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US Open: How Serena lost and what to expect from Vinci-Pennetta

tennis Updated: Sep 13, 2015 21:55 IST
Manoj Bhagavatula
Manoj Bhagavatula
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

A composite photograph of Flavia Pennetta, left, and Roberta Vinci.

Italian 26th seed Flavia Pennetta and her unseeded compatriot Roberta Vinci will contest the women's singles final of the 2015 US Open in New York on Saturday in a bid to win their first Grand Slam title.

The 33-year-old Pennetta beat her more favoured opponent, second-seeded Romanian Simona Halep, 6-1, 6-3.

But the biggest result of the day came when Vinci beat Serena Williams 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 to derail Williams' bid to become the first player since Steffi Graf in 1988 to win the calendar-year Grand Slam, the feat of claiming all four majors in a season.

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Serena Williams of the US gestures in frustration after losing a point while playing Roberta Vinci of Italy during their women's singles semi-final of the 2015 US Open in New York, on September 11, 2015. (AFP Photo)

Decoding the 'upset of the century'

Williams and Vinci had met four times previously, with the Italian never having taken a set off the American. Vinci won this time because she played her game, to her strengths, rather than attempt to outdo Serena at what Serena does best, which is to win the match from the baseline.

Vinci used her low backhand slice to keep Williams off-balance, taking advantage and coming to the net, where she won 18 of 25 points. The 43rd-ranked Italian also used her forehand to good effect, using her smooth technique to hit the ball flat and hard, sending the top seed from corner to corner in an effective display of by-the-book, high-percentage tennis. Vinci ended with 10 winners and nine errors off the forehand.

Williams dominated the first set. In the second, when Vinci broke for 3-2, there was little to suggest what was in store. Suffering unexpected dips and going down service breaks, only to pump herself up with emphatic cries of 'Come on!' has been the theme for Williams all season. A letdown by Vinci and a Williams win still seemed inevitable. But Vinci held on, saving a break point to serve out the set.

Coming in, the American's three-set record at the majors was an impressive 11-0. Eight of those matches were won after losing the first set. As expected, Williams went up a break to begin the third, but still tight and on edge, she gave the break right back. When Vinci broke for 4-3 and saved break points to hold for 5-3, the upset seemed possible, yet almost unbelievably so. It was Williams after all.

Seemingly calmly, Vinci served out the match to love, hitting two half-volley winners, including one on match point.

No doubt Williams was tight and nervous, unable to play freely. Perhaps she started to think of the calendar Slam. Or after 33 straight wins at majors, 25 of them this season, maybe she was just unable to will her self and hit her way out of trouble this time around. She'd walked the three-set tightrope one time too many.

But it was Vinci who won the match with her game and her attitude. She was aware of the amazing run she had ended. "Sorry for the American people, for Serena, for the Grand Slam and everything. Today is my day. Sorry guys," Vinci said in her post-match, on-court interview.

Vinci had already booked her flight back home, did not expect to win and in a way, that helped free her up mentally.

"No, really, it's true," she said. "When I wake up, I say, 'I have a semifinal today. I play Serena. Try to enjoy.' I didn't expect that I win."

What to expect from the all-Italian final

The last time Pennetta and Vinci faced each other was at the 2013 US Open quarterfinals, where Pennetta won in straight sets. Pennetta leads the head-to-head 5-4.

There's little to separate the two in other aspects of their careers. Pennetta is 33, Vinci is 32, both have had success at the majors in doubles, having reached number one with their respective partners. Both turned professional at about the same time, have had similar career-high singles rankings, similar Fed Cup records, and nearly the same number of WTA titles.

The differentiating factor between the two are their paths to the final. Pennetta beat three higher-ranked players to reach the final -- 2011 US Open champion Samantha Stosur, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, and Halep, last year's French Open runner-up. Having received a walkover from Eugenie Bouchard, the only higher-ranked player Vinci beat was Williams, of course. Pennetta is thus the more battle-hardened of the two.

But Vinci is coming off playing 'the best match' of her life, after which she said, "It's I think the best moment of my life. I can maybe touch the sky with my finger."

The women's singles final was sold out well before the men's final, in anticipation of Williams starring in it. While this may not be the expected lineup for the final, as Friday evening showed, one would be mistaken trying to predict the outcome of the match.

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