serena, lacked conviction in her shots when it mattered.
Against Williams she had hit them as though she didn’t have a care in the world. Now, sadly, the enormity of the occasion had got the better of her.
Pennetta, her confidence and composure superior on the big occasion, raced to a 4-0 lead in the second set. To the delight of the crowd, Vinci broke back and reached 2-4 to make a match of it. But she had never truly believed in herself, or so it seemed.
It was always likely to be almost impossible for Vinci to get over the sheer euphoria of victory over Williams and worldwide recognition, then quietly ground herself once more and hit similar heights just 24 hours later.
Vinci said: ‘It was tough, I spent the last 24 hours with a lot on my mind, but I lost in the final and I’m really happy for Flavia. She played unbelievable tennis and I just want to say congrats to her.’
Roberta charmed the US Open, the Americans wanted to crown her, but they also love a winner and that was always more likely to be Pennetta.
As for Serena, she must have watched in a state of frustration, knowing full well that she would have beaten either woman on any normal day with ease. But the pressure of that Calendar Slam had done for her.
And no one could begrudge Pennetta the realisation of her dream in her very last match – not to mention her $3 million-plus instant pension.