Saturday, September 12, 2015

Brava, Flavia!--U.S. Open champion

Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.
Sophia Loren

For several years, Flavia Pennetta has been known on this blog as the Queen of Fed Cup and as one of a core group of Fighting Italians, which also includes 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone, Sara Errani, Roberta Vinci, and newest member Camila Giorgi. One of the toughest competitors on the tour, the Italian star may be known for her amazing Fed Cup performances, but her story is much greater than that. And as of today, her story includes a chapter about how she won the U.S. Open.

And while shock seemed to be one of the dominant reactions of the week, it wasn't mine. For the last few years, I've thought that Pennetta could win the U.S. Open, and were it not for the presence of Serena Wiliams (whom Pennetta has competed well against, but not well enough), I would have thought the Italian player's chances to win were even greater.

And this is where the story gets "only in pro tennis" interesting. Pennetta, the 26th seed, would have faced world number 1 Williams today, but that matter was taken care of by her close friend of 20 years, Roberta Vinci, who upset the presumed U.S. Open champion in the semifinals. That set up a final between two Italians--the first ever in a major. It also set up a match between two players who are over 30, a first in the Open Era. To make the occasion even more dramatic, it should be noted that both players have held the ranking of number 1 in the world in doubles. And, as mentioned, they are longtime friends and even former roommates.

People were expecting drama: Serena Williams, had she won the title, would have also achieved the Grand Slam. That was not to be, but the Italian drama was about as good as it gets.

Before the match began, commentators were discussing whether Vinci could come up with any game after garnering instant fame yesterday in her upset of Williams. Rain caused the Thursday night semifinals to be postponed until Friday, so Vinci didn't have much time to "come down" after her huge win. But it was she who came out with an aggressive game, while Pennetta played safe shots and took few chances.

In the fifth game of the first set, with the players tied at 2-all, Pennetta had break opportunities. She needed seven of them to get the job done, but getting the job done did more than get her a break--it loosened her up. She finally hit her signature backhand down the line, followed by an ace, followed by a successful drop shot. It was a strong hold of serve.

Vinci, using her backhand slice and rushing the net, also held, then broke back when Pennetta double-faulted on break point. Pennetta, at this point, returned to a position of passivity, and also began making more errors. But both players continued to hold, forcing a tiebreak.

It was then that the match turned around. Pennetta got a minibreak, lost it, then got it back. At this point, she was playing it so cautiously, she seemed to just be waiting and hoping for Vinci to make errors. But then she lifted her game just a little, hit the ball a little harder, and won the tiebreak 7-4.

It wasn't quite all Flavia after that, but it was close enough. A different player in the second set, Pennetta became more aggressive and paid more attention to ball placement. She went up 4-0 before Vinci could even get on the scoreboard. But then she was broken. Vinci held, and it looked for a moment that the second set could also be a real contest, but Pennetta would have none of it. When Vinci served at 2-5, 0-40, her life-long friend took the tournament on her first match point.

For fans like I am, who want to see tactical, graceful, geometric, artistic tennis, the match was a total treat. Between them, Pennetta and Vinci can do it all. We got slices, wonderful lobs, angled drop shots, volleys and half-volleys, and also some very good serving. The Italians, as they always do, put on a great show.

I always wanted to be different. I always wanted to be first.
Miucccia Prada

In winning the 2015 U.S. Open, the 33-year-old Pennetta became the oldest woman to win a first major, and also the player who performed at the most majors (49) before finally winning one. She is also the first Italian woman to win the U.S. Open. Pennetta, who--with Gisela Dulko--won the 2011 Australian Open doubles title--said that her victory today was "a dream come true."

We all retire one day. If we want to, if we don't want to.
Donatella Versace

After making her speech today, as the microphone was being taken from her, the new U.S. Open champion asked to have it back so she could say one more thing. Pennetta then announced her retirement from professional tennis. She'll play a few more tournaments this year, and then she'll be done. Those close to her were expecting her retirement, but it was a bit of a shock to some people that Pennetta announced it right after accepting her trophy.

To me, it seemed just right. She knows she's leaving the sport (a huge loss for us, and I'll have plenty to say about that at another time), and she decided to go out in style. That's what Fighting Italians do. And they leave you in tears, and smiling, and shaking your head, and yelling "Grazie, grazie!"


Deana said...

Oldest to win her first major at 33. Williams has won several at 33. An important distinction.

But. What a fairy tale! It seems the showstopper we all expected was replaced with an even more sentimental one. What a moment "Oh, I have one more thing to say..." and then wow. Pennetta is great, always liked her game and I couldn't be more satisfied with how the Open ended. She'll be missed, I'm sure more so by those who knew her best and while I cannot count myself among them, I will miss her too. Brava.

Diane said...

That was just a typo thing--thanks for catching, Deana. Thought I'd caught them all :)