Flavia Pennetta won her first Grand Slam singles title over Roberta Vinci in an improbable all-Italian US Open final on Saturday, then added one more shock to a stunning two weeks by announcing her retirement.
With the 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 win, the 33-year-old Pennetta became the fourth-oldest Grand Slam winner in the Open Era and joined 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone as the only Italian women to win a major singles title.
However, as the celebrations kicked into high gear, Pennetta dropped a bombshell that provided a dramatic finish to the year’s final Grand Slam and her career.
After embracing childhood friend and Fed Cup teammate Vinci at the net a smiling Pennetta stood on Center Court during the trophy presentation and told a capacity crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium which included Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi that she would retire.
“This is the way I would like to say goodbye to tennis,” Pennetta said, before hoisting the trophy and accepting the US$3.3 million winner’s check. “I’m really happy. It’s what all the players seem to want to do, to go out with this big trophy, and so this one was my last match at the US Open and I couldn’t think to finish a better way.”
Pennetta’s surprise announcement provided a jaw-dropping finish to a Grand Slam packed with surprises.
She said it was a decision she made a month ago when a Grand Slam triumph would have seemed improbable and suggested fate might have played a part in her Grand Slam goodbye.
“Maybe that is why I am here today,” Pennetta said while embracing the trophy.
“I was trying to play every match like it was my last one,” she said. “Trying to play best all the time. For me it is easy to practice and stay in this life, but sometimes it is hard to compete. It will be a new life for me, I played tennis since I was young.”
The unlikely final was set up by breathtaking upsets as unseeded Vinci knocked out world No. 1 Serena Williams in the semi-finals to end the 33-year-old American’s quest for a calendar year Grand Slam.
Pennetta’s path to the final included two huge hurdles which she cleared with confidence, taking down Czech fifth seed Petra Kvitova in the quarter-finals and Romanian second seed Simona Halep in the semi-finals.
“Miracles can happen, because I beat Serena, miracle, and then two Italians can reach the Grand Slam final, a miracle,” Vinci said.
While the all-Italian final was greeted by a big yawn in the Big Apple, Italy was gripped in tennis hysteria as the sport made front-page headlines, convincing Renzi to change his busy schedule and fly to New York.
Since Williams’ triumph at Wimbledon in July, the buildup to the US Open had focused almost entirely on the American’s bid to become just the fourth woman and the first since 1988 to complete the calendar Slam.
Her surprise semi-final exit took much of the buzz out of the tournament and triggered an immediate collapse in ticket prices for the women’s singles final.
According to ticket aggregator SeatGeek, the median price for tickets to the final on the secondary market had risen to more than US$1,500 when Williams reached the semi-final, but plunged below US$500 following her loss on Friday.
The match between best friends and former doubles partners, who first played each other when they were nine years old, got off to a predictably cautious start for two players competing in their first Grand Slam final.
Showing signs of nerves, Pennetta and Vinci seemed content to battle from the baseline, trading early breaks as the first set went to a tiebreak.
After winning the tiebreak and sensing the title was within her grasp, Pennetta broke Vinci at the first opportunity en route to 4-0 lead, before clinching the match with a final service break.
“We spent so much time together, we moved to Rome together when we were 13, 14-years-old and stayed in the same room for four years,” Pennetta said. “It is like a sister, it is so magical you have one of your best friends with you in this moment.”
In the men’s doubles, Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut became the first all-French duo to win the US Open title after easing past Britain’s Jamie Murray and Australia’s John Peers 6-4, 6-4.
In the second Grand Slam doubles final of the year for both pairs, Australian Open runners-up Herbert and Mahut finally collected their first trophy after breaking Murray and Peers following a sensational rally of close-range volleys at the net.
For Murray and Peers it was more disappointment after losing in the Wimbledon men’s doubles final in July.
It was a long overdue success for the 33-year-old Mahut, who has suffered numerous near misses over the years having lost 11 times at Grand Slams to the eventual champions, including on five occasions at the US Open.
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