This was not the U. S. Open women’s singles final most expected. No big names. No top-ten seeds. No one named Serena Williams.
Yet it was big on heart and drama.
The heart was most visibly recognized when finalists Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci hugged at the net seconds after the last ball was hit and Pennetta had become the 2015 U. S. Open women’s singles champion by the score of, 7-6(4), 6-2.
The embrace looked eerily akin to the one exchanged between Venus and Serena Williams after their quarterfinal match. And although the Italians are related only through country, they were sisters nonetheless.
“I love her in the way you can love a girlfriend,” Pennetta told ESPN, after the awards ceremony, about Vinci. “We moved to Rome together when we were very young. We stay in the same room for four years. [It’s] so magical to have one of your best friends with you here today.”
If the love wasn’t enough to cap off two weeks of nothing but wall-to-wall coverage of what was supposed to be Serena’s biggest moment … winning the Grand Slam … Pennetta outdid all the planned pomp and promotion when she announced her retirement from the game.
“One month ago I made a big decision in my life,” she said at the very end of the presentations. “I would like to say good-bye to tennis.”
Pennetta beamed, was happy as a lark, but the people around her on Arthur Ashe court inside the biggest tennis stadium on the planet were taken aback as Pennetta persevered.
“I am really happy. Going out with a big trophy home. Couldn’t think of a better way to say good-bye.”
At 33, Pennetta became the first Italian woman to win the U.S. Open and oldest to win this major, as well. She earned $3.3 million USD, a paycheck that represented 30% of her total career prize money. On Monday, her ranking will jump from No. 28 to a provisional No. 8 or 6. Her retirement takes hold at the end of the season.
“I have to say before this tournament, I never think to be a [major] champion,” Pennetta told ESPN. “When things come like this, I’m so happy. Thank you all the crowds; guys you are amazing. This is one of my favorite tournaments.”
Pennetta told her coach and team before the final she wanted to announce her retirement after the final. They doubted her, though. Pennetta told Vinci at the net, during their exchange.
“The past twenty-four hours [I had] lots of things on my mind; I’m a little tired,” Vinci told fans. “I’m really happy and really happy for Flavia.”
Both intimated that they were challenged by the occasion and the fact they had to play each other, which again evoked similarities to the Williams’ sisters experiences.
“Is tough to play against one player you know from long time,” Vinci admitted. “But, I tried my best.”
As unlikely as Pennetta’s victory seeded No. 26, the reality will leave this staging of the U.S. Open with an unexpected and unique glow. The champion joins a small group of women ranked outside the top 25 who won a major: Kim Clijsters (no rank and wildcard entry, 2009 U. S. Open); Venus Williams (No. 31, 2007 Wimbledon); Serena Williams (No. 81, 2007 Australian Open); Barbara Jordan (No. 68, 1979 Australian Open); Chris O’Neil (No. 111, 1978 Australian Open); Evonne Goolagong (no ranked, 1977 Australian Open).
Pennetta’s route to the title was a formidable task. In the second week, she first defeated Samantha Stosur, the number 22 seed and 2011 U.S. Open champion, then Petra Kvitova, the number five seed and two-time Wimbledon champion, before defeating Simone Halep who was seeded No. 2 and expected to play Serena today.
The colossal surprise of the tournament, though, was Vinci’s upset of Serena in the semifinals yesterday. It was one of the biggest upsets in the history of sports. Vinci told the press later this afternoon that her victory over Serena was ‘a miracle.’ Vinci added that the second miracle was having two Italians in a Grand Slam final.
Pennetta was the first Italian to crack the top ten. She was ranked No. 1 in doubles and won the 2011 Australian Open alongside Gisela Dulko, who retired to have a family. Pennetta’s performance at the U. S. Open, though, was the best out of the four majors.
She first played in New York in 2003. She made the quarterfinals four times — 2008, 2009, 2011, 2014. She made the semifinals in 2013; and, she won her last career title at Indian Wells in 2014, as well.
Thousands of followers on Twitter chimed in with congratulations for Pennetta.
The only other Italian Grand Slam winner, Francesca Schiavone, who won Roland Garros in 2010, wrote, ‘welcome to the club.’
Serena Williams tweeted, ‘Congrats. I’m so happy for you. You deserved it. I am also happy for the rest of your life’s journey. I will miss your smile.’
From American Sloane Stephens, ‘You will be missed beyond words bella.’
In addition to winning a Grand Slam and announcing her retirement, Pennetta is engaged to Fabio Fognini a top-30 player on the ATP Tour.
All of this good fortune had to be behind this comment she made to the press, “My life is perfect.”